Monthly Archives: October 2010

Iraqi University Students Study Hebrew

I happened to find a great article about Iraqi students studying Hebrew at Baghdad University’s Hebraic Department.

The article was written by Sammy Katz on May 13, 2010, AFP news:

Wearing an elegant pink headscarf, Marwa Abdel Karim serenades her fellow Baghdad University students with a heartfelt rendition of “Filled With Love,” remarkable for the language in which it is sung — Hebrew.

She is one of the 150 students at the university’s Hebraic department, studying the language of Israel in an Arab country that has never had ties with the Jewish state and where most people regard it as an enemy.

For the first time since it was set up 40 years ago, the department organised a festival earlier this month where students sang songs and recited poetry for an enthralled audience of about 100, and gifted tutors with presents.

At the festival, the joyous mood was tempered by bemusement among students at the peculiar circumstances that led them to study Hebrew and the lack of job opportunities for graduates.

None of them originally chose to study Hebrew. They wanted English, French, German and Spanish but inadequate grades limited their options to Persian, Kurdish and Hebrew.

“I wanted to study English but I did not obtain good enough grades in my diploma, so I found myself learning Hebrew,” says Marwa, 21, who enthralled the audience with her song by Israeli artist Sarit Hadad, which she discovered on the Internet.

“My parents are disappointed, but I took my chance with this language.

“When I say to my friends that I study Hebrew they laugh at me, but I intend to continue my studies in Amman and then teach at the University of Baghdad,” she says with a smile.

Before the 2003 toppling of president Saddam Hussein by US forces, students of Hebrew often secured jobs with the intelligence services.

Such employment, however, is now limited because terrorism rather than espionage is Iraq’s major security concern.

“When I complete my studies I will knock on all doors — the intelligence service, the foreign affairs ministry and the newspapers who need translators,” says Ahmed Saadun, 22, a third-year undergraduate.

In a humorous festival sketch poking fun at his own dismal job prospects, he answers a fellow student who asks him what he will do when he leaves university.

“Nothing. But at least I had four years in the company of pretty girls.”

The students learn Hebrew language, grammar, literature and the songs of the Hebrew bible, but confess they have never met a Jew.

“I used the Internet to communicate with them but no one responded,” says Saadun.

Ancient Babylon, in modern-day Iraq, once boasted a large Jewish community but the numbers dwindled over time. There has been no discernible community since Iraqi Jews headed to Israel in the years after the Jewish state was founded in 1948.

By 1951, 120,000 Jews — nearly the entire community — had emigrated. The remaining handful fled after the 2003 US-led invasion which ousted Saddam.

Iraq is the only Arab country that fought in the 1948 war with Israel but never signed the 1949 ceasefire.

Saddam’s enmity for Israel was borne out during the 1991 Gulf War following his invasion of Kuwait, when he fired Scud missiles at Tel Aviv in an attempt to bolster his position among Arab states.

There are no diplomatic relations and Iraq’s post-Saddam constitution is silent on the issue of ties.

Professor Talib al-Qureshi, head of the university’s faculty of languages, believes that despite the difficulties there are good opportunities for Hebrew-language graduates.

“Many think it is a waste of time but Hebrew is very important,” says the 57-year-old academic with a doctorate in the language.

“People who speak Hebrew have very important positions in the world. The best will find work,” he says of his students.

Trade opportunities with Israel are stymied by a law that bars Iraqis from signing business contracts with Israel, and buying through third-party agents make imports prohibitively expensive.

The 30 teachers in the university’s Hebrew department are Muslims and Christians, while the department’s library books are dilapidated and in need of replacement.

Qureshi’s dream is to create a Museum of Jewish Culture in Iraq, and he insists there is an urgent need to recover thousands of ancient Hebrew texts discovered by US forces in the offices of Saddam’s intelligence services after the invasion and taken to the United States.

Iraq’s deputy culture minister, Taher Nasser al-Hamood, discussed the subject on a visit to the United States earlier this month. “The Americans have been very cooperative,” he told AFP.

 

 

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Chinese Spend Millions to Fund Language Programs in U.S.

At least one nation realizes the importance of learning a language (for a variety of reasons).  The following article from Education Week (by Erik W. Robelen, October 5, 2010) explains how Hanban (the Office of Chinese Language Council International) promotes the learning of Chinese in U.S. schools.  Maybe other countries should do the same or increase the money they already provide to American schools, given that some important languages seem to be languishing here.

With China’s growing power and influence on the global stage, efforts are burgeoning to promote teaching the official Chinese language in U.S. schools. And while those activities are getting help from a variety of sources—including the U.S. government—one key player taking an increased role is the Chinese government itself.

