UC Berkeley's Near Eastern studies department is cutting ties with an award-winning online Arabic course hosted by the campus, saying it distracts the department from serving students here.
Arabic Without Walls, designed by UC Berkeley lecturer Sonia Shiri, opened last fall for concurrent registration by students throughout the UC system. The systemwide Academic Senate allows students to take the course at no additional cost.
A half-million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Education initially funded the course, and the UC Office of the President agreed to finance it through next school year, officials said. No funding comes from UC Berkeley's Near Eastern studies department.
But following the Near Eastern studies faculty's vote earlier this month to no longer host Arabic Without Walls, the program must move to another campus or risk cancellation, said Robert Blake, director of the UC Consortium for Language Learning and Teaching.
The department voted to end its affiliation with the course because it does not benefit UC Berkeley students, said chair Carol Redmount, though she added it does not take from department funding, faculty and class offerings.
"Arabic Without Walls took resources away from our own Arabic program that we thought should be devoted to Berkeley students," she said. "It did take up quite a lot of our department manager's time and efforts dealing with a variety of paperwork."
Shiri said the decision "demoralized and saddened" her.
"I always thought of those students who would not learn Arabic otherwise," she said. "It's shocking that one can be so unable or unwilling to see benefits that appear to all."
The course was created by Shiri, the UC Consortium for Language Learning and Teaching and Brigham Young University's National Middle East Language Resource Center.
Seven students are currently enrolled in the program, which recently won the Esperanto "Access to Language Education" Award. Derek Roff, chair of the award's evaluation committee, praised the course's audio and visual resources and thoughtfully designed curriculum.
"If this program is being cancelled, we will have lost the best resource that exists in this country for training future Arabic speakers," he said.
Roff said there is a "tremendous" shortage of Americans who speak Arabic in practically every field, including government, education and business.
Blake said the program could move to UC Davis, UCLA or UC San Diego, but UC Berkeley's resources made the institution a natural fit.
"Most of their arguments didn't seem to hold any water in that we weren't taking away from local programs at Berkeley and we're not costing them anything administratively," he said. "It was an opportunity for cooperation and innovation, and Berkeley seems to be losing that."