AMES, AMELL propose restructuring

by Alex Fredman | 10/16/17 2:20am

The College is in the final stages of considering a proposal to restructure the Asian and Middle Eastern Studies program and Asian and Middle Eastern Languages and Literatures department, separating Asian studies and Middle Eastern studies.

The proposal calls for the creation of two new interdisciplinary programs — Middle Eastern Studies and Asian Societies, Cultures and Languages — to replace the current AMES and AMELL units. The plan is scheduled to receive its final vote of approval at the general faculty meeting on Oct. 23, according to AMELL chair and Arabic Studies professor Jonathan Smolin and associate dean for international studies and interdisciplinary programs and a former chair of the AMES program Dennis Washburn.

Both new programs will be interdisciplinary, with core educational courses and a language requirement. This is in contrast with AMES, which is interdisciplinary but has no language requirement, and AMELL, which has a language requirement but is not interdisciplinary, according to Smolin.

“We believe that we are making these changes for the educational betterment of the institution,” he said.

Smolin said the restructuring can be understood as a process in which the current AMES and AMELL units would be combined and then separated into Middle Eastern and Asian sections as independent units. He added that while such a change has been discussed at Dartmouth for several years, it was catalyzed by a 2014 external review conducted of the AMELL department, which suggested a restructuring.

“We believe that the kind of intellectual and academic specificity of the new units reflect the importance of the Middle East and Asia in the 21st century,” Smolin said.

He added that most of Dartmouth’s peer institutions currently have separate Middle Eastern and Asian programs, which is beneficial because those areas combined account for a very large and diverse set of cultures and languages.

Smolin emphasized that both of the new units would be interdisciplinary, allowing them to connect “in vibrant and fundamental ways with other departments and academic interests on this campus,” and that he wants the new programs to be as flexible as possible to accommodate students.

Smolin also noted that all current AMES and AMELL students could opt to be “grandfathered” into the new programs, meaning they could choose to maintain their current major tracks under the old departments regardless of the changes. He added, however, that while most juniors and seniors will probably take this option, freshmen and sophomores who have not taken as many classes might want to consider adapting to the new requirements.

Washburn said that he believes many underclassmen will choose to switch over to the new requirements. He added that the new programs would be scheduled to take full effect by the fall 2018 term, meaning students in the Class of 2022 would be the first to only have the new options to choose from.

“The key thing is to have a program that responds to students who are interested in those areas, provide a lot of opportunities for study,” Washburn said.

Washburn described several potential benefits for the restructuring, including more team-taught courses, a tighter curriculum, improved Asian-American studies and more off-campus opportunities. He added that the restructuring would be simpler from an administrative standpoint and allow the programs to better leverage over its faculty members.

Washburn said while Dartmouth’s smaller student population limits the potential of having larger-scale programs, the restructuring could serve as a model for peer institutions.

“These are important areas of the world to study,” Washburn said. “But we have to get away from the old Cold War regional model and really look at it in interdisciplinary terms.”

If the proposal is approved at the general faculty meeting, several steps would be required in order to implement the restructuring. This includes changing the course numberings for all current AMES and AMELL classes, building new websites, budgeting changes and working out potential joint appointments for the faculty in the programs, Washburn said.

Smolin said that in addition to these steps, there will need to be an outreach campaign to inform students of the changes, which may include public speakers and other events to raise awareness.

Washburn said that given the length of time that the idea for this proposal has existed, he looks forward to starting the implementation process.

“We’re eager to get it started as soon as possible,” Washburn said.