Ravi Shah '06 came to Princeton with a mission to bring Hindi — the national language of India, which boasts the second-largest population in the world — to the classroom. Just a year and a half later, although he said he finds it almost hard to believe, the University will offer beginner courses in Hindi starting next fall. Intermediate and advanced Hindi classes will be offered the following year for the first time ever at Princeton.
Early in his freshman year Shah met with members of the administration to present his idea. He initially spoke with Associate Dean of the College Hank Dobin, Dean of the College Nancy Malkiel and President Tilghman, among others, but Shah said the response was not too favorable.
No one thought it would be possible for Hindi to be taught at Princeton before Shah graduated, he said. Administrators saw little evidence of enough student interest in the language to support a full program, and the University would have to hire a professor qualified to teach the language.
Despite these roadblocks, Shah continued to push the issue. He talked to Wilson School professor Atul Kohli, chairman of the Committee for South Asian Studies. Kohli was "instrumental" in making it happen, said Shah. "I've done everything through Kohli."
History professor Gyan Prakash was also an important influence, Shah added.
Shah also spoke with politics department chair Jeffrey Herbst of the former Council on Regional Studies. The council agreed to cover half the cost of Hindi at Princeton, but could not foot the entire bill.
At the same time, Shah began to look into the question of student interest, which he described as "key" to the process. He became academic chair of the South Asian Students Association and circulated a petition calling for courses in Hindi at events such as the Sangam cultural show last year.
"I found meeting with the administration at first frustrating," said Shah, "but ultimately they were responsive to student interest."
Everything fell into place at the start of the current school year, Shah said. When the Council on Regional Studies and Center for International Studies merged into the new Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies, Shah quickly sent an email to the new director, sociology professor Miguel Centeno. PIIRS, flush with a brand-new endowment, was able to fund the new courses. Nassau Hall gave its approval to a final proposal during the fall, he said.
"Now it's not a question of, is Hindi going to be taught next year, but who is going to teach it," Shah said.
No current Princeton professor is qualified to teach Hindi. Applications for the position were due on Jan. 1. Seven were filed, and two candidates in particular have stood out, Shah said. Applicants must have taught for two to five years, must be in the final stages of their dissertation or already have their P.h.D., and be certified as a language instructor in Hindi in order to be considered. A few of the potential instructors have met with Shah and other students to learn about the University, he said.
The Hindi classes will be modeled on the current pilot program in Swahili. The beginner courses will be taught next year, followed by the intermediate and advanced classes a year later. The University wants to make sure that students who take 101 next year will be able to satisfy the language requirement with Hindi, Shah said.