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May 18, 2024

Hopkins Middle East specialization inadequate - Fit To Print

By Francesca Hansen | April 20, 2005

The Middle East is apparently not an important region of study for Hopkins International Studies students. Judging from the course selection and corresponding language program, it seems that the administration assumes that students must not be interested in studying the Middle East.

Even though it is one of the most important political and strategic regions in the world, Hopkins students are left largely in the dark. It's shameful that there are one or two courses focusing on the Middle East per semester within Hopkins' strong political science department.

What kind of monolith do we assume the Middle East to be? The classes on the Israel-Palestine conflict and Middle East politics are consistently offered, but the sad reality is that by the time IR majors reach the end of their sophomore year, they have run through all the potential Middle East classes. Incoming students' dreams of a Middle Eastern Studies program that is even a hint of the SAIS powerhouse are quickly shattered. To prevent more generations of disillusioned freshmen, when NPR quotes Fouad Ajami, they really should specify which Hopkins branch he comes from.

Professor Waleed Hazbun, a recent addition to the political science department, is currently the only professor who specializes in Middle Eastern politics. Combine the possibilities of scheduling conflicts and Hazbun's academic or personal leave, and students could go through their entire Hopkins education without a proper Middle Eastern studies class. And even if a student took every class that Professor Hazbun taught over the course of four years at Hopkins, this could hardly be considered enough to gain a true "specialization" in Middle Eastern policy. We simply need more political science professors' perspectives.

One can look to the anthropology department for cultural discussions on the Middle East, but these professors could hardly be expected to fill the shoes of a political scientist. Learning about gender relations in Oman is simply not the same as learning about the political economy of Saudi Arabia.

Hopkins needs to make this a budgeting priority, either by expanding the Political Science department, or, better yet, give Middle Eastern Studies its own department. The long-awaited Africana studies department was a step in the right direction of academic diversity. Now, the administration only needs to look a little bit toward the east.

Georgetown has a center for Contemporary Arab Studies that has been in place for almost 30 years. Within this center, one can specialize in economics, culture and society , history, politics or women and gender. At Hopkins, I worry that I may not complete a simple Middle eastern studies focus within IR before graduating.

Even if Hopkins expanded its political science department - a procedure that requires extensive administrative maneuvering, any student hoping to branch out into a career in the Middle East is crippled without a good language program.

Up until this year, the Arabic language program was hampered by a professor who accumulated multiple, legitimate student complaints every year. Only this year, with a new professor and a new T.A., is the program nearer to being sufficient. Yet the Arabic program and the Farsi program at this school are barebones at best, and Turkish isn't even offered. With one professor for all students in the Arabic and Farsi programs, respectively, the program is overstretched and inadequate. There is no possibility for students to take anything beyond Advanced Arabic. Georgetown offers Arabic syntax, Arabic literature, and more. Hopkins Arabic students consider ourselves lucky that we finally have a professor who can give a coherent lecture.

Furthermore, at the risk of giving into the Hopkins mentality, it is hardly in keeping with our reputation as a research institution to have such a deficient program. Political science students would love to do more research, too, but it's almost impossible to do research in the Middle East without speaking to your subjects. The one student I know who is doing research in the Middle East is able to do so thanks to an intensive Arabic language program he took at Middlebury college. If Hopkins would like to pay for all interested students to sign up for Arabic programs over the summer, they are welcome to do so. Yet, I would hope that Hopkins would take this deficiency seriously and expand the scope of our on-campus study of the Middle East.

As a school that has the capacity to breed fellows, politicians and diplomats, the school should take students who would like to study the Middle East more seriously. A weak Middle East focus at this school is not acceptable.

-Francesca Hansen is a junior International Studies and French major.

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