By Adil James, MMNS
Farmington–October 28–UCLA may not be known for having old and distinguished programs or even library collections, yet its Islamic studies department has one of the largest single collections among all American academic libraries, second only to Princetonâ€™s.
G.E. von Grunbaum, for whom UCLAâ€™s Near Eastern Studies program was named, was a noted orientalist scholar who founded UCLAâ€™s Islamic Studies program in 1957.
The Islamic Studies program at UCLA is one of several interdisciplinary subjects, including Jewish studies, Indian and Southeast Asian studies, Latin American studies, and Medieval studies.
UCLA currently offers MA and PhD programs in Islamic Studies. A related department is the von Grunbaum Center for Near Eastern Studies.
The program garners approximately three million dollars per year in government grants, yet has a budgeted expense of only about $130,000 per year for a minimal staff and to pay the department head, and to pay to bring visiting scholar/lecturers to UCLA to teach. Students benefit greatly from the government grants, as 15-20 students get full tuition plus living expenses. UCLA in fact takes back most of this money in the form of tuition payments.
The program is very competitive, with about 50 applications per year to begin graduate studies, and only about 8 students admitted per year.
UCLAâ€™s Islamic Studies program annually grants an award to a distinguished professor, and this award has been balanced between Western and Muslim scholars.
Three years ago UCLA made some effort to build their Islamic Studies program by attempting to recruit two new professors, however contract negotiations with the two targeted professors fell through, and the program failed to expand as planned.
Without the top scholars that UCLA had intended to get interest in the program appears to have flagged. Other departments this year refused to send representatives to head the Islamic Studies dept.
Apparently UCLA has planned a consolidation which would not touch the other departments, but which would consolidate the von Grunbaum Near Eastern studies center with other departments.
It seems unfortunate that a major university with a department that is distinguished as UCLAâ€™s would consider actually closing such a department, especially since the need for it is growing, and other major universities are moving in the opposite direction, toward expanding such programs to fill the recognized and growing need.