CampusWatch: V-Day dialog and Arabic studies

On a campus where complaining about the lack of a dating scene is a favorite pastime, where five varieties of Trojan condoms can be purchased along with single-serving Tylenol and gummi bears in the Norris University Center C-store, Northwestern Hillel and College Feminists might just bring us all – the coupled, single, sexually frustrated or any variation of the above – a meaningful way to observe our favorite Hallmark holiday this year.

NU assistant professor Eli Finkel, known for his speed dating experiments and popular psychology classes, will host a discussion, “Can you ever just be friends?” today in Norris’ Dittmar Gallery as part of Hillel’s ongoing “Ask Big Questions” series. Hillel is teaming up with College Feminists for this discussion in an attempt to bring the conversation series begun last quarter to a more mainstream campus audience.

Sure it’s nothing we haven’t watched Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal hash out before, but most of us were in diapers when “When Harry Met Sally” was made, and the dating scene isn’t the only think that’s lacking at NU: Medill sophomore and “Ask Big Questions” board member Allie Gross says “Ask Big Questions” provides opportunities to have the kind of thoughtful, more intellectual conversations many always dream of having when they come to college but find missing amongst a constant rush of keg parties and midterms.

“It’s an opportunity to interact with a professor outside of the classroom. It’s like schmoozing,” Gross says of the series’ goal. “We’ll all sit on the floor in the art gallery, and anyone can say how they feel.”

If pondering carnal urges towards your friends isn’t your idea of a romantic Valentine’s Day, the group hopes to team up with Arts Alliance for “What’s the most beautiful thing about people” later in the quarter. And really, what’s more romantic than that?

– Amanda PalleschiDeputy Campus Editor

President Henry Bienen just got back from a three-day swing through Qatar and Kuwait, where he checked on the status of construction on NU’s campus there.

He returned to report that winters in the desert are colder than you might expect – and to announce progress on the university’s efforts to build education on Middle Eastern topics. Both are good initiatives. The only question is why it’s taken this long.

After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq refocused attention on the Middle East, headlines trumpeted an uptick in students enrolled in Arabic and Middle Eastern studies courses. Though NU had been in talks at the time to expand the curriculum, nothing got done.

Harvard University and the University of Chicago both offer majors in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations; Yale University just announced a major in Modern Middle Eastern studies. Many other universities have been building up their departments for years.

Still, NU lumps many complex regions together in an Asian and Middle Eastern Studies department – including China, Korea, Turkey and the Middle East – in which students wishing to major choose a language and geographic region to study.

Hiring more professors is a good step toward making this department more solid, focused and defined. As the Middle East continues to be a crossroads of world affairs, it gains importance for students in a variety of disciplines.

Still, there is work to be done. Arabic, consistently cited as a strategic language and surely a key part of any Middle Eastern studies program, has only one full-time lecturer, for example.

Bienen speaks eloquently about the possibilities for dialogue that establishing an American university in the Middle East will offer. As the expensive campus continues to rise in Doha, we hope the administration will consider its devotion to perpetuating those exchanges at home as well.

– Libby NelsonCampus Editor