Just this year, the Office of Chinese Language Council International—or Hanban, an affiliate of China’s Ministry of Education—committed millions of dollars to help launch several ventures with U.S. schools, including a program in North Carolina to offer Mandarin Chinese classes in 45 public schools and the development of a national network of 100 “exemplary” Chinese-language programs at the K-12 level.

“It’s a great opportunity,” William C. Harrison, who chairs the North Carolina state board of education, said of his state’s program, to which China is expected to supply more than $5 million in direct aid and “in kind” services. “The best way to become globally competitive is to develop an understanding of those with whom you compete, being able to communicate with them, and being able to collaborate with them.”

He added: “We’re looking at the number-two economy in the world with prospects to be number one. … I think it’s in our best interest to develop positive relationships.”

As school districts grapple with tough financial straits, the money from China for the most part appears to be getting a welcome reception in local schools and communities. One prominent exception is in the 21,000-student Hacienda La Puente school district in Southern California, where some critics, including the former superintendent, have pushed hard against accepting resources from what they see as a repressive government looking to promote “propaganda” about its country and culture.

That dust-up caught the notice of Chester E. Finn Jr., a former education official in the Reagan administration and the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington think tank. He argues that public schools should not accept aid from the Chinese government.

“This is not an ally. This is the country on the planet from which the United States faces the largest and most worrisome long-term threats,” he said. “And for its government to be funding our schools to teach its language, I think, is an alarming and menacing development. And that our schools are welcoming this development strikes me as outrageous.”

Hanban officials were not available to comment for this story.

‘Hearts and Minds’

Experts on foreign-language instruction say there’s a long history of governments’ promoting the study of their language and culture in this country, including with support for public schools and educators here.

Martha G. Abbott, the director of education for the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, based in Alexandria, Va., said Hanban’s efforts call to mind support provided by Japan in the 1980s as interest grew in that language. Similar assistance has long come from France, Germany, and other nations through their embassies and other organizations, such as Germany’s Goethe Institute.

“It’s really not anything new. It’s just the current focus on China,” said Ms. Abbott. What is striking, she said, is the amount of resources China is bringing to bear: “It is pretty vast.”

Shuhan C. Wang, the deputy director of the National Foreign Language Center at the University of Maryland College Park, said many nations see such work as a wise investment.

“Language and culture speak to the hearts and minds of people,” she said. “It’s people diplomacy.”

A key motive for China’s government, she added, is to promote Mandarin Chinese as a “global language,” and thereby enhance the country’s stature in the world.

Ms. Wang and others note that the U.S. government itself has identified Chinese as among a list of undertaught languages viewed as critical to U.S. national security. In fact, her center administers the federal STARTALKprogram, launched by President George W. Bush in 2006. It provided about $20 million this year for K-16 summer programs for teachers and students in “critical need” languages, including Chinese. More than half of that money was for Chinese-language programs, she said.

Instruction in Chinese in U.S. schools is still scarce compared with that of some other languages, but it’s rising fast.

report issued last year by the Center for Applied Statistics at Washington University in St. Louis found that Chinese was being taught in 4 percent of secondary schools in 2008, up from just 1 percent in 1997. An upcoming study from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages will show that about 60,000 students in U.S. public schools studied Chinese in the 2007-08 academic year, compared with 20,000 in 2004-05, said Ms. Abbott.

China’s work in U.S. education has been going on for some time. In 2003, the College Board announced that China would provide financial backing to develop a new Advanced Placement course in Chinese language and culture. Other activities with the College Board have followed, including the 2007 launch of a guest-teacher program. This fall, 127 teachers from China were placed in U.S. schools under that initiative. Hanban covers the teachers’ travel costs and part of their salaries.

Hanban’s Influence

Hanban since 2004 has worked to support the creation of what it calls Confucius Institutes at universities throughout the world to promote Chinese language and culture. More recently, it developed and is working to expand an initiative called Confucius Classrooms to create or enlarge Mandarin Chinese programs in elementary and secondary schools.

Recent estimates indicate Hanban is supporting more than 300 university-based Confucius Institutes around the globe, and, as of July, 337 Confucius Classroom programs in 98 countries. (No official count of U.S. programs was available.) In some cases, the university institutes are overseeing local Confucius Classroom programs.

The Confucius Classrooms initiative gives schools a small grant—typically $10,000 per year for three years—for learning materials, professional development, and related purposes. Schools also are helped in getting a Chinese guest teacher; the teacher’s salary typically is subsidized up to $30,000 per year by Hanban.

Last year, the Confucius Institute at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities announced plans for 41 public and private schools in that state to participate. China committed nearly $500,000 for the first year of that five-year undertaking.

This year, Confucius institutes at the University of Memphis, in Tennessee, and the University of Texas at Dallas also named schools and districts that would receive support under the program.

Meanwhile, the Asia Society and Hanban in February launched what’s being called the Confucius Classrooms Network.

