The University of Oklahoma is pushing to make the institution an international mecca.
OU announced during its board of regents meeting last week plans to offer an undergraduate degree in Arabic for the fall 2010 semester, positioning the school as the only academic institution in Oklahoma and one of five in the country to offer fluency in the language as a major.
"It's a moral imperative for us," OU President David Boren said on cultivating an education in international studies and languages, adding that countries decimated after World War II and relying on the United States have since learned the game of capitalism.
"Our students will be thrust into a global environment on graduation day," Boren said.
The major was a natural outgrowth spurred by OU's Arabic Language Flagship Partner Program through the Language Flagship, a federally funded effort and component of the National Security Education Program at the U.S. Department of Defense.
NSEP was created in 1991 as a partnership between the national security community and higher education to strengthen expertise in critical languages and regions so intelligence documents could be translated more quickly.
Boren was the principal author of the legislation that created the program when he served in the U.S. Senate.
"To be well prepared for the job market and to have a good career, you have to be prepared to understand the world and that means learning more than English," said Zach Messitte, vice provost for international programs at OU, who wrote the grant to the NSEP to furnish the funding.
OU is one of five universities selected to offer the program, which is in its second year. The flagship program also offers partnerships in other languages such as Korean, Russian and Chinese, which Boren hinted as a potential degree addition, along with courses in India.
Boren said OU applied for the Chinese flagship, but it was maxed out.
OU's five-year program is designed for students who want to be fluent in Arabic, one of the languages pin pointed as critical by the government.
Messitte said its a broad, interdisciplinary program that would allow students to pursue careers with the state department, journalism, business and technology.
"The idea here is that you get intensive training," Messitte said, adding that the skeleton program allowed OU to extend its teaching of Arabic from three to five years. "This is certainly a unique credential to have as a graduate."
During the program, students take three years of core courses in Arabic language, as well as content-based courses taught exclusively in Arabic.
Students are eligible to apply for two scholarships to study abroad at the Arabic Flagship site in Alexandria, Egypt paid for by the government.
After completing their second year of Arabic, students are eligible for a 10-week summer program in Alexandria, and after completing their fourth year, they're eligible for the year-long study program in Egypt.
"This catapults us into the first-tier of Middle East departments," said Joshua Landis, OU professor Middle Eastern studies, who has been pushing for the Arabic major.
Landis said the university is searching for a full-time Arabic professor to head the program, of which the government—through the flagship—has given more than a million dollars in seed money to alleviate the initial financial strain for the additional faculty position.
This government subsidy has been funneling through OU for the last two years, but dries up in the next three years. OU then will pick up the tab for the faculty position, while the government continues to fund scholarships to Egypt.
"This is a substantial undertaking by the university because this means when the government money is gone, OU will be paying for it entirely," Landis said.
While the push to globalize OU rocks stereotypes of a landlocked, public institution, Landis credits the elevating global mindset to Boren's undying mantra to internationalize OU, which Landis said echoes a growing public interest among residents of this red dirt state.
Landis said this degree addition is a boon for Oklahomans, since it thrusts the state—which he said sends more people per capita into the military—to the forefront of government agencies with the opportunity to develop a national expertise.