It is with deep sorrow that the University of Michigan Department of Middle Eastern Studies, The American-Arab community and the American Association of Teaching Arabic (AATA) lost a legend of Arabic and Kurdish languages and Linguistics. Professor Ernest McCarus passed away on April 5, 2022 at 99 years old. He was born in Charleston, West Virginia on September 10, 1922, where he completed his early education. He came to the University of Michigan in 1940 and received his B.A. (with distinction) in Japanese in 1945, his M.A. in Spanish in 1949 and his Ph.D in Linguistics in 1956.
Following his active duty service in the U.S. Army, he returned to Michigan in 1948 to continue his graduate studies and to start his academic career. In 1952 he joined the UM Department of Near Eastern Studies as an instructor of Arabic. After obtaining his Ph.D in 1956, he became an assistant professor. He was promoted to associate professor in 1960, rising to full professor in 1967.
Professor McCarus has served the UM, the AATA, his country and the international community at large with compassion, enthusiasm and selfless commitment. During his forty-two years of Academic service, he has held many positions. He served as Chairman of the Department of Near Eastern Studies from 1969 to 1977, director of the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies from 1983 to 1992, director of the Center for Arabic Studies Abroad (CASA) from 1974 to 1983, and director of the Program for International Cooperation in Area Studies from 1988 until the time of his official retirement in 1994.
Professor McCarus served the UM as one of its most dedicated teachers and scholars. He played a vital role in the development and expansion of the Arabic program in the Department of Near Eastern Studies from its modest beginning to one of the best programs in the nation. The Arabic program offers BA, MA and Ph.D degrees in Arabic Linguistics, Medieval and Modern Arabic Literature in addition to an MA in Teaching Arabic as a Foreign Language and an MA in Arabic for Professional purposes. He was also instrumental in the AATA efforts to change the methodology of teaching Arabic from the traditional grammar-translation approach to the modern communicative-proficiency approach. He was the founder of the AATA journal Al-‘Arabiyya and one of the team who established the Center for Arabic Study Abroad.
Professor McCarus was an internationally well-known true teacher, scholar, and author. Throughout his distinguished teaching career, he worked professionally and tirelessly, providing extraordinary invaluable contributions, including several books, Arabic textbooks and articles, to the field of Arabic and Kurdish languages and linguistics through several grants from federal agencies.
Professor McCarus was held with esteem and affection and was highly respected by his former students, colleagues and all his acquaintances for his commitment to teaching, for his deep concern for the welfare of his students and all people around him, and most importantly, because of his unassuming and humble personality and modest lifestyle. He was the symbol of the values of decency, of rationality, of honesty and nobility, and peace. He has never sought personal honor or reward for his dedication to academic life and service contributions.
Besides his teaching and administrative responsibilities, he had always found time to offer his services on departmental, university, community and national committees and task forces. His scholarship and wise judgement were recognized and repeatedly sought out for consultation and evaluation of Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies programs in American and Middle Eastern universities and government institutions. Among Professor McCarus’s many awards, AATA recognized him for his contributions and commitment to the Arabic teaching profession with “Lifetime Achievement Award.” He was also a member of a number of professional organizations and associations, including the Modern Language Association, the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, Middle East Studies Association, American Research Center in Egypt and the Arabic Speaking Advancement Immersion Program.
In addition to Al-Arabiyya journal, he served as editor of Language Learning and The Middle East Annual. He also served as manuscript reader for International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Foreign Language Annals. The quality and significance of his services have resulted in national and international recognition for himself and the University of Michigan.
Professor McCarus always projected an uplifting spirit and looked at the sunny side of everything. His optimism and gentle love will continue to live in our hearts and memories.
He is survived by his wife Adele, his son Peter, his daughter Carol and son-in-law Louis Rector, his grandchildren Matthew and John, and his sister Norma. A memorial celebration will be announced at a later date.