The National Flagship Language Initiative (NFLI) is a program designed to promote the study of difficult languages among recruits to U.S. national security agencies. The government provides funds for intensive language programs at select universities, and gives scholarships to students enrolled in those programs, in return for a service obligation. It’s part of the National Security Education Program, which operates under the auspices of the Defense Department.
When the program was first launched as a pilot, in 2002, the board of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) passed a militant resolution against it. A radical leftist, Stanford’s Joel Beinin (pictured), presided over the association at the time, and led MESA’s campaign against the program. The board expressed itself “uneasy” about “the direct link that [the NFLI] envisions between academic programs and government employment.” It was “apprehensive” that the program would link all language students “by association” with the Defense Department. And MESA feared that the program “may foster the already widespread impression that academic researchers from the United States are directly involved in government activities.” Last line: “We recommend that MESA members and institutions not seek or accept funding for the NFLI as presently defined, constituted, and administered.”
I was the first critic to turn a spotlight on this outrageous resolution, in an article entitled “MESA Culpa” (scroll down to “Boycott!”). The Chronicle of Higher Education later ran an article and a colloquy on the subject, where Beinin and I both weighed in. There I wrote:
The universities are not being asked to do classified research, plan military operations, or dabble in counter-insurgency social science. They are simply being asked to do what they already do teach Arabic to people who are committed to serving their country. It is, quite literally, the very least they can do, post-9/11.
As a result of this wave of criticism, a group of concerned MESAns persuaded the board to delete the last line urging MESA members not to take NFLI funds. But that took almost a year, and the rest of the resolution still stands.
I’m now pleased to report that this chapter is closed, and that the Beininite boycott is completely dead. How do we know? Because Georgetown University has just been announced as home to the first NFLI-funded intensive language program for Arabic, called the Center for Advanced Proficiency in Arabic (CAPA).
CAPA will offer up to five hours a day of intensive advanced Arabic during the academic year, with a high student-teacher ratio and lots of diagnostic testing. The idea is to produce truly proficient Arabists. As CAPA points out, “Qualified students may be eligible for federal funding in the form of tuition scholarships and stipends. This funding is for students who are highly committed to work for the federal government.” The NFLI website makes it explicit: scholarships are for those who make a “commitment to federal service in the national security community.”
Sorry, Professor Beinin. You lose this one. Application deadline for the new program is April 20.