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Convocation to discuss Middle East

Joe Trombello | Tuesday, September 23, 2003

The first-annual academic convocation for first-year students will take place this evening in the Joyce Center arena at 7:30 pm. Featuring panel discussions on the topic “The United States and the Middle East: Do We Face a ‘Clash of Civilizations?'” the convocation will address required reading that freshmen completed during the summer.

“I believe that the summer readings and the anticipation of the convocation have already accomplished a great deal by encouraging students … to think about a very important contemporary topic,” said Eileen Kolman, Dean of the First Year of Studies.

After a welcome by Kolman and an introduction by Scott Appleby, a history professor and the director of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, students will listen to three panel discussions.

The half-hour-long panel sessions, composed of a 20-minute presentation and a 10-minute period for student questions, will address topics such as “What is ‘The Heart of Islam’?”, “Do We Face a ‘Clash of Civilizations’?” and “The Gift of Dialogue.” Each panel will consist of two faculty members – from departments such as theology, anthropology, political science, philosophy and Middle Eastern studies – and one student. Two seniors and one first-year student comprise the student panelists.

“The convocation invites students to become part of the community of academic discourse at Notre Dame,” Kolman said.

First-year advisers identified specific first-year students to ask questions during the allotted time – Kolman said that the students “are working together to identify questions which they will present to the panel.”

Appleby and Joseph Amar, director of the program in Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies, consulted with and identified the faculty and student panelists.

“The participating faculty and students were chosen on the basis of faculty area of expertise and … interest in participating,” Appleby said. “The students were recruited by individual faculty members who knew them from classes.”

The Convocation brings together material from Seyyed Hossein Nasr’s book “The Heart of Islam: Enduring Values for Humanity” and supplementary articles that all first-year students were required to read during the summer.

Appleby said that he is excited about tonight’s program and encourages students to come to the convocation even if they have not read each page of the assigned reading.

“I have no doubt, of course, that every first-year student has read and reflected upon every assigned page – but if there are one or two who have not done so, please come to the convocation anyway,” he said. “I am delighted that Notre Dame has launched this initiative, and I am looking forward to a vigorous conversation about these interesting and evocative texts and ideas.”

Kolman said that she is aware of a number of classes, including all fields represented by faculty panelists that have incorporated the summer reading or some discussion of its topics into their curriculum. Additionally, Kolman said that at least one residence hall is planning a follow-up meeting for Wednesday evening and she plans to work with other departments to offer follow-up panels later in the semester.

Kolman said she anticipates that all first-year students will attend the convocation.

“The language [faculty associated with the convocation] have always used is that ‘all first-year students are expected to attend.’ My position on this has not changed,” she said.

Some students, however, said that they perceived some ambiguity regarding the requirement to attend the convocation, based on the information mailed to students during the summer as well as advertising posters displayed around campus. Neither explicitly states that attendance is required.

“I assumed that it [the academic convocation] was required … and I felt like I’d better do the reading over the summer,” said Lyons Hall freshman Jessica Pryor.

Knott Hall freshman Jeremy Klein, on the other hand, said that he understood that students were “strongly encouraged to attend” but that the convocation was “more for the intellectual aspect” and was not absolutely mandatory.

Both students said they have completed the reading and plan to attend the convocation.