University Policy Threatening Future of Middle Eastern, South Asian Departments Discussed at StudCo Meeting: “The Hypocrisy of this is Unreal”

Over 50 students attended the student council meeting tonight to discuss administrative issues, including a recently enacted policy on classes with low enrollment. The University will require professors whose classes have less than 8 enrolled students to give justification for the existence of their class to Dean Ian Baucom. If the Dean doesn’t approve the justification, the class will be cancelled 2 days before the beginning of the semester. Student members of the Board of Visitors communicated what they’d heard from Deans – that the policy’s primary goal is “to improve the educational quality that this college is able to offer,” insisting that there was “no intention to shut down certain departments.”

However, due to the vague language used in the policy details, students and faculty are concerned over the future of classes, particularly in the Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures (MESALC) department. A number of students who attended tonight’s meeting expressed grievances over the policy, and warned that it could cause departments to collapse.

Omeed Faegh, a first year, emphasized the value of being able to take classes in the MESALC department during a time of a “general lack of knowledge about Middle Eastern culture and South Asian culture…it’s more important now than ever to keep the department healthy and alive.” He said that because of the unclear policy terms, students and professors within the department feel anxious about the fate of certain classes.

“The bill would cripple the already struggling department,” he pressed.

Katherine Weyback, transfer student, said that part of the appeal of UVa for her was the variety of resources but specifically the diverse language programs.

“Now the languages that I specifically transferred here to study are under threat of being completely eradicated – namely Hindi…Urdu, Persian, Tibetan, Sanskrit…and it’s not just the Middle Eastern language department that’s under threat here , it’s also Greek, Latin, Portuguese – all the classes that generally garner a handful of students.”

She also expressed feelings of frustration over the ineffective communication by the administration.

“Nobody knows about this – the only information we’ve gotten so far is trickling down from Professors and even they seem to be getting a different answer from the Deans every hour,” she said.

“Our status as supposedly one of the premier institutions of higher education in the US compels us to inspire interest in fields crucial to global involvement and not suppress it. This is extremely upsetting to me as a student especially amidst all the recent turmoil in Charlottesville, amidst all the cookie cutter emails from the University about our ‘values of diversity.’ The hypocrisy of this is…unreal.”

Wes Gobar, a fourth year, raised concerns over the policy’s potential for increasing administrative control over an already highly bureaucratic system.

“I’m really concerned that this policy will open the door to greater administrative control over what constitutes sufficient pedagogical value. Every administrator from Teresa Sullivan to Dean Groves will tell you that this university is dedicated to diversity, but we cannot claim to be dedicated [to] diversity if we put in place these kind of policies that endanger our most diverse professors and departments.”

Attiya Latif, a fourth year, mentioned how intrinsically rewarding classes in MESALC are for her and encouraged student council to not only resist the policy, but to also look into how MESALC can be better supported.

“We need a department like this. We need nuance in a time when nuance isn’t given to us in a lot of our…politics classes where topics about the Middle East are boiled down to really easy-to-swallow narratives that don’t necessarily tell the truth.”

The removal of this policy will require a significant and united effort on all fronts.

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