Monday, November 11

Islamic Studies program returns after admissions freeze by Graduate Council in 2007

The Islamic Studies graduate program has reopened after months of back-and-forth with the Graduate Council.

Islamic Studies was suspended in 2007 by the council, which reviews each academic program every two to three years. Current students were allowed to continue their studies, but the program could not accept any new candidates.

According to the council in its 2007-2008 report, the suspension was made because of a number of problems with Islamic Studies, notably a lack of faculty commitment to students. Because the program utilizes professors from many departments, students often felt marginalized or ignored because they did not have full-time faculty to guide them, said program chair Khaled Abou El Fadl.

Last summer, Abou El Fadl drafted a constitution to address the problems the council had found. In December, he requested the council review the suspension and said he was given the impression that his program would be reinstated by early winter quarter.

However, at least four of the program’s initial appeals were rejected because the paperwork sent in did not match what the council required, said Christopher Colwell, head of the Graduate Committee for Rules and Jurisdiction.

Ilona Gerbakher and Abou El Fadl, along with the Muslim Students Association and other Islamic Studies students, held protests to show their support for the program. Gerbakher, a fourth-year Middle Eastern and North African studies student, said she had never before considered herself an activist.

“My whole life, I thought those people were crazy,” she said. “And then all of a sudden it was me screaming into the microphone.”

Islamic Studies has significantly changed its policies since its suspension. It is better organized and administered, and professors who want to be involved with the program now have to sign a contract that states they will give students appropriate attention, Abou El Fadl said.

Consequently, one of the most important admissions criteria is a good match between a student and an interested professor.

“Students should arrive with a faculty member as a mentor,” said Dana Lee, Abou El Fadl’s assistant. “Someone to be that student’s advocate.”

One of the program’s long-term goals is to create a network of alumni, more than 100 of whom pledged their support for the program’s reinstatement. Abou El Fadl said he plans to organize conferences and symposiums that will allow alumni to share their scholarly research and meet Islamic Studies students.

The most immediate goal, however, is to carefully select the program’s next set of students. Applications will be accepted until mid-May, but one name will be noticeably absent.

Gehbakher, who spent much of her time as an undergraduate fighting for Islamic Studies to be reinstated, is graduating in June. But the council announced its decision too late for her to apply to the graduate program at UCLA.

Under advisement from Abou El Fadl, she had already accepted a full-ride to study Islamic law at Harvard University. She’ll be leaving for Boston in the fall.

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