Backed by student and faculty interest and donor support, the University of Oregon is exploring development of new curriculum on a critical part of the world: the Middle East.
Under the Rutherford Initiative in Middle East Studies, faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences will lead a three-year effort aimed at creating an undergraduate minor in Middle East studies.
"Over the past several years, interest in Middle East studies has grown on our campus," said Ian McNeely, associate dean for undergraduate education. "Students show active and sustained interest in the politics, society, culture and history of the region and new faculty offerings have begun to meet this demand."
In support of expanding Middle East curriculum in the college, McNeely noted that the popularity of Arabic language and literature offerings has prompted the launch of an Arabic Studies minor; the faculty boasts particular strengths in the study of Islam, Judaism and Christianity; and there is a large contingent of Arabic-speaking international students in the student body.
With the recent approval of a South Asian Studies minor, the Middle East is now the only major region of the world in which the university lacks an area studies minor, McNeely said.
The college can address this gap thanks to support from William Rutherford, a 1961 graduate of UO's history department. Rutherford, who also holds a law degree from Harvard, served as Oregon treasurer from 1984 to 1987 and is currently president of Rutherford Investment Management, a Portland-based investment firm.
Under the Rutherford Initiative, anthropology professor Diane Baxter will work with scholars from anthropology, geography, history, international studies, political science, religious studies and other fields.
Baxter, who has deep research and teaching expertise in the Middle East, will lead an effort that includes:
- Development of a lower-division undergraduate course in Middle East studies that she will teach.
- Consultation among UO faculty on the aims, content and design of a Middle East studies minor.
- Course development support for UO faculty who want to design or redesign courses that might fit into a Middle East studies minor.
- Visits by guest speakers and other events to promote public awareness of the initiative and to gather expert perspectives on Middle East studies programs at other leading research universities.
- Outreach to international students from the Middle East, and to interested UO student groups such as the Arab Student Union, the Muslim Student Association and the Jewish Student Union.
- Exploration of possible collaborations with colleagues at Portland State University, which hosts a Title VI National Resource Center in Middle East Studies.