Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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NU linguists fire back at U.S. Army dismissal policy

The dismissal of nine gay language specialists from the U.S. Army has prompted an outcry from a national linguistic organization — led in part by a Northwestern professor.

Earlier this month in Atlanta, NU’s linguistics department chairman, Prof. Gregory Ward, introduced a resolution to the Linguistic Society of America “opposing the military’s policy of discharging linguists, translators and interpreters on the basis of their sexual orientation.”

The resolution states that language specialists fluent in languages such as Arabic and Korean are vital to national security, citing a General Accounting Office report of a “serious shortage of such linguists in the military.”

Members of LSA are expected to approve the resolution by April, Ward said.

“It occurred to me that the professional societies that represent people who work on language should make known their opposition to this policy that resulted in this very unfortunate decision,” said Ward, secretary-treasurer elect of LSA.

The nine gay linguists, including six trained in Arabic, were discharged from the U.S. Army’s Defense Language Institute between October 2001 and September 2002.

In 1994 Congress passed the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy allowing gays to serve in the military as long as they keep quiet about their sexual orientation. Supervisors also are not supposed to ask about their sex lives.

Sociology Prof. Charles Moskos, who helped write the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy under the Clinton administration, said the linguists “should be ashamed that they put their own egos ahead of the greater gay cause.”

“The gay linguists should have been more discreet because certainly al-Qaida and the Taliban are worse than ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,'” Moskos said. “It seems that the linguists didn’t understand that it was a law.”

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an advocacy group that defends gays in the military, reported that in 2001 the military discharged 1,271 men and women under “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Weinberg sophomore and Rainbow Alliance president Alex Goldman said new definitions about who the policy applies to must be created.

“I understand the military’s general reasons for having that kind of policy in place for normal military personnel,” he said. “But these people exist so much outside of that plain. Their role in the military is so different. The kind of black-and-white ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ just doesn’t go far enough in explaining who should fall under this policy.”

Medill senior Farhanaz Kermalli said Arabic speakers are needed in just about every government institution.

“The United States has been widely soliciting speakers of Arabic because they realize there is a dire lack,” she said. “If they have these experts, they need to hold on to them.”

There are not many qualified people to translate Arabic and other critical languages, said Lynn Whitcomb, a lecturer in the program of African and Asian languages.

“Now is not a good time to be discouraging people from doing jobs that need to be done,” Kermalli said.

“In a country that supposedly strives to be tolerant and claims to be more democratic or more open-minded than other societies and quick to point fingers at other cultures, I think this becomes an example of how much work we have to do ourselves to remain open-minded,” Kermalli said.

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NU linguists fire back at U.S. Army dismissal policy