Binghamton University’s Arabic studies program has added a Turkish language track, making BU the only university within the SUNY system to offer such a track, according to Kevin Lacey, undergraduate director for Arabic studies.
Arabic studies at BU, like at other schools across the country, has seen a marked increase in enrollment, but the additional student interest has strained its budget and teaching resources. Enrollment in Elementary Arabic 1, for example, has tripled in the last decade.
“Enrollments in Arabic at BU have been mirroring that national trend, even with limited Arabic faculty and accordingly limited sections,” Lacey said.
In response to this demand, the Arabic studies program has made petitions to the University administration in recent years for additional resources.
“Vigorous appeals were made in the spring of 2010 for a part-time faculty appointment. An adjunct appointment was granted, for one course, over 2010-11, and [was] very helpfully renewed for 2011-12,” Lacey said.
Arabic studies has also gained a new, three-year visiting professor, Gorkay Durmus, along with a number of teaching assistants who will teach courses in Turkish. Durmus’ salary is being financed by the government of Turkey, and at least one of the teaching assistants is a Fulbright-supported Teaching Fellow, according to Katharine Krebs, vice provost for international affairs and director of international programs.
“With Binghamton’s long standing commitment to Ottoman history, the importance of Turkey in our complex, globalized world and our growing number of Turkish students and alumni, the opportunities for Binghamton students to study Turkish is an exciting development,” Krebs said.
Associate professor Lacey said that creating the Turkish language track “has taken much work and lobbying in the face of many challenges.”
Lacey said that he and a colleague spent several months communicating with officials in the Turkish government to secure funding for the courses, including trips to speak with these officials in person at the United Nations in New York.
“Resulting from all of this was winning salary support from the Turkish government, for three years, for the appointment of a visiting Turkish professor from a Turkish university,” Lacey said.
Lacey said he believes Turkish course offerings will help BU stay competitive with other universities that have Arabic programs.
“It is important for all universities that aspire to be premier universities to have strong Arabic programs. This goes without saying if one takes into consideration the new economic and global realities,” Lacey said. “Most Middle Eastern language departments at premier universities include not only Arabic but also Persian and Turkish. These are commonly regarded as the most important languages in the Middle East.”
Talat Okby, an adjunct professor for Arabic studies at BU, said that Turkey has had a large cultural impact on much of the Middle East throughout history.
“There has been a lot of political and social interaction over the ages between Turkey and some Arab states like Egypt and Syria,” Okby said.
Eid Mohamed, visiting assistant professor of Arabic and Near Eastern studies, said he saw the benefit of becoming proficient in many strands of Arabic.
“Through multiple literacies in the Arabic language, BU students are able to embark on career paths as diplomats and foreign service officers, translators, consultants, and conduct graduate work involving competency in Arabic in areas such as international affairs, political science, religion, history, comparative literature and business,” Mohamed said.
Harpur College Dean Donald Nieman said that Lacey’s efforts to grow the Arabic studies program exemplified the kind of efforts made by professors to expand curriculums and course offerings. He also emphasized that the new Turkish program will provide opportunities for graduate students as well as undergraduates by helping reinforce graduate-level study of Turkey and the Ottoman Empire at BU.
Eileen Richling, a junior double-majoring in Arabic and Spanish, said that BU already has a strong connection with Turkey and Turkish students.
“With so many Turkish students on campus, it’ll give American students the chance to practice their language with them and learn from them as they are from us,” she said.
Binghamton has a dual-diploma program that offers joint degrees with several different universities in Turkey. More than 200 Turkish students attend the University as part of the program.
Even as the Arabic studies program adds the Turkish track, Lacey said he hopes one day it will offer Persian as well.
“Persian, too, is a global language, with speakers in Iraq and Afghanistan and other inner Asian states, above and beyond the … millions of speakers in Iran,” Lacey said.