By Barb Arland-Fye
Recognizing a need for study and discussion about the Middle East, St. Ambrose University will inaugurate its Middle East Institute on April 10 with a lecture by noted statesman and former Congressman Jim Leach. That event will begin at 7 p.m. in Christ the King Chapel on campus.
The Middle East Institute is described as the first academic institute in Iowa devoted to the study and discussion of one of the world’s most geopolitically important regions.
“In order to understand the world in a global context, you must understand the Middle East,” said Ryan Dye, the institute coordinator and director of International Education at St. Ambrose. “The institute’s mission will be to provide a nonpartisan public forum for the university and the community to engage thoughtfully about key issues impacting the Middle East.”
Several years in the making, the institute has received start-up funding of $100,000 from the Adler-Schermer Foundation. Dye anticipates the funding will cover three years of activities for the Middle East Institute, such as:
• Scholars-in-residence and visiting artists
• Roundtable discussions among local scholars
• Faculty development workshops
• A Middle East Film Festival
• A two-day spring symposium featuring presentations by regional and national experts.
• A website serving as an information hub on Middle East issues
The institute will also promote creation of several classes related to the Middle East across the St. Ambrose curriculum.
At the same time, “We’ll need to start fundraising for an endowment to create a lasting Middle East Institute.”
Dye noted that St. Ambrose is not developing an academic major in Middle East studies at this point. “We’re really starting from Ground Zero. We’re hoping through faculty development grants to generate three to six new classes on the Middle East. That will enable our students to take classes about the Middle East that just aren’t available right now.”
Discussions with people active in Middle East issues in the community at large served as the genesis for the institute. “We’ve been having conversations with them for several years and out of these conversations came this generous gift,” Dye said. “What we need to do with this gift is generate exciting programming that will hopefully generate more gifts so that we can really grow the institute.”
The Middle East Institute hopes to collaborate with a variety of local and regional organizations, such as the World Affairs Council, the Jewish Federation of the Quad Cities and the Islamic Center of the Quad Cities.
“We really want to be very nonpartisan and we want to be balanced,” Dye said, while acknowledging that the goal could be challenging given that the Middle East is a politically charged region. “We enter this project knowing that we are not going to please everybody all of the time. What better place than a university to wrestle with very difficult issues to try to develop common ground,” Dye asked.
That’s why Leach — a foreign relations expert famous for his ability to transcend party lines — makes an excellent choice to give the institute’s first lecture. His talk is titled: “What is Old, New and Unprecedented in America’s Relationships With the Middle East.”
Currently a visiting professor of law and the University of Iowa Chair in Public Affairs, Leach represented eastern Iowa in Congress for 30 years, many of those as a ranking member of the House Committee on International Relations. Leach has taught at the Princeton University Woodrow Wilson School in Princeton, N.J., and served as an interim director of the Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Mass.
Dye observed of Leach: “I think he will help us unpack the complexities of the region. He lends a lot of credibility to what we’re trying to do.”
Middle East Institute’s inaugural event
When: April 10, 7 p.m.
Where: Christ the King Chapel, St. Ambrose University, Davenport
Speaker: Former U.S. Rep. Jim Leach of Iowa
Title of lecture: “What is Old, New and Unprecedented in America’s Relationships With the Middle East”
Admission: Free and open to the public
Information: Contact Ryan Dye at (563) 333-6389 or DyeRyanD@sau.edu. Learn more about the St. Ambrose University Middle East Institute at www.sau.edu/mei.