Christopher M. Livaccari, an associate director at the Asia Society, a New York City-based nonprofit, said the emphasis is not on creating new Chinese programs, but on taking existing ones at U.S. public and private schools to the next level, to make them “successful and sustainable,” as well as to serve as national models. “We want to showcase what is possible.”

Twenty individual schools and districts were selected in February to join the network; 40 more will be announced in coming weeks, toward the ultimate goal of 100.

Member schools and districts receive $10,000 per year over three years to be used for such expenses as professional development and learning materials. They also get access to free instructional resources from Hanban and assistance in finding a partner school in China. In addition, Hanban will help to pay for school staff members to visit China to attend a conference this fall and to visit their partner school.

Lori Langer de Ramirez, who heads up the world-languages department at the 4,000-student Herricks school district in New Hyde Park, N.Y., which is part of the network, said the chief benefit is not so much the financial help but making connections with other schools and educators to share ideas.

“This will really enhance our program,” she said of her district’s participation.

The North Carolina Confucius Classrooms Collaborative, announced in April, is designed to reach 45 public schools in up to 15 districts over three years.

“We have a large need in North Carolina for Chinese-language teachers,” said Matt Friedrick, the director of K-12 programs at the University of North Carolina’s Center for International Understanding, which oversees the program.

China is the state’s fastest-growing trade partner, and its second-largest export market, according to the center.

Mr. Friedrick said his state worked hard to ensure widespread buy-in.

“At every rung in the education ladder, we have people who have been involved in this program,” he said, “from the classroom teacher all the way to our governor.”

Hanban is committing an estimated $5.4 million over five years to the collaborative, Mr. Friedrick said, including direct and in-kind investments. This is about three-fifths of the total cost, he said.

The state and local districts, he said, control what their language programs look like.

Carol P. Ray, the principal of Asheville High School in North Carolina, said that before this year, her students could only study Chinese through an online course.

“Kids are clamoring to get into the classes,” she said. “[The teacher] provides a very hands-on approach to learn about Mandarin Chinese language and culture.”

Mr. Finn from the Fordham Institute suggested that schools may be more inclined to “sugarcoat” discussions of China on issues such as human rights if that country’s government is providing money to the schools.

But Ms. Ray said the money won’t have any such impact in her school.

“I approach this from a perspective of international understanding,” she said. “The more we understand about one another, the greater our chances of world peace.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fired Foreign Language Teachers at LSU confront Chancellor

Story by Catherine Threlkeld from Lsureveille, October 1, 2010:

Members of the “foreign language 14” grilled Chancellor Michael Martin on Thursday about the process leading to the elimination of four foreign languages.

The foreign language 14 is the self-dubbed name of the University instructors who will no longer have jobs as of Jan. 21, 2011.

The 14 have appealed to College of Arts and Sciences Interim Dean Gaines Foster, Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Jane Cassidy and now Martin. They have now formed a resolution challenging the University’s authority to change curricula and are looking for Faculty Senate support.

The resolution says the Board of Supervisors delegates its authority to “establish curricula” exclusively to the Faculty Senate and not to any campus administrator or any committee appointed by campus administrators. However, Martin said he doesn’t think it changes curriculum because the University still offers other foreign languages.

After securing a meeting with Martin, the 14 have barked up the highest academic tree possible.

Eight of the 14 attended the Thursday meeting and questioned how the decision to fire the 14 mid-school year was made.

After what Greek, Latin, German and classical studies instructor Johanna Sandrock called “finger-pointing” between Foster and Martin, she said she was disappointed in the message the University is sending the world that “foreign languages are expendable.”

Martin said a group pulled together by the provost made the cut recommendation to him, which he approved.

“The recommendation came to me, and I’m responsible for it,” Martin said. “So it’s a group of one recommended by a very serious and a very thoughtful and a very sensitive group.”

Foster said eliminating the 14 was his decision. After he was handed a reduction of $700,000 to trim within his college, he eliminated programs with the fewest numbers of students.

Russian instructor Jean Rutherford said the cuts should have been made on a student per instructor basis, not students per program. Rutherford is the only Russian teacher, so her firing results in the termination of an entire language.

German instructor Angelika Roy questioned why foreign languages were cut as opposed to other academic areas.

“If we eliminate engineering, we’re no longer land grant,” Martin said. “If we eliminate coastal sciences, we’re no longer sea grant.”

Martin said virtually all cuts have been exhausted from areas other than the University core. He said while several foreign languages were the first to go, they won’t be the last academic programs cut.

“Depending on the circumstances, the deans have made hard choices. I stand by those choices,” Martin said. “We can’t invent solutions that don’t exist.”

Sandrock said after the meeting she still was not satisfied.

“To me there really is no responsibility,” Sandrock said. “We really need to know who is making this decision.”

