Due to concern regarding the future of their program, Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies students have drafted a letter addressed to various administrators including President Jehuda Reinharz and Dean of Arts and Sciences Adam Jaffe.
The letter expresses concern regarding the replacement of recently resigned Prof. Yitzhak Nakash, a specialist in modern Middle East studies. According to the letter drafted by IMES major Joe Farbeann '08, students in the program are concerned first by the departure of the program's only modern Middle East specialist along with the prospect of hiring an adjunct rather than a full-time professor to replace Nakash.
The letter urges the University to hire a third full-time professor for the IMES program. It contends that the hiring of adjunct faculty is insufficient as they are unable to build relationships with students in their short time at the University. Additionally, the letter says that the Crown Center for Middle East Studies is not an acceptable alternative to a full professor to teach undergraduates.
IMES Undergraduate Department Representative Noa Balf '09 commented, "I would like the letter to be a voice for IMES students to initiate a discussion between the administration and students so that our needs can be met or at least heard." She added, "I want to clarify to [Dean Jaffe] what the student position is. We're willing to be proactive about our education at Brandeis...we want to work with the administration to improve the program. We're not trying to work against anybody." At this point, 45 students have signed the letter, including some alumni, said Balf.
NEJS and IMES Professor, Avigdor Levy said in an e-mail, "I think students have every right to [submit their letter]." He continued, "it seems to me that the administration understands the issues and is moving towards correcting them."
Of her concerns Balf said, "more than courses, my concern is that there aren't enough professors…when I have to think about my senior thesis, there are no modernist Middle East professors to assist me," after the departure of Nakash. Balf explained that scholars in the Crown Center focus mainly on research rather than working with undergraduates.
In regards to the Nakash's departure, Jaffe explained, "I haven't authorized a specific replacement for Nakash." However, according to Jaffe, the University is looking "to land someone in the Fall [to fill] a new endowed chair in Arab Politics…which will be directly useful for IMES…it will help mitigate the perceived gap by students." The new Myra and Robert Kraft Chair in Arab Politics will be part of the Politics department and will also work with the Crown Center, he clarified.
In response to complaints about a lack of professors in the IMES program, Jaffe explained that two years ago, Prof. Lumbard's position did not exist. While Jaffe maintained that the "creation of the Crown Center has brought in a number of people who are teaching [undergraduate] courses…the Crown Center is not helping with advising."
Additionally, Jaffe said, "it's hard for us to change the curriculum as fast as interests change because curriculum change requires faculty change," said Jaffe. "Curriculum is a big supertank," he added, "not a little PT-boat; it's hard to change direction quickly."
Balf disagreed with this assessment. "Students at Brandeis being interested in the Middle East is hardly new," she said, "to say that student interest has all of a sudden risen…is not being in touch with what students are doing."
In response to Balf, "three years ago," Jaffe said, "I put forward a plan for curriculum that recommended building up IMES. I suggested we consider phasing out other things that we have done historically. That idea was rejected by faculty and students." He remarked, "if we're not willing to stop doing some things, it's harder to add."
The Middle East, said Balf, "is a rising interest of this country. Universities are creating the next generation of citizens who are going to have to respond to these issues." She continued, "this is a watershed moment…you either push forward or move back."