WRMEA, April/May 1997, pgs. 91, 94

Northwest News

Portland State Leads Formation of Oregon Middle East Studies Consortium

by Elaine Kelley

The founding meeting of the Oregon Middle East Studies Consortium (OMESC) was held at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon on January 25. It is the first statewide Middle East studies consortium in the country to apply for Department of Education Title VI funding. If successful, it will expand Middle East studies opportunities within the state by maximizing the use of limited resources. Other Middle East consortia in the country funded by Title VI have been at New York University/Princeton and the University of Washington/Portland State.

Portland State University (PSU), the only institution in Oregon offering a degree in Middle East studies, took the lead in organizing OMESC last year in response to a national review of area studies programs and funding. Jon Mandaville, director of PSU’s Middle East Studies, and Marta Colburn, the deputy director, led the discussion at Willamette. “The consortium idea has been around a long time,” Mandaville began. “We’ve been discussing it at the annual Northwest Regional Middle East Studies meeting, and we’ll have another one this year, but it has never been institutionalized.” Mandaville said that institutionalization is not just about newsletters or occasional meetings but will be a formal sharing of curricula, “a delicate issue to deal with,” he said. “If we can pull off a congruence of interest and provide students with greater opportunities for area studies and build it into the curriculum, then we will have commitment and significant institutionalization.”

Mandaville told participants that Frederick Nunn, PSU’s director of the Office of International Affairs and a Latin American specialist, was meeting at UCLA with several hundred other area study directors and administrators of foreign and international studies to discuss how to present area studies in this country, whether to maintain the classic orientation to Middle East studies or develop an interesting, multiple-issue orientation, mixing public and private resources and disciplines, developing faculties and broadening the scope of area studies beyond what each institution working alone is able to do. “I’m proud of the fact that Portland State is taking the lead on this,” he said.

PSU’s deputy director, Marta Colburn, who authored the $783,550 Title VI, three-year funding proposal, explained that the Oregon consortium will continue to be developed whether or not funding is approved. She said she was pleased with the response by Oregon’s educational institutions to the consortium proposal and that so far eight memberships had been confirmed, including Oregon State University (OSU) in Corvallis, the University of Oregon (UofO) in Eugene, Clackamas Community College (CCC) in Oregon City, Sheldon Middle School in Corvallis, Portland Public Schools, Portland Community College (PCC), the non-profit Muslim Education Trust of Portland and, of course, PSU. Another tier of schools considering membership includes Linfield College in McMinnville, George Fox University in Newberg, Reed College and Lewis and Clark College in Portland. The fee for membership is $500. Outreach to more institutions in the state will be done once the Department of Education responds to the funding request, sometime this March or April.

Although the consortium is geared toward higher education needs, other bodies with a strong interest in introducing Arabic-language studies have much to gain by joining the consortium. In fact the decline of funds for language courses, Colburn said, has infuriated people in the lesser-taught languages like Arabic, which is the fastest growing language in the United States on the collegiate level. Arabic is second only to Chinese, she said, and is a big draw for students of Middle East studies. Colburn explained, “In the Title VI proposal, we’ve made offers of first-year Arabic at OSU and the U of O, in a seventh grade in Corvallis, at Pacific University in Forest Grove, and in Portland Public Schools at Lincoln High School.”

She explained that “language is the biggest stumbling block” for students and that efforts will be made as the consortium evolves to streamline policy on admissions, tuition, residency requirements and credit transfers to allow students of any member institution the option of taking non-resident language and other courses offered at other member institutions. Colburn explained that one very innovative part of the proposal is the PSU Middle East Certificate umbrella. Under the umbrella, students in any member institutions who complete the requirements can apply for Middle East Studies Certificates consecutive with graduation from their home institutions. Colburn said creation of a Middle East outreach position at OSU and a scholarship support program are also among the possibilities for the future.

Title VI funding will give impetus to the consortium and determine its pace and range of activities. Immediate plans call for a biannual newsletter to publicize consortium activities, updates on regional events,

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