Uncle Sam wants you… to learn Arabic and join the intelligence community! An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education details a new scholarship program created by Senator Bob Graham. D-Fla., and modeled after the military’s ROTC program. Set to begin in 2006, it provides educational funding in return for service to the CIA, FBI, State Department and other such agencies after graduation. Paid for by the Defense Department and organized by the director of national intelligence, these scholarships seek to increase the number of students proficient in the language and culture of the Middle East. The “Intelligence Community Scholarship Program” was conceived, planned and approved on the heels of the Congressional inquiry into the Sept. 11 attacks—a bipartisan investigation that found that, among other things, the CIA and other intelligence agencies lacked essential Arabic skills.
The program has been sharply criticized by academics from across the country who argue that it is too similar to programs that are already in place. They also contend that it violates an important separation between higher education and the intelligence community and that such a program could lead foreign countries to bar academic researchers from the United States on the basis that they are spying for the Defense Department.
These concerns echo the jitters felt by many in the academic community following Sept. 11. Across the country, scholars have been forced to tread lightly in their public statements and private research, especially following the passage of the Patriot Act. Universities have had to reexamine the way that they treat sensitive information, and the government has even intervened in a few cases, preventing the public release of research that could be potentially valuable to terrorists.
As far as this program goes, however, it is important to see past the small criticisms and potential dangers and realize the visible benefits. Yes, the program might be very similar to programs already in place, but so what? Consider this: in the past few years—in the past few weeks even—the government has dramatically reduced federal financial aid, leaving schools and families to pick up the hefty tab. If this program calls for more money to be funneled to education, university officials should be jumping for joy! For many students, this money will alleviate enormous family burdens and will be the deciding factor in attending college.
The argument that higher education and government cannot cross each other’s boundaries is weak both in practice and principle. Every year, millions of dollars of government funding goes towards research, fellowships, scholarships and other educational expenses. And every year, universities lobby for more. Even at private universities like Duke, federal funding is integral to the work of scholars in all fields and of all ages. However, Professor David Gibbs of the University of Arizona argues the principle that “in a democracy, you’re supposed to have a separation between certain segments of society.” It is unlikely that the government will be able to snoop any more than it already can into students’ rooms and professors’ files as a result of this scholarship program. But to argue that the government should stay out of universities all together runs counter to the view held by many Founding Fathers that one of government’s most critical roles was ensuring the education of its citizens in order to nourish democracy and safeguard liberty.
On a more practical level, this program not only gives the CIA and FBI much-needed translators, but, if it is anything like its sister programs, it will give students an opportunity to live in the Middle East and other countries while earning their degrees. Unfortunately, there are some countries that may reject these students and other scholars on the basis that they might be spying. Again, so what? The few fearful countries that do this are probably going to do it anyway, and it’s their loss. Besides, at a time when the United States is daily criticized for its actions in the region, sending young ambassadors is a brilliant way of building trust and mending ties, not to mention a transformative experience for those scholars who are sent abroad.
Finally, and most importantly, this program incentivizes public service. Our generation’s apathetic attitude towards civic engagement has been the focus of numerous university courses, case studies and public campaigns. This aversion usually increases when undergraduates learn of the lucrative offers that await them in the private sector. By upping the ante and providing financial aid, the government can compete against the private sector and draw the nation’s finest into government service. Kudos to Senator Graham and to Uncle Sam for trying to repair the intelligence community with an intelligent proposal!
Jimmy Soni is a Trinity junior.
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