Over the past year, the lack of Arabic language instruction and the scarcity of Middle Eastern studies courses at Bowdoin has been a concern of this page, Bowdoin Student Government, and the campus at large. We were pleased this week to learn that the College has taken concrete steps toward addressing this deficiency.
For one, it recently hired an expert in Islam and Judaism to teach in the Religion Department—a move that, according to some members of the department, finally satisfies a demand that dates back two decades. Dr. Robert Morrison, currently an associate professor at Whitman College, has experience teaching courses in Islam, Judaism, and the relationship between the two ancient faiths. Morrison's presence should allow more students the opportunity to study the religious dynamics of the Middle East—a topic relevant to any political or cultural discussion involving one of the globe's most contentious regions.
While Dean of Academic Affairs Cristle Collins Judd does not expect Morrison to teach the Arabic language, the College has taken action toward incorporating Arabic instruction into the Bowdoin curriculum. The plan, according to Judd, is to recruit a teaching fellow to head up a two-semester pilot program to "gauge the level of student interest." Given the volume of students who have approached senior Jamil Wyne about his informal Arabic classes (see story, page 1), we doubt that lack of student interest will be an obstacle.
Still, the College is going about this very smartly. Seeking out a teaching fellow to run a pilot program will reveal actual demand without locking the College into the longer-term commitment of hiring a new professor or lecturer. We hold to our position that Arabic and Middle Eastern studies should become a long-term part of Bowdoin's curriculum, perhaps even a coordinate major. But we also acknowledge that the academic prospectus must reflect student interest. We have seen what unpopular departments can be reduced to.
That said, we continue to encourage students to be interested in Arabic. It is the second most widely spoken language in the world, with 422 million native speakers—81 million more than English. Students aspiring to careers in international politics and business will find themselves at a distinct advantage upon entering the job market if they are proficient in Arabic. And students of all stripes may find themselves with an appropriately nuanced perception of the sociopolitical conditions of the Middle East for having studied some aspect of its various cultures during their time at Bowdoin.
The editorial represents the majority view of The Bowdoin Orient's editorial board, which comprises Steve Kolowich, Anne Riley, Anna Karass, Adam Kommel, Mary Helen Miller, Joshua Miller, and Cati Mitchell.