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Arabic program is offering too few courses

Lack of a 300-level Arabic course next spring is disappointing.

When I was first searching for colleges, I had three main requirements. The first was that the college needed to have a wide selection of physics courses and an observatory. The second was that it needed to have a well-supported international studies program. Finally, it needed to have Arabic. Kenyon fit the bill on all counts, and I was excited to attend a college that would allow me to explore my diverse interests. While I’ve since moved away from physics, I’m majoring in international studies, taking intermediate Arabic and am planning to study abroad next fall in Jordan.

The Arabic program has undergone some changes since my arrival as a first year, but the professors have been instrumental to my continued appreciation of the language. In my limited experience, Arabic has been a unique mixture of pure logic and artistic license, as though it were a blend of C++ and improv jazz. Of course, learning a new language with a new alphabet and a new grammatical system has forced me to deal with mind-numbing memorization, embarrassing mistakes and absurdly arbitrary rules of conjugation. But slowly overcoming those obstacles has been one of the highlights of my time at Kenyon, and while I still have the Arabic language skills of a five year old, I look forward to the distant future when I can make fun of Karl Marx in more than one language.

That’s why I was disappointed to learn that 300-level Arabic would not be offered during spring 2018. There will be upper-level Arabic offered next fall semester, but unfortunately, that is when I’ll be abroad. I’ve spoken to my professor about my options for continuing to take the language, but it appears they’re limited. There are online classes I might be able to take for credit, but actual conversational interaction in those courses is limited and students’ reviews are mixed. There is a social component to the language that is lost in online courses, so they are not ideal. Independent studies with the professors are also theoretically possible, but because between five and ten students have already expressed interest in an independent study, it would be unrealistic not to just teach another class. Unfortunately, Professor Hemmig and Professor al-Attabi, the two professors in the Arabic department, are at their class limits.

According to Professor al-Attabi, the chair of the Arabic department, the department attempted to hire additional faculty this past fall but failed to find a suitable candidate. This is regrettable, and while I dearly wish there were an individual I could blame for this quandary, there is not. This problem is bigger than myself, though. I know of at least one MLL major whose secondary language is Arabic. This means they must take at least one semester of upper-level Arabic, but because of the lack of Arabic professors, this student might not be able to fulfill that requirement. They now have to take a summer course in order to graduate. This means that Arabic is not the full-fledged language program that’s advertised on Kenyon’s website. Even though the MLL department is not at fault here, the college and the MLL department should bear these consequences in mind.

The Arabic department is still new, so it’s unrealistic to expect it should already have a well-established and consistent long-term curriculum. In fact, despite the challenges facing the Arabic department, Professor al-Attabi tells me it has developed an entirely new state-of-the-art pedagogical methodology. But the faculty size reflects that of a promising but still fledgling program with a long way to go. At Kenyon, Arabic was the only language to have all of its intermediate sections completely fill up this past fall. Waiting lists were long for Beginner Arabic, and both sections filled up within 10 minutes of the registration period. The MLL department and Kenyon College should continue to keep Arabic up to speed with the rest of its languages so these shortages don’t occur again. Professor al-Attabi tells me that the department intends to hire another Arabic professor for fall 2018. I urge the college and MLL department to ensure he has all the resources he needs to make the second search successful.

Adam Aluzri ’19 is an international studies and economics double major from West Hollywood, California. Contact him at aluzria@kenyon.edu.

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