In his "Offer of the College," former Bowdoin President William DeWitt Hyde envisages an education that will equip graduates to "be at home in all lands and all ages." And though the academic curriculum here is broad, the College's lack of course offerings in Arabic language and Middle Eastern culture has made it so that Bowdoin students who aspire to careers in diplomacy or business in the Middle East?or wish to travel there for any reason?will not feel at home in the least.
This is a problem. There was a time when courses on the Middle East and its languages may have seemed like a luxury. Today, they are a necessity. Over the past half-century, global politics have shifted such that the Middle East has become a crucial focus of U.S. foreign policy. Cultural tensions between the West and the Middle East run high, and it seems reasonable to predict that this will be our generation's defining political dialectic.
As a result, many current and prospective college students have taken a constructive interest in learning about Middle Eastern culture, religion, and language. And while many schools, including NESCAC peers Middlebury and Williams, have responded by offering Arabic-instruction classes, Bowdoin?along with Bates and Colby?have remained uncharacteristically behind the curve. If the College is to remain competitive with other top institutions, it should prioritize the acquisition of an Arabic specialist as it prepares to hire new professors with capital campaign funds.
The Curriculum and Educational Policy Committee (CEP) has already allocated money for new professors in the anthropology and government departments, but the procurement of funds with which to hire an Islam specialist is still pending. And while Dean of Academic Affairs Cristle Collins Judd says that she has sought?so far with no success?to collaborate with other Maine schools on an Arabic consortium, bringing in an Arabic language professor remains absent from the agenda. Currently, students' best option for learning Arabic is to apply to summer immersion programs, whose cost compounds an already weighty tuition bill. We can do better.
The College needs to find and hire professors who will be able to give students the instruction in Middle Eastern culture and language that they both want and need. Bowdoin already has faculty, such as Jorunn Buckley and Shelley Deane, who have in the past taught classes on topics relating to the culture and politics of that region. The Office of the Dean for Academic Affairs should seriously consider creating a Middle Eastern Studies program by combining its current resources with new specialists in Arabic and Islam.
Bowdoin's alma mater boasts of the College's talent for producing leaders and statesmen. The next generation of leaders and statesmen will be far better suited to preside over world affairs if they possess a solid cultural understanding of the Middle East?an understanding that Bowdoin is currently unable to provide.
The editorial represents the majority view of The Bowdoin Orient's editorial board, which comprises Bobby Guerette, Beth Kowitt, Anna Karass, Steve Kolowich, and Anne Riley.