The seemingly simple process of transitioning the University's Arabic courses to a new department this year was complicated by several publicized complaints from current instructors concerning what they saw as detrimental changes to the curriculum and potential inequities in the hiring process for next year.
"Discussions about transition always concluded that the first year following the transition should be a year of observations without changes," Arabic instructor Mohamed Jemmali said in an April letter to students, referring to the process for moving Arabic from the Yamada Language Center to the College of Arts & Sciences under the Religious Studies department.
There were substantial changes to the program, however, according to Jemmali's letter. He noted the turnover in the Arabic faculty come fall — both Jemmali and the other primary instructor, Maytham Abdul-Hameed will be replaced — among other issues to exemplify pitfalls in the transition process.
"Changes after the transition negatively affected quality of teaching and learning effectiveness," Jemmali said.
The changes in the Arabic program came about to address the increased demand for the subject in the past few years, according to religious studies department head Daniel Falk. The Yamada Language Center, established to house language courses not currently taught under other departments, was not equipped to keep up with the growing student interest.
"It was clear that it needed to leave Yamada and be established," Falk said, adding that it was the first step in potentially establishing Arabic as a formal major or minor in the next few years.
Several departments voiced interest in housing Arabic, Falk said, and after sorting through the requests the University determined that it fit best under religious studies. The curriculum for Arabic, however, would stay relatively the same, Falk said.
"We will ensure that Arabic will continue to be taught," Falk said. "These are not religious studies courses; they are Arabic courses."
Concerning the decision to hire two new faculty, Falk did not give details past that Jemmali's position was not extended and Hameed withdrew from consideration for next year. Both Jemmali and Hameed declined to comment.
"In any transition like this, one is building one's own team." Falk said, adding that "sometimes there are differences in requirements between departments."
According to University junior Kayla Martin, set to finish her third year in the Arabic program at the end of the term, the changes during the transition were more significant than just slight modifications between departments.
"The pace for beginner students is being amped to a level that is above the top Arabic program in the nation," Martin said.
The classes became noticeably more difficult in the past year, Martin said, and they focused less on Arabic culture and history than they did during her first two years in the program.
"It just seems really strange to me that the person who is in charge of the department knows nothing about the culture and doesn't speak Arabic," Martin said, referring to Falk — an ancient Judaism and biblical studies professor.
In addition to changes to the curriculum, Martin said she worries that future Arabic instructors will be met with a hostile work environment and that the entire program will suffer without the leadership of Jemmali and Hameed.
"I definitely think that the Arabic program is losing two really great professors who really cared," Martin said.
University junior Brendan Dunne, who is also completing his third year studying Arabic, said he was also disappointed Jemmali and Hameed will not continue next year. Overall, however, Dunne does not see the changes to the program as a negative.
"I don't think they're detrimental to the program," Dunne said, adding that hiring on formal Arabic professors next year could help put the University on par with other Arabic departments around the country.
"I think it's unfortunate that Mohamed and Maytham were let go," Dunne said, "But that makes sense that they want to hire people with Ph.D.s."