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A significant part of Harvard's South Asian program will be discontinued at the end of the academic year if funds cannot be found to maintain two faculty positions, University officials said yesterday.
The posts of professor and associate professor of Indo-Muslim culture in the department of Near Middle Eastern Languages and Civilizations have until now been sustained by a private trust fund, said William A. Graham, chair of the committee on Middle Eastern Studies. Harvard will cease drawing from this fund, however, when Professor of Indo-Muslim Culture Annemarie Schimmel retires at the end of this academic year.
Department chairs in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Sanskrit and Indian Studies, Middle Eastern Studies and the Study of Religion--the departments where many of the courses relating to South Asia are taught--all said this week that they have been working closely together to find ways to maintain the program.
Despite the University's concern about finding enough funds to maintain a strong program in South Asian studies, John Huehnegard, chair of the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Department, said that is by no means assured in the current economic climate.
"I'm hopeful that we will come up with something among the departments, but I don't know how," he said. "It is possible that nothing will be resolved and we will lose this field. That would be sad."
"Without courses on modern South Asia, the whole program will go," said Associate Professor of Indo-Muslim Culture Ali S. Asani. Schimmel and Asani are scholars of South Asia in the late medieval and modern periods.
Schimmel's retirement and the possible departure of Asani would mean that the University would have to discontinue between 30 and 35 courses, Asani said.
Schimmel and Asani are the only professors at the University who teach courses specifically on South Asian Islamic culture and civilization. In addition, Schimmel teaches Persian and Turkish while Asani is the only scholar who teaches Hindi and Urdu.
Sixty students enrolled in Asani's Urdu language classes last year, the largest enrollment for a nonwestern language course at Harvard, he said.
Asani said he has recently received a tenure offer from the University of Bonn to head their South Asian program. He is currently negotiating with the school, he said, and will leave Harvard if no solution can be found.
"There is all this talk about the University's commitments to junior faculty and hiring minorities," said Asani. "I don't see anything being done for me."
The two positions are currently supported by a private trust fund, which was originally established 25 years ago to create a senior post in South Asian studies years ago.
Even when these senior and junior posts began eating into the fund's capital, the trustees continued to finance the positions. The trustees felt obligated until Schimmel retired, Asani said.
Currently, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies is trying to raise money to fund a permanent chair in Indo-Muslim culture, said Graham, who is also director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies.
While funding from the outside is proving difficult, financial support from within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences is proving to be equally challenging.
The University is financially strapped and cannot assist in funding the posts, Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles said this week. Funding the posts would be tantamount to creating new faculty positions, something administrators in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences have stated they will not do, given the $10 million FAS budget deficit.
With its hands tied, the University can only encourage the departments and committees to find solutions from within, Knowles said, adding that he is encouraging the four departments to "examine their priorities."
The chairs agreed that a solution from within the four departments and committees must be found. They are scheduled to meet next week to discuss finding such internal funds, Graham said.
"The administration is sympathetic," Huehnegard said. "But the administration is not in a position to give a department a new position. I understand that."
Besides the dire financial position, there is also a problem of time, said Knowles. The posts will terminate at the end of this academic year, which does not leave administrators much time to respond.
"The major difficulty is financial and response time," he said. "The interests and needs of students can change faster than the composition of the faculty can change."
In conjunction with the faculty efforts, the South Asian Student Association has been working with the departments and committees in the hope of keeping the South Asian studies program afloat.
"The chairs have undertaken the issue as they should," said Muneer I. Ahmad '93, co-head of the South Asian Students' Association. "We are being supportive of the chairs."
"As an organization, we are looking to promote South Asian culture. If the administration were not to continue the program--a 25 year-old program--we would consider it not only a setback but an insult," Ahmad said
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