University Of Utah Charts New Course For Struggling Middle East Center

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The University of Utah is restructuring its once-prestigious Middle East Center (MEC) rather than pulling the plug on what has become a source of campus tension and embarrassment.

College of Humanities Dean Robert Newman on Tuesday named two respected U. scholars as interim co-directors — political scientist Kirk Jowers, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics, and historian Robert Goldberg, director of the Tanner Humanities Center. They will run the center for two years, after which a permanent leader will be found.

"We are trying to raise the profile of the center and put it on a secure financial footing then hand it over to an internationally recognized expert. The Middle East is a crucial part of the world. Teaching Arabic must continue," Goldberg said.

Simmering friction between the center’s senior leadership and Newman boiled over nearly four years ago resulting in the ouster of two veteran faculty members and resignations of its director and associate director. Under a new director, the center’s bid to renew its federal grant last year failed. U. administrators later fired Bahman Baktiari in a plagiarism scandal, leaving the center rudderless earlier this year and renewing tensions between the dean and the MEC faculty.

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