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Middle East Center Restructuring to Focus on Collaboration and Future Success

December 20, 2011—The Middle East Center at the University of Utah is embarking on a two-year restructuring program dedicated to revitalizing its educational mission by collaborating with other campus programs and community partners, while bringing the Center in better alignment with budgetary realities.

The process will be overseen by Interim Co-directors Kirk Jowers and Bob Goldberg, who have agreed to provide oversight for this two-year period. Jowers heads the Hinckley Institute of Politics and Goldberg the Tanner Humanities Center. Both are in the process of significantly enhancing their focus on Middle East studies. The new Wayne Owens Chair, which they jointly administer, this year held by an Israeli scholar and next year to be held by an Arabist, is but one indication of this commitment. These interim co-directors will report to Humanities Dean Robert Newman and have the authority to make decisions regarding curriculum, student progress, staff oversight, budget, development, programming, and other matters.

In spring 2011, Dean Newman appointed a cross-campus advisory committee to examine the Middle East Center’s present situation and to offer recommendations for the future. His charge to the committee, given this crucial juncture in Middle East history, was to make Middle East studies vibrant and to offer restructuring suggestions.

The committee was chaired by Paul Mogren, professor of library science and past president of the Academic Senate. It also included Martha Bradley, associate vice president for Undergraduate Studies; Bob Goldberg, director of the Tanner Humanities Center, Jeff Kentor, associate dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences; Kirk Jowers, director of the Hinckley Institute for Politics; Janet Theiss, director of the Asia Center; and Lew Cramer, director of the World Trade Center of Salt Lake City and a member of the MEC’s community advisory board.

Committee members met with various administrators who had worked with the Middle East Center as well as with its faculty, students and staff. It now has issued its report and, after consultation with David Pershing, senior vice president for Academic Affairs, Dean Newman is implementing the following items:

  • The Center will engage in innovative programming dealing with critical issues in the contemporary Middle East.
  • The interim co-directors will appoint an inclusive, cross-campus advisory committee to assist with decision-making and with the reshaping of the Center.     
  • The interim co-directors will work closely with the community advisory board on fundraising.
  • Partnerships will be actively sought to strengthen the Center on campus, in the community, and through development support.
  • Paralleling the practice of other centers in the university, the co-directors will elevate external funding to the MEC by expanding donors relations and grant submissions.
  • The foundation of Middle East Studies at the University of Utah will continue to be its undergraduate program. The requirements for this program will be restructured to parallel the successful area studies programs in Asian and Latin American studies. Part of this restructuring was undertaken last spring with Middle East language courses.
  • For the two-year interim period, a moratorium will be placed on new admissions into the M.A. and Ph.D. programs while we assess the efficacy and potential restructuring of those programs. Students currently enrolled in these programs will continue to be well-advised and appropriately supported. The new governing committee will review the progress of each graduate student annually to ensure timely degree completion.
  • In order to increase the number and breadth of faculty working in the MEC, faculty appointments will be aligned with the structures of other international programs in the College of Humanities and of centers throughout the university. Rather than revolve the scholarly and pedagogical interests of the MEC around a very small number of joint appointments, these appointments will end. Faculty holding them will be invited to join an expanded number of affiliated faculty from across campus whose research, teaching or service interests include Middle East studies. This increased interdisciplinary emphasis has led to the burgeoning success of both the Asia Center and the Latin American Studies Program in the College of Humanities and also should stimulate the growth and viability of the Middle East Center.

In addition to the above goals, the Middle East Center will stress both academic excellence and a commitment to campus and community outreach in the form of teaching workshops, lecture series, conferences, films, etc.

The operating support for the Center from the College of Humanities will be maintained for this interim period with additional support from the Dean and the Senior Vice President.

At the conclusion of this two-year interim period, January 1, 2014, it is expected that the Center will be re-energized, re-focused, and well on its way toward success. At this juncture, a search for a new director will begin and preparations implemented for a proposal to renew Title VI funding.