Diversity essential in quest for wisdom
Published: Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, March 2, 2011 14:03
As the fervor of revolution sweeps up the Middle East, what is the responsibility of a U.S. university, such as UCF, in educating its students and informing the general public?
I believe that the most significant responsibility of a university dealing with subjects as controversial as the Middle East is to expose its students to all different — even marginal — viewpoints.
Pure knowledge does not have ethnic, religious or political associations. Therefore, in pursuit of knowledge, universities cannot afford to commit themselves to a particular political/intellectual position.
Although not unique, the Middle East is a place where there is no deficiency of conflict; and by nature all conflicts have at least two sides. Arab/Israeli conflict, Kurdish nationalism, politics of oil, the War in Iraq, and the fight against al-Qaida are a good sample of these conflicts in which the U.S. has been involved.
Therefore, one's emotional attachment to one side or another is inevitable. However, the responsibility of the university as a transnational institution is to go beyond any emotional attachment and to provide common grounds for all intellectual inquiries, no matter how marginal they may be.
We are all proud that in terms of faculty and student population, UCF is a very international and diverse institution. As a faculty member in Middle Eastern Studies, I am pleased to see that UCF is fully aware of its responsibility to be an independent and neutral creator of knowledge — a learning center where conflicting opinions can find hearings.
As a public institution committed to educating its students and the general public, UCF aspires to receive international recognition. In terms of Middle Eastern studies, this can only be accomplished by maintaining a reputation that we have a vibrant and impartial program where we teach "how to think," not "what to think."
It is not a difficult prediction that the Middle East will maintain its significance for the American public in the foreseeable future. We have a large number of veterans who are curious about the region where they have spent considerable time as active soldiers or those who will be deployed. Their impartial education is of the utmost importance.
The U.S. need is significant for specialists in the Middle East who are well trained and credible. Therefore, as a major public higher learning institution, UCF will have to bear the responsibility of meeting this educational need.
Currently, we have a modest minor in Middle Eastern studies with limited course offerings but great potential. We have a very vibrant Global Studies program where world-class speakers share their opinions with our students.
I sincerely hope that UCF will progress further in the direction of providing unbiased information about the Middle East and that our students will become increasingly aware of what is now readily available to them in terms of public lectures and course offerings.