Sana'a may well be on its way to hosting the leading center for scholarship of the contemporary Middle East, so say members of the Board of Governors of the newly organized Yemen College of Middle Eastern Studies (YCMES). In preparation for the inaugural year, prominent scholars, businessmen, and diplomats from Yemen and beyond met Thursday to discuss the logistics and direction for Yemen's newest teaching and learning center. The meetings are set to last through Saturday and are being held at the Taj Shiba Hotel.
"These meetings are extremely important. They're the beginning of the realization of an educational vision in the making for years," said Steve Caton, Dean of the new college and an anthropologist who studied the role of poetry in Yemeni society. "We have put all the various pieces together and now it's time to present our project to very important and influential people who are invested in Yemen and the success of this school." Dr. Caton is also the Director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University.
The YCMES grew from the educational foundation laid by the Yemen Language Center (YLC), opened in 1989, and its founder Sabri Saleem of Manakha. Over the years, the YLC has served thousands of students of Arabic, and the plan for the YCMES was borne out of an "urgent need to foster cross-cultural understanding and scholarship between the Middle East and the rest of the world," said Saleem.
The meetings of this week are critical for the opening of the college, but represent more than just initiating a project, explains Caton. "The make-up of the Board is a model for the design of the college itself and it's educational vision. Members from many countries, backgrounds and interests have gathered to collaborate on creating a project for the development of Yemen and scholarship for the Middle East. The unity and diversity of the Board is symbolic of the unity and diversity of the college itself." The Board includes Yemeni professors and businessmen, as well as a number of women.
The new institution will provide semester- and year-long study abroad opportunities for university students studying contemporary Middle Eastern politics, social sciences, economics and development, among other subjects. The YCMES will continue to offer the Arabic language instruction of the YLC. Dr. Willard White, Board member and senior consultant for non-profit institutions, explains that the college will serve more than just the education of students. "The [YCMES] will bring together otherwise scattered professors and scholars of the modern Middle East and concentrate them in one location, in effect creating an unprecedented launching pad for scholarship on Yemen, the Arab world and Arabic." The YCMES will not maintain a permanent teaching staff, but rather will host visiting professors whose academic focus is on one aspect of Yemen or the Middle East.
While other study abroad programs exist, the YCMES differs in that it is not a satellite institution of a foreign university, such as the American University in Cairo. "This is truly a Yemeni college, and this is a fact we're all very proud of," added White. He went on to explain that satisfied students and scholars returning from their stay will report their experiences, in effect creating and spreading a positive image of Yemen to the rest of the world.
Board members include Dr. Abdul Karim al-Iryani, current political advisor to the President and Former Prime Minister of Yemen, Dr. Abdul Wahab Thabet of the Thabet Group of Companies, Dr. Muhammad al-Mottahar, Vice Minister in the Ministry of Higher Education, Drs. Hussein al-‘Amry and Mutahar al-Saeede of Sana'a University, Ms. Jamila Ali Rajaa, Advisor to the Foreign Ministry, Amb. Barbara Bodine, Former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen, Dr. Bernard Haykel of Princeton University, Dr. Brinkley Messick of Columbia University, Dr. Chris Edens, Resident Director of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies, Dr. Fawaz Gerges of Sarah Lawrence College, Dr. Michael Hudson of Georgetown University, Dr. miriam cooke of Duke University, Mr. Paul Aarts of the University of Amsterdam, Dr. Shelagh Weir of the University of London, Dr. Paul Dresch of Oxford University, Dr. Steve Caton of Harvard University, Dr. Willard White of the Mars & Lundy, and Mr. Sabri Saleem, President and Founder of YLC/YCMES.
The YCMES has been accredited by the Yemen Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, and is set to open its doors to around 50 students fall of this year.