Despite increased political and media attention toward the Middle East, tenured professors with expertise in the area remain scarce.
Top-tier universities such as Yale, Princeton and the University of Chicago have few, if any, tenured political science professors focused on the Middle East.
While many schools have responded to the post-Sept. 11 interest in Middle Eastern studies by adding courses to their registers, often adjunct or associate professors teach these courses -- not full faculty.
According to Penn Middle East Center Director Robert Vitalis, the lack of expertise in a specific world region is not unique to the Middle East.
"Over the course of the 1980s and '90s, the trend was to move away from area studies ... not just in the Middle East," the Political Science professor said. "Even at the level of government [you] saw this."
"Area study" is the academic interdisciplinary research and scholarship that pertains to a particular geographical or cultural region. The discipline developed after World War II.
According to Vitalis, there is now a trend to study the international system as a whole and not concentrate on particular regions.
While universities are searching for new professors, they are looking to hire more junior staff members to teach courses on the Middle East.
Vitalis views this as a response to post-Sept. 11 demands, not a new attitude in academia, adding that "it does not mean they want to do it."
Vitalis himself is one of two tenured professors at Penn who specializes in Middle Eastern politics. The other is Ian Lustick.
According to Heather Sharkey, a professor of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Penn is strongly represented in the area of Middle Eastern politics when compared to other schools.
Sharkey said that when she looks at job listings, there are very few Middle East faculty jobs being advertised on tenure track.
"I'm skeptical about whether academic communities would make room for Middle East experts," she said.
Sharkey said there were a few reasons for this.
One is that the social sciences stress the concept of objectivity. Many in academia think Middle Eastern political issues do not lend themselves well to objectivity.
"Objectivity suggested that Middle Eastern studies and political science did not fit well or to comfortably together," Sharkey said.
Another complication is the rise of 'think tanks' in recent years that specialize in specific regions in the Middle East.
"These kind of institutions produce the kinds of knowledge that area studies used to produce," Vitalis said.
He added that these scholars who are dedicated to research have an edge over professors.
"All experts do is write, but professors also teach," he said, "[so] a teacher's time is always divided."