USU launching Arabic language and culture classes next year

The languages, philosophy and speech communication department has announced a tenure-track position in Arabic, with plans to offer Arabic language and culture courses beginning fall 2010. Maria Cordero, associate professor of Spanish and chair of the Arabic search committee, said the position will initiate an Arabic program that includes cross-discipline classes in Middle East studies open to students in diverse majors, such as political science, economics, religious studies and history. The announcement comes just as students in the political science department formed a Middle East Club last week and circulated a petition asking the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (HASS) to add more classes in Middle East studies. Rob Jepson, political science sophomore, said he will present the petition to HASS Dean Yolanda Flores Niemann and Provost Ray Coward next week. Jepson said initial interest in the student-led push has been extremely positive, with 55 students signing up for the Middle East Club in its first week and 420 students signing their name to voice interest in taking a Middle East studies class if it were offered. “Political science professors have pushed for this before, but what’s never happened is a student push,” Jepson said. Jeannie Johnson, political science instructor who advises students interested in finding government jobs in Middle Eastern affairs, said an Arabic-studies program is imperative for USU students who want government jobs in Middle Eastern affairs. The Arabic search committee’s job announcement is a welcomed first step in rebuilding a Middle East emphasis across departments, she said. “Most all of (America’s) foreign policy is directed toward the Middle East. We ought to have a Middle East expert,” Johnson said. “Those government recruiters and any agencies who work abroad, when they come to our campus they are always shocked that we have such a lack of Middle East expertise. It is a struggle for them to hire our students … to justify it, when our students have, in some cases, zero background on the Middle East and no language training that would be even remotely relevant.”

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