The College’s revamped mission statement speaks of “our Western philosophical and theological inheritance tracing to Athens and Jerusalem.” We teach the language of Athens, but where is the language of Jerusalem?
With enrollment climbing to nearly 1500 students, Hillsdale has neglected the opportunity to expand its foreign language offerings. Foreign languages are both a fundamental aspect of a liberal arts education and a marketable skill. Unfortunately, the college offers only German, French, and Spanish, as well as Ancient Greek and Latin. The college has a chance to grow our educational opportunities, and Arabic, Hebrew, and Russian are perfect candidates.
Hillsdale has always strived for diversity of thought, and students of all majors would benefit from having access to and understanding texts in other languages. These particular languages operate on the edge of our Western tradition. They are heavily intertwined with Islam, Judaism, and Eastern Orthodoxy, which are often ignored at the college. Yet these sects and cultures are essential elements of understanding our religious and cultural inheritance.
The languages of Islam and Judaism, Arabic and Hebrew, hold special significance within philosophy and religion. The Tanakh and the Quran are their fundamental texts. A full command of these works requires a command of their original languages. In fact, Islam holds that one can only read the real Quran in Arabic. Judaism and Islam represent thousands of years of jurisprudence, theology, and culture. Students cannot be ignorant of their significance.
Russian is especially important for its literary value. Some of the greatest works of Western literature, including texts widely taught by the English department, were originally written in Russian. Great literature can only be fully appreciated without the interference of a translator. Isn’t this the reason for our advanced literature courses within the current foreign language departments? In Latin classes, students spend months working towards reading The Aeneid. With a Russian offering, an upper level class could be devoted entirely to reading Anna Karenina in Tolstoy’s own words. At Hillsdale, Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn are as common as Cervantes and Goethe, and our courses should reflect that fact.
All three of these languages, among many others, are of strategic value. For any student wishing to go into intelligence, foreign service, or the military upon graduation, alternative foreign languages are crucial. Fluency can set a job candidate high above the rest. Arabic is of critical importance in the 21st century, and the United States government has a dire need of fluent speakers. Russian and Hebrew remain important, given rising tensions for Russia and Israel. Many prospective students want to major or double major in a strategic foreign language for these reasons. Surely some turn away from Hillsdale to pursue their goal, students who could thrive at the College.
Current students here have repeatedly expressed interest in alternative foreign languages. Some studied these languages in high school or abroad. The International Club is evidence of this interest. In 2014, its members taught Bulgarian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Russian, and Swahili. Offering some of these languages as courses would help students earn credit for their efforts and learn at a higher level.
The addition of more languages to our offerings would be no simple task, but no impossible one either. The German department only has three faculty members and still offers a major. If the College added a language minor, only two full time faculty should be enough. One would suffice for a 101-201 offering. Given that a B.A. at Hillsdale requires an intermediate language proficiency to graduate, there would surely be demand for new language courses. Considering the fact that the College has 124 full time faculty members and 39 majors, the addition of two faculty and a minor should not be out of the question.
At Hillsdale College, we pride ourselves on a complete education. Adding more foreign languages would open students up to authors ancient and modern and promote a deeper liberal education.
Weinrich is a junior studying politics.