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SUNY Albany Eliminates French Language Program

Just when I thought things could not get much worse, then this!  The State University of New York at Albany has decided to eliminate its French,Italian, and Russian language departments!!  What are these administrators thinking??!!  Not just one language department bites the dust (which would have been bad enough) but THREE at once!  Something has to be done to stop the foreign language drain.  Any ideas that will work?

The complete details are from Inside Higher Ed, October 4, 2010 (written by Scott Jaschik):

The State University of New York at Albany’s motto is “the world within reach.” But language faculty members are questioning the university’s commitment to such a vision after being told Friday that the university was ending all admissions to programs in French, Italian, Russian and classics, leaving only Spanish left in the language department once current students graduate. The theater department is also being eliminated.

While the last two years have seen many language departments threatened or eliminated, faculty members at Albany said they were stunned that so many languages were being eliminated at the same time and that this was happening at a doctoral university that has prided itself on an international vision. The French program extends to the doctoral level while all the other programs have undergraduate majors as well as many students who take language courses as part of general education but who do not major.

Ten tenured faculty members in language programs were told Friday that they would have two years of employment in which to help current students finish their degrees, but that they would then be out of their jobs, according to several who were at the meeting. About 20 adjuncts and several others on the tenure track but not tenured are also at risk of losing their jobs, potentially even earlier, although details are not available.

A university spokeswoman, asked about the details of faculty jobs, said that “no faculty are losing their jobs this year and at this stage it’s too early to determine when faculty positions will actually be impacted,” but those who were at the briefing for the dropped departments Friday said that they were told explicitly that their jobs would be eliminated. The spokeswoman, however, said that the meeting Friday was “the beginning of a conversation about the future,” without any decisions about faculty jobs.

“We were told [of the eliminations] without any hint” in advance of any concern about the programs, said Jean-François Brière, a professor of French studies and chair of the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures. Brière, who has taught at the university since 1979, said that even in the context of budget cuts this year, he was shocked. “No other university of the caliber and size” of Albany has done this, he said.

George M. Philip, Albany’s president, cited deep, repeated budget cuts as requiring the university to move beyond across-the-board cuts or identifying one-time savings.

Under current budget projections, he said in a statement on the cuts, by the end of 2012, administrative units will have had state funds cut by 22.4 percent and academic units will have had funds cut by 16 percent. Hundreds of positions have been eliminated, largely through leaving vacancies unfilled. “This decision was based on an extensive consultative process with faculty, and in recognition that there are comparatively fewer students enrolled in these degree programs,” Philip said. While all the programs slated for elimination are part of the university’s liberal arts offerings, he said that “this action does not reflect the quality of the faculty appointed to these program areas, or the value of these subjects to the liberal arts.” (Faculty union leaders and language faculty said that they knew of no consultation, and Faculty Senate leaders did not respond to inquiries.)

He also cited the failure of the New York Legislature to pass legislation — strongly backed by SUNY leaders — that would have given more control over tuition rates and the use of tuition revenue to the state’s university systems, and would have saved them money by releasing them from a range of regulatory requirements.

Language faculty dispute the idea that there was sufficient consultation,saying that they were never given a chance to explain their enrollment numbers.

Eloise Brière, an associate professor of French studies, said that the seven tenured French faculty members each year collectively teach about 500 students who are not majors, about 40 at various stages of the major, and about 40 graduate students. She said that these numbers may seem low compared to departments that are able to have large introductory courses with hundreds of students.

“You cannot teach languages to an auditorium of 200,” she said. “It is the nature of what we do that we are then seen as unproductive.” Making decisions in this way “devalues the liberal arts,” she said.

Like her husband, Brière is long-term at Albany, having taught there since 1982. She said she was particularly concerned about younger faculty members, citing those recruited in recent years, one of whom gave up tenure elsewhere. “This is devastating,” she said.

Phil Smith, president of United University Professions, the SUNY faculty union, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, said that it was correct that SUNY has suffered deep budget cuts, but he questioned both the process and the decision. He said that the Albany chapter of the union was not consulted on the cuts, even though changes of this magnitude should have led to such discussions.

Even with a need for cuts, he said, some programs need protection at a comprehensive university like Albany. “I can’t understand how a university can eliminate classics programs and languages like Italian and French,” he said.

Rosemary G. Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association, said via e-mail: “The plans of the State University of New York at Albany to deny students access to higher learning in three modern and two classical languages are a distressing reverse to the university’s recent efforts to promote global competencies. The advanced study of the languages, literatures, and cultures of the French-, Italian-, and Russian-speaking world are essential components of a liberal arts education in a university setting. While these are financially difficult times for the SUNY system, an institution of the caliber of the University at Albany should honor its claim to offer students a comprehensive, world-class education.”

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