Thursday, 07 April 2005

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The Pragmatic Approach to Institutional Problems At the small Midwestern State U where I don't teach, the administration recognized the State Department's desperate plea for English-speaking candidates with "professional-level fluency" in Arabic and Hebrew by establishing (four short years after 9/11) first-year language courses in Hebrew and Arabic. According to the MSU student paper, "starting this fall, the School of Humanities will offer first-year language courses in Hebrew and Arabic under the Department of Spanish and Portuguese." And why wouldn't they? Spanish and Portuguese are Indo-European languages; Arabic and Hebrew are Afro-Asiatic. Andalusia and bin Laden's references to Al-Andalus could justify the coexistence of Spanish and Arabic in the same department, but not Hebrew. I seem to remember a marked decline in the number of Jews in Spain around the same time Columbus discovered America. (They must've stowed away. All 250,000 of them.) I'm conflicted about this hastily arranged marriage. Did Hebrew knock Spanish up? Did Portuguese steam to Vegas and marry three strippers, a parking attendant and Arabic? Portuguese will never tell. I'm conflicted, as I was saying, because on the one hand I adore Making Bureaucracy Work For You. Research I institutions ought to have programs in Arabic and Hebrew--especially when these institutions house research programs called "Democratic Development and Sustainability" that are commited "to studying the development of new democracies and sustainable democracies" and host conferences with names like "Development, Democracy and the Islamic World." I embrace the pragmatic vision of the Spanish and Portuguese Department, but am also saddened that the situation had to be resolved so pragmatically.

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