The Middle Eastern Studies Association (MESA) has elected University of Utah historian Peter Sluglett to a top leadership post. Specializing in Syria, Sluglett has been a long-time faculty leader of the U.'s Middle East Center, serving as its director between 1994 and 2000.
His successful candidacy results in a three-year leadership commitment to the leading academic organization devoted to the interdisciplinary study of Middle Eastern culture, politics, languages and history. Currently on sabbatical in Singapore, Sluglett begins his official one-year term as president in January 2013, sandwiched between terms as president-elect and past-president, according to the association based at Arizona State University.
"It shows that Middle East Center still has important and prominent scholars," said colleague Hakan Yavuz, a professor of political science and MEC faculty member from Turkey. "You do have the infrastructure and the core faculty, and Peter's election is one of the signs of it."
The center has fallen on hard times in recent years under the leadership of a new director hired from the University of Maine, whom the U. has since fired in the wake of a plagiarism scandal.
The center lost a key federal grant, exhausted its financial resources and has struggled building up its faculty in the face of retirements and what some faculty members regard as tepid support from the university. Yavuz hopes Sluglett's selection as MESA president will signal to administrators that the MEC is still worthy of institutional support.
"Given how important the region is to U.S. national security, it would be stupid to not invest in Middle East studies," Yavuz said. "It is less costly to support the center, rather than build something from scratch."
Sluglett is widely published in 19th and 20th century history of the Arab Middle East, with a particular interest in the legacy of colonial rule in countries like Lebanon, Syria and Iraq that have been led by dictators and riven by sectarian strife since achieving their independence.