Amid hours of charged debate, a running theme emerged Wednesday from what must have otherwise seemed like a disjointed meeting of Bowdoin Student Government (BSG): students' proficiency in foreign languages and their access to foreign language instruction.
This gives us the opportunity to re-address a concern that the Orient raised last April, but which, due to public silence on the matter by the Office of the Dean for Academic Affairs, seems already to have accumulated dust: Bowdoin's conspicuous lack of courses on Arabic instruction and the Middle East generally.
At Wednesday's BSG meeting, representatives discussed whether students who wish to study abroad in a certain country should be required to first complete coursework in a relevant language. Though we are confident that any proposal of this nature would be struck down, it is worth noting that such a measure would effectively bar Bowdoin students from studying abroad in the Middle East, where Arabic is primarily spoken.
This proposition should alarm us, as should the College's dearth of Middle-East-themed courses; for there is no region more pertinent to our political and economic future then the Arabic-speaking world. A brief glance at the daily news reminds us of the significance of events in the Middle East for this country—not least because of America's military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. From the spread of militant Islamic radicalism to the region's considerable oil reserves, the Middle East will continue to play a crucial role in shaping our world for generations. With cultural tensions and misconceptions running high, it is a region that we cannot afford to misunderstand.
The administration has justified its reluctance to add Arabic courses by asserting that it is poor pedagogy to let current events dictate academic direction. While we agree that the curriculum of the College should not be beholden to fleeting fads, it would be erroneous to misinterpret a region of the world with millennia of history as a mere passing trend in academia. Arabic is natively spoken by hundreds of millions throughout the Middle East. But its reach is much broader: Arabic is the language of Islam with adherents around the world.
Bowdoin's small size and the challenges of adjusting the curriculum do not sufficiently justify inaction. Peer institutions such as Amherst and Middlebury have responded to these geopolitical realities by offering Arabic instruction and increased course offerings on the Middle East, while Bowdoin has dragged its feet. For an institution that has rightfully revised its distribution requirements to include coursework on International Perspectives, actively excluding a region of such importance and historical consequence appears sadly negligent.
If Bowdoin wishes to maintain its legacy of producing not only fine leaders and diplomats but responsible world citizens, the College can no longer afford to delay the implementation of a Middle Eastern studies program that includes instruction in the Arabic language.
We urge BSG to acknowledge the theme underlying Wednesday's debate by proposing a resolution calling for the Office of the Dean for Academic Affairs to attend to this yawning gap in the curriculum. At the same time, we hope the dean's office will publicly address this concern without further prompting.
The editorial represents the majority view of The Bowdoin Orient's editorial board, which comprises Steve Kolowich, Anne Riley, Anna Karass, Adam Kommel, Mary Helen Miller, and Joshua Miller.