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Sunday, June 13, 2021

Universities That Teach in English Should Aim for Linguistic Diversity Too

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Diversity and inclusion are powerful current paradigms. Alongside excellence in research and teaching, these ideas are regularly invoked by leaders of universities in the United States and other countries. The kind of plurality that is being demanded differs from place to place. However, a common desire is for a broader range of faces among students, faculty members and administrators. Greater representation of women, people from ethnic minorities, and people with disabilities is being called for, particularly in positions of power and authority.

One of the aims, besides accessing the totality of talent available, is to achieve justice for previously marginalized groups. It is also hoped that members of underrepresented groups will progress further in their careers if they see role models who “look like them.” Yet, besides gender or racial equity, how committed are leaders of Anglophone institutions in particular to linguistic diversity and inclusion? In addition to seeking broader variety in visual identity markers, should we ask for greater plurality in speech (and thought)? Are we accepting and encouraging enough of all of humanity’s languages and idioms?

The dominance of English in contemporary higher education is understandable. The language that originated in northwestern Europe is the most widely used medium of communication in science and commerce globally. Students who want to pursue careers in the academy and in business alike can hardly do without English, even in many jurisdictions where the official language is another. In Qatar, for instance, where laws and other official texts are in Arabic, companies still want employees who are fluent in English. Therefore, numerous Qataris choose a British or American education, like the one offered by Virginia Commonwealth University, where I work.

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