Alum's special course on Muslim history shows UO reach

After graduating from the University of Oregon in 1972 and earning a doctorate from Stanford, Farid Nabti returned to his native Middle East to teach the region’s economy, politics and history at the university level.

Who better to guide UO students to a better understanding of the Muslim world?

Working through the International Studies department, the visiting Nabti recently taught a special, four-week summer course on development in the Muslim world. The course underscored UO efforts to connect students with international experts as the university strengthens ties to the Middle East and South Asia, officials said.

In “Development in the Muslim World,” students explored economic and political problems in the Middle East and North Africa, gained insights on current developments and discussed the future – all under the guidance of Nabti, a Muslim scholar and devoted alum who calls Eugene his “second home.”

The Muslim world is a study in economic contrasts – second only to China in GDP, but suffering from huge inequities in wealth distribution that hinder infrastructure for basic needs such as food, clothing and shelter.

Nabti, a Lebanese native who earned undergraduate degrees in economics and political science at the UO, is dean of the College of Business at the University of Modern Sciences in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The university offers graduate and undergraduate programs in the modern sciences and business.

With the summer course at the UO, he said, “one of my objectives is to really explain to the Americans, ‘this is what’s really going on.’ I don’t want to have people thinking, ‘this is a Muslim, I don’t want to have anything to do with him, he’s a terrorist.’ This kind of thinking is not right.”

Mansour Albadran, a sophomore and pre-journalism major from Saudi Arabia, said Nabti’s experience as a native of the region enabled the professor to provide uncommon insights. “(The course) increased my knowledge of the region, my knowledge of the economy and how we can predict what’s going to happen next,” Albadran said.

The course evolved from a trip taken by Dennis Galvan, vice provost for international affairs, and John Manotti, assistant vice president for international advancement, to the United Arab Emirates. They were introduced to Nabti through other alums.

“The fact that we have such a rich alumni base in the region enables us to bring regional voices with authentic local understanding of the issues here to campus to teach what they know and build a two-way dialogue in classrooms where students learn not just the facts of the situation, but how to respectfully and civilly talk about contentious global issues,” Galvan said. “Simultaneously, they learn just how global Ducks really are.”

Nabti encouraged the UO to expand its reach in the Middle East by working through his university. Galvan, co-director of the Global Oregon Initiative, added that the willingness of the International Studies department to host Nabti positions the department at the center of UO internationalization efforts and highlights that department’s ability to engage students in enriching treatment of hot-button global issues.

Anita Weiss, department head, said the department continues to strengthen connections to the Middle East and South Asia.

The department recently received preliminary approval for a three-year partnership with Karakorum International University in Gilgit, Pakistan. The arrangement involves hosting of faculty from Gilgit and also sending UO faculty to Pakistan.

“It is my hope that we will be able to develop a similar kind of partnership somewhere in the Middle East in the future,” Weiss said. “(The Muslim course taught by Nabti) is a strong step on that path.”

- story and photo by Matt Cooper, UO Office of Strategic Communications