Department of Middle Eastern Studies

Aaron Bar-Adon, professor emeritus in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies, received a lifetime achievement award this month for his decades of research on Hebrew linguistics.

The Council for Hebrew Language and Culture in North America, an organization launched by the World Zionist Organization in 2013 to promote Hebrew and Israeli culture, gave Bar-Adon the award on Nov. 3 at its second annual conference.

“The award to Professor Bar-Adon reflects the broad geographic and professional scope of the efforts we are continuing to make,” said Aryeh Kobrin, chairman of the Hebrew Language Council, in a statement.

In 1963, Bar-Adon joined the University and founded the Hebrew language program. He spent the next 50 years researching child acquisition of Hebrew and social linguistics and lecturing on Hebrew linguistics, Arabic language and Islamic and Biblical law. 

As a doctoral candidate at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Bar-Adon began researching child acquisition of Hebrew from the perspective of a linguist. He also examined how children contributed to the development of Hebrew, a revived language that was not spoken widely until the 1920s. 

“What did the kids do?” Bar-Adon said. “Did they contribute to the language? It’s a chicken-and-egg question.” 

Bar-Adon said he has experienced and researched Hebrew linguistics more than most other scholars alive today. Since the revival of the language, Bar-Adon said the Academy of the Hebrew Language has coined 100,000 new words covering a range of topics, including medicine and technology. 

Esther Raizen, associate professor in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies, said Bar-Adon’s years at the University helped develop a learning standard for future generations of Hebrew language learners at UT. 

“He had offered undergraduate and graduate students a rich perspective on the language and its long history that none of the other Hebrew faculty (myself included) could have offered,” Raizen said in an email. “Our approach to the Hebrew classroom is very different from that of Dr. [Bar-Adon’s] generation, but he has laid the foundation for everything we are doing today, including the emphasis on both Biblical and Modern Hebrew.” 

Bar-Adon’s research was previously recognized by the Rockefeller Foundation in the 1980s, and, in 2011, the Academy of the Hebrew Language elected Bar-Adon as a member, which Raizen said was “well deserved.”

I write to express my disappointment in Monday’s article “Modification of language requirement sparks debate.” I am sorry to see The Daily Texan print a poorly researched, shallow article-cum-editorial. The heart of the problem is that the article is heavily one-sided. Where is the research on outcomes and student achievement? Last year, many languages were taught intensively, not just French, and we have proficiency scores that measure achievement on a national scale for the four languages taught in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies. Your reporter did not even bother to inquire about such results, nor about how we can measure success and failure of language study. Perhaps you could devote a future article to that topic.

Kristen Brustad, Chair, Department of Middle Eastern Studies

Seven new department chairs have been appointed in the College of Liberal Arts, UT’s largest college. Four are women, making one-third of the department chairs in the University female.

Kristen Brustad, Dan Dixon, Mary Neuberger, Jill Robbins, Christine Williams, James Pennebaker and Cory Juhl were appointed as the new chairs.

Department of Middle Eastern Studies Chair Kristen Brustad said there is still work to be done to achieve racial and gender equality.

“One-third of the chairs at the University are women,” Brustad said. “I think that it is excellent so many incredible women are being promoted. But we still have a long way to go with other minorities. We have made a lot of progress.”

Brustad said big changes are on the horizon in Middle Eastern studies. The department is consolidating its majors to offer one major in Middle Eastern languages and cultures, instead of several in Arabic, Persian, Hebrew and Turkish.

She said she feels honored that her colleagues are confident in her abilities.

“The support of the department means a lot to me, and I’m excited to be working with a really dynamic and excellent group of faculty,” Brustad said. “That’s what encouraged me to accept this position.”

Jill Robbins was named chair of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. All chairs receive a pay raise and two months of summer salary, but Robbins said pay was not a deciding factor in taking the position.

“I was driven by my belief in the mission of this department, in the strength of our faculty, students and staff, and in our future as the top department of Spanish and Portuguese in the country,” she said.

Robbins said she is already taking steps to improve the department by setting aside endowment funds for graduate student research, revising and updating the curriculum and expanding the faculty.

The department chair job requires more multitasking and availability to other members of the department, she said.

“Being chair is a heavy responsibility and takes a great deal of time. In addition to more paperwork, I will be spending more time with my colleagues, administrators, staff and students but in a different role,” said Pennebaker, the new chair of the Department of Psychology.

He said he feels honored to be chosen as the chair and is excited for the challenge.

The Department of Slavic and Eurasian Studies chair Mary Neuberger said that this new position will require less teaching and more decision making.

“There is a lot of diplomacy involved between faculty, students and administration,” Neuberger said. “It’s more stressful.”

However, her experiences have taught her a lot about how the University is run.

Neuberger’s department is in danger of being cut, but she said she is optimistic in saying “leadership is necessary in a time of crisis.”

“It’s challenging, but I think in a good way,” she said. “We can step up and shine and make things work.”