AMajors criticize NELC red tape

Some students in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations say the department does not offer enough classes for undergraduates interested in the contemporary Middle East.

While the University as a whole has increased its offerings on the Middle East, current undergraduates said they must overcome bureaucratic hurdles to count classes related to NELC toward the major. But professor Benjamin Foster said his department does its best to identify courses throughout the University each semester that will be of interest to NELC majors. For courses to be counted toward the major, those that are not listed in the department must be individually approved by the director of undergraduate studies in NELC.

“Why aren’t these courses cross-listed? You can never tell if you’re taking a class that will count for your major or not,” Amelie Hutchings ’08 said.

NELC professor Benjamin Foster said the early printing of the Yale College Programs of Study — the Blue Book — prevents the department from identifying every course pertaining to the Middle East before it is too late to cross-list it. Other departments do not necessarily tell NELC professors about related courses when they are created, he said.

“Usually [the Blue Book] goes to press quite early,” Foster said. “We often hear about courses much later.”

But the department has a flexible policy for counting courses toward requirements for the major, Foster said, once the DUS reviews the syllabus for a class in question. If a course has “substantial Middle Eastern content,” it is admitted to the major, he said.

“Our department is very liberal in that respect,” Foster said.

Hala Nassar, the NELC DUS, declined to comment. Department chair Beatrice Gruendler could not be reached for comment Thursday.

NELC major Samantha Langevin ’06 said she had difficulty finding courses on Arabic literature that did not focus on works for their philosophical or religious significance. But the department was relatively generous in counting nondepartmental courses to fulfill the major requirements, she said.

“The department is very aware of its shortcomings, even if it doesn’t necessarily do the best job fixing them,” Langevin said.

But several students said they had difficulty setting up meetings with members of the department to discuss requirements for the major, despite the department’s small size.

“It’s been my experience so far that it’s very hard to get ahold of anyone,” said one student, who requested anonymity due to a need to work with department administrators in the future.

Another student, currently enrolled in the second semester of “Elementary Modern Standard Arabic,” asked not to be named because he plans to continue taking NELC classes. He said his class faced administrative confusion last semester when students were told two different things about “Spoken Standard Arabic,” a supplement to the introductory course. Some instructors told the students that the supplement must be taken concurrently with the first course, but department regulations permit it to be taken in a later semester.

“There’s no clear line of control for who you talk to,” another student, who asked not to be named, said.

But several students said the majority of professors teaching in the NELC department are understanding and accessible.

“Our frustrations are more with the departmental organization than with learning the language,” one student said.

Foster said enrollment in the major, including in Arabic language classes, has increased in recent years. He said he thinks the growth is unrelated to recent political events, particularly the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Student interest has recently been focused on contemporary Middle East studies, Foster said, while Yale’s NELC department has historically been strong in the ancient period. He said the University has not yet authorized a NELC department search for a specialist in contemporary Middle East, although the Yale Center for International and Area Studies is conducting a search to hire a new professor in the subject.

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