Jewell professor finds rewards in teaching amidst ‘organized chaos’ of Morocco
Story by Ian Munro
Editor’s note: Dr. Ian Munro, Professor and Chair of the Department of English at William Jewell College, was among approximately 800 U.S. faculty and professionals selected to travel abroad as Fulbright Scholars during the 2005-2006 academic year. Dr. Munro received a Fulbright appointment to spend a year teaching in Morocco.
Toward the end of my year-long term as a Fulbright fellow at Ibnou Zohr University in Agadir, Morocco, I was talking with a colleague in the English Department at Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakech when half a dozen wide-eyed students rushed into the office and crouched anxiously behind a partition so as not to be seen from outside. I’d just been talking to the colleague about how she was managing to teach English to her class enrollment of 2,000 students when we heard shouts and thundering feet. Then the students burst in, saying there was a police raid on the campus.
My sabbatical year 2005-2006 in Morocco was a far cry from the orderly academic life I’m accustomed to at Jewell. I arrived in Agadir in August, anticipating the academic year would start in mid-September, but an assortment of obstacles—bureaucratic snafus, faculty and student strikes, and observance of the month-long Ramadan fast—delayed the beginning until mid-November, leaving just over a month for teaching before the new year break.
English is a popular major in Morocco since it offers some slight hope of getting a job in what is otherwise a grim employment picture for university graduates, so English classes are uniformly overcrowded. All my classes had over 150 students, though only a half to two-thirds showed up for any given class. The others were working long hours, dealing with family problems in their home towns, or just indifferent, feeling that there was little real hope of a job after graduation. Indeed, many were in university only for the government-provided stipend of about a dollar a day. Even that amount is paid erratically, generating periodic student strikes demanding payment. Police and army vehicles were often parked near campus in response to unrest among students, sometimes caused by conflict between Marxist and Islamist students, or between Moroccan students and students from the former Spanish Sahara resentful of their forced inclusion in the kingdom.
If this “organized chaos,” as one of my colleagues cheerfully called it, was trying, it was also challenging and sometimes intensely rewarding. Teaching a poem to a group of seventy-five or a hundred students given to loud conversation among themselves required equally loud theatrics on my part to get attention. For the small group of students I got to know well, I had only admiration for their intelligence and seriousness. Though English is typically their third or fourth language after Arabic, Berber, and French, and they have studied it for only three or four years, they were fluent and engaged. All the inefficiencies and inadequacies of Morocco’s public university system had not deterred them from their purpose. Some were proud to be the first in their family to be literate, a common phenomenon in Morocco, where illiteracy rates are high.
The police raid on the Marrakech campus was therefore no great surprise to me or my colleague and we continued our discussion amid the sound of stampeding feet and the chatter of nervous students. After, as I was leaving campus, I snapped a picture of the phalanx of black-helmeted riot police assembled outside campus and was promptly taken aside by a plainclothes policeman. He wanted to know what I was doing, who I worked for and if I was a journalist. Once I’d deleted the picture from my digital camera, he let me go. As I walked away from campus, students were being herded into a paddy wagon.