The Middle East Studies concentration at Brown requires students to demonstrate competence in Arabic, Egyptian, Hebrew, Hindi-Urdu, Persian or Turkish, despite the fact that the latter two are not offered at the University.
But if Professor of Anthropology William Beeman has his way, the program will soon offer courses in Persian, a language spoken by over 37 million people in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Gulf Arab states.
Beeman has secured a grant from the Alavi Foundation, a New York-based Islamic nonprofit group, that will provide funding for a Persian language class for three years if the University agrees to fund the program subsequently.
Although Beeman made a funding request to Dean of the College Paul Armstrong and Provost Rob Zimmer several months ago, he said he hasn't yet received a response. Beeman said the program has been pushing the University to offer Persian classes for nearly three decades.
"It is at the top of our list and essential for the development of the Middle East program. It's an important component of the South Asian Studies program as well," Beeman said.
Beeman estimated that even if the administration signs on, it will be a couple of years before the class could be started because the University would need to conduct a nationwide search for an instructor. To further his cause, Beeman is encouraging interested students to petition the administration.
"(Administrators) rarely listen to faculty because they think we're acting in self-interest, but they probably are not certain that there was enough student interest," Beeman said.
Already, some student support has been forthcoming. Atena Asiaii '08, co-president of the Muslim Students' Associa-tion, started a Group Indepen-dent Student Project on modern Persian literature last semester. The course, which was led by Professor of Comparative Literature Kamran Rastegar, ended up enrolling only four students because a strong knowledge of Persian was necessary to understand the material, Asiaii said. Last semester, Asiaii joined Beeman and Professor of History Engin Akarli in petitioning Armstrong to begin offering Persian at Brown.
Asiaii said she would not have chosen to attend Brown if she was not accepted into the Program in Liberal Medical Education because the Middle East Studies program was not up to her standards. The majority of the Ivies offer Persian.
This semester Asiaii has started a Persian club. Currently, there are 15 members in the group, and Asiaii said she thinks many more would join if Beeman's class became a reality.
Ariana Raufi '09, who is half-Persian and half-Swedish, doesn't understand how the University can afford to offer so many other languages, but not Persian.
"If my Swedish course has only six people and they're teaching it, then Persian shouldn't be a problem," Raufi said.
Fellow club member Amir Radjy '09 agreed.
"If people can learn about hieroglyphics here, they should be able to learn Persian. It's more world-relative," said Radjy, "You can't understand a culture without the most important part."
Enrollment figures in other Middle East languages this year reflect high student interest in the region. Asiaii had to push for a third Arabic section to accommodate the 80 students who wanted to take it.
"We're currently talking to UCS to get their help on this issue, but ultimately we want to make a place for Persians to be able to join together. It's good for people to get in touch with their ethnic identity. There are a surprising number of students who are Persian or half-Persian who don't speak the language," Asiaii said.
"The administration hasn't been very supportive. (Arm-strong) made me think that it was coming soon though. I feel like we're trying to get the message across but they're a little apprehensive. People are very interested and Persian should be important enough for the administration to realize this," Asiaii said.
Armstrong could not be reached for comment.
Adding to student frustration with the Middle East Studies concentration is the absence of three of its key professors.
Akarli, Assistant Professor of Political Science Melani Cammett and Associate Professor of Religious Studies Muhammad Zaman all left before the start of the semester and are all pursuing research positions at other Universities.