The National Security Language Initiative, which Bush proposed during a State Department summit last week, will urge American students to study languages like Arabic, Chinese and Farsi and then go work for the government.
Some Penn professors who teach these languages, however, said students should study for the sake of academic learning.
Bush has requested $114 million from Congress to help "spread democracy" via increased language education.
To help implement the new initiative, Bush suggested two new government programs, the National Language Service Corps and a Language Teacher Corps, which will seek native speakers of designated languages to work for the government and to teach the languages in schools across the country, respectively.
While it is unclear whether the proposal will directly affect Penn language programs, many professors said the proposal has wider implications.
"I am not convinced that government and academia are on the same page as to what the goals of this initiative should be," Penn Arabic professor Roger Allen said. The problem is that "the people who are making decisions are not the people with expertise in the language and culture of the Middle East."
Allen -- chairman of the Middle Eastern Languages Department -- said he worries that Bush's proposal may sway students' motivations for learning certain languages.
Instead of encouraging an academic study, Allen said, it may focus students on a heightened national security climate.
White House spokesman Chris Colby, however, said in an interview that the only stated goal of the initiative is "to increase critical language acquisition."
Surendra Gambhir, a Hindi professor, supports the main ideas of the initiative and the importance of language proficiency.
If American students overseas "can speak the language, they will earn a lot of respect," he said.
Grants will be provided to American students of these languages who work for the government in some capacity after graduating.
Bush has also proposed increased Fulbright funding and broader language-immersion programs to encourage American students to study abroad.
Allen said Penn students are already interested in studying Arabic. The number of students studying Arabic at Penn has been increasing in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Before 9/11, approximately 20 students enrolled in first year Arabic classes each semester. Recent years have seen enrollment figures of more than 100. This reflects enrollment numbers nationwide as liberal arts colleges, community colleges and even high schools scramble to include languages such as Arabic and Chinese in their curricula, according to Allen.
When asked about Bush's new initiative, Penn students appeared wary.
"I believe the path to greater understanding between the U.S. and the Arab world will be achieved by a change in U.S. policies in the Middle East," said College freshman Amanda El-Dakhakhni, who studies Arabic.
However, some students emphasize the importance of language education in bridging the communication gap between the United States and Middle Eastern nations.
"It's a step in the right direction," said sophomore Jon Weinblatt. "The language is the key to the culture."