While its peer universities offer dedicated Near or Middle Eastern Studies programs for undergraduates, Stanford's opportunities in Middle Eastern studies are less centralized.
Harvard, Yale and Princeton offer degree-granting programs in Near Eastern Studies or Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, and UC-Berkeley offers a program in Middle Eastern Studies. But Stanford does not offer a major in Near or Middle Eastern Studies.
Hoover Fellow Abbas Milani, director of the Center for Iranian Studies, said Stanford's current situation came about as a result of choices in the University's past.
"The reason for it is a strategic decision Stanford [made] maybe 30 to 40 years ago, to focus on the Soviet Union and Africa," Milani said. "And they made, I think, a very costly strategic decision."
Milani, however, felt that the University's program offerings have improved in recent years.
"As the Soviet Union fell and the Middle East became more prominent, [Stanford] realized the Middle East was the big kahuna," Milani said. "They made a decision belatedly, that they were going to fill this gap."
Milani highlighted the diversity of opportunities currently available as a solid base for continued improvements.
"With the Iranian studies, Islamic studies and Jewish studies programs here, I think we have a good base to go forward," he said. "I think we are on our way to having enough of a variety in these departments — and in history, art, political science courses — that I think a major program is a possibility in the not-too-distant future."
For the moment, undergraduates pursuing a formal course of study focused on the entire region rely on the minor in Middle Eastern Languages, Literatures and Cultures. The minor is coordinated through the African and Middle Eastern Languages and Literature (AME) program and offers tracks in both Arabic and Hebrew, as well as grounding in both language study and non-language cultural courses in Anthropology, Comparative Literature, History or Religious Studies.
"From my perspective, I really like the idea of a minor," said Senior Lecturer Vered Shemtov, who coordinates Hebrew within the AME program. "It's been growing tremendously in the last few years. It allows students to earn the minor, and then to major in something like International Relations."
Senior Lecturer Khalil Barhoum, the coordinator of the minor program who teaches Arabic classes, also believes the program has achieved success with students.
"We've had a very happy clientele so far," Barhoum said, "and we rival any other institution in terms of our retention rate. Arabic is often hard, and student numbers fall over the years, but our retention rate has remained exemplary."
Both Shemtov and Barhoum allowed for the possibility of the program's future expansion into a major.
"Students ask often for an Arabic major," Barhoum said.
"I would like it if there's interest," Shemtov added.
The AME program is affiliated with other cultural centers on campus that serve the region as well, including the Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies and the Taube Center for Jewish Studies, which offer support and guidance for students pursuing courses of study in the field.
Students also have the option of pursuing an Individually Designed Major in association with either program, though the process is not institutionalized and still requires a more rigorous approval process than a normal major.
Undergraduates interested in the Middle East can also pursue regional focuses in History, Religious Studies, International Relations and other departmental programs.