By GRAY WHITSETT – OPINIONS SECTION EDITOR
Centre College has long been a standard bearer in learning across the globe. As their website proudly states, Centre is “a national leader in international education.” Indeed, with an impressive 85 percent of students having studied abroad, the liberal arts college has a right to be proud of its abroad department.
Now with an already distinguished record the institution continues to broaden its horizons: in the 2015-2016 academic year, Centre-in-Gaza will be available for students interested in pursuing the hardest semester of study they’ve ever experienced, with the distinct possibility of death.
“We’re not afraid to push the envelope,” Director of International Education and turtleneck sympathizer Milton Reigelman said. “We practically invited the Civil War to campus – you think we’re afraid of Israeli-Palestinian extremists?”
Heading the program is Drs. Matthew Pierce and Dina Badie, both with academic experience in the Middle East.
“While I’ve never been to Gaza specifically,” Dr. Pierce said, “I feel confident my time in Iran will be useful.”
When pressed about the safety of the program, both were unconcerned.
“We’ll be prepared and ready,” Dr. Badie said. “We’re expecting causalities to be extremely low.”
The program will be offered as a full semester study, as well as a three week winter term called CentreTerm, and will instruct students in the areas of Palestinian politics, economics, and religion. In addition, the curriculum offered will feature a special course entitled “PAL 110: Introduction to Political Marginalization.”
Reception among the students has generally been positive, with several having already committed to the trip.
“I think it’s great,” president of the Student Senate and study-abroad-aholic Logan Pauley said. “Sure, France is great, and Japan is fun, but anyone can go there. I’m looking for something a little more intense and deliberately unsafe.”
However, not everyone was as receptive.
Indiana Jones Professor of Religion and Archaeology Thomas McCollough voiced serious concerns about the emerging program.
“There are only so many resources to go around in an area that small,” Dr. McCollough said.
A longtime leader of Centre’s winter course in Sepphoris, Israel since 1985, Dr. McCollough has worked hard to secure his students’ position in the region.
“The Israel program has history in this area,” he continued. “If Drs. Pierce and Badie want to continue with Gaza, that’s fine, but they’ll have to do it under our watch. We’ve come way too far just to have some newcomers take what’s rightfully ours.”
But Dr. Pierce had a different understanding.
“Centre-in-Gaza is actually a much older program,” he explained. “We were there decades ago. We just want to revive a great program that’s existed long before Dr. McCollough’s trip was established.”
Dr. Badie also chimed in.
“Matt and I’s predecessors built a terrific study abroad opportunity. I’m not going to say we were doing things perfectly, but we were getting along. Then the Israel Centreterm class set up shop and ran us out. We’ve been working ever since to nurture it back to its former glory.”
Apparently, there have been tensions existing between the two groups for some time. But Drs. Pierce and Badie’s story, while enlightening, seemed too simple.
“Look, I didn’t have much say in choosing Israel,” Dr. McCollough retorted. “Centre had been pressuring the faculty to get involved in the area for a long time due to its rich academic resources. Someone had to step up. So I did.”
When pressed on the issue, Dr. McCollough revealed other information.
“I never wanted to wind up stuck in Israel, but the administration had my hands tied. You have to understand that the Religion Department was under significant pressure at the time – we needed something to make us legitimate. Before you knew it, I was getting all sorts of funding from Centre, so much funding that I could easily stamp out any other program in the region.”
It is true that the Israel trip attracts a wide following and has influenced many students in their perceptions of the people and circumstances in the area.
“I did what I had to do with what was given to me,” Dr. McCollough concluded.
It seemed then that any simplistic understanding of Centre’s study abroad programs fell far short of what was happening on the ground. However, in all the heated debate, some offered possible solutions.
“I’ve always been in favor of a single-program solution,” Paul L. Cantrell Professor of Religion and College Chaplain Rick Axtell said. “Imagine if the two programs were able to pool their resources, both in Israel and Gaza, and back home, at Centre College. As it stands, Drs. Pierce and Badie aren’t even getting a seat at faculty meetings. That’s something that just won’t work long term.”
Regardless of what others think, the Centre-in-Gaza officials are moving forward.
“We’re excited, the college is excited, the students are excited – this is an exciting time,” Dr. Pierce said. “We’ve got to do what we need to do to have the program we want. And that’s final.”
Editor’s Note: The previous article is from the CentOnion series, a satirical publication focused on parodying various subjects unique to Centre College’s campus.
As such, all content within this article is purely fictional and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Cento or Centre College.
In addition all quotations used in this article are purely fictional and do not necessarily reflect the views of the individuals quoted.