Staff Editorial: Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down


After years of impatient anticipation, we finally find ourselves able to extend a thumbs up to Macalester’s nascent Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies programs. Aside perhaps from China and India, with whom our relationships are considerably less volatile, no part of the world is quite as important to the future of the United States than the Arabic- and Farsi-speaking region surrounding the Persian Gulf. Now more than ever, the United States needs talented, motivated, compassionate people who are well-trained in the history, politics, culture and languages of the Middle East. Macalester students and faculty have demonstrated their desire for this academic opportunity, and the administration is doing well to meet this demand. Hats off to the administration for adding yet another panel to Macalester’s multicultural mosaic.

But every silver lining has a dark cloud, we always say. Thumbs down to our administration’s glacial response to the increasingly rapid geopolitical changes with which we’ve been faced in the past few years. Only now, a full half-decade after the Middle East suddenly (once again) became relevant to the mainstream political discourse in this country, has one of its more prestigious academic institutions felt it necessary to enshrine that relevance in a curricular framework. Considering the recent proliferation of Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies programs at other similarly-sized liberal arts colleges—some of which, we might add, are not considered “New Ivies”—this college’s inability to get such a program off the ground in a timely fashion is almost embarrassing. And the college’s reliance on the ACTC network to allow its students to take Arabic classes at St. Thomas is not an excuse: Arabic is one of the only ACTC courses Macalester students attend with the hope of actually learning something useful (as opposed to simply taking an equivalent course at another school to get out of the heavier workload they’d be burdened with here). It’s unacceptable that for the past half-decade our curriculum has not included this major world language.