To Middlebury Language Schools: End CIA Partnership

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Olivia Nouriani started this petition to Middlebury College Administration

(If you are a current or former student or faculty member of Middlebury College or Middlebury Language Schools, please note so in a comment.)

For over 100 years, Middlebury Language Schools (MLS) has educated tens of thousands of students in 11 languages, including Arabic as of 1982. The program’s tenure is rooted in the “study of language in its cultural context” to ensure an “enlightening and humanizing” approach to language learning. To that end, MLS’ mission statement emphasizes “intercultural understanding.” This value is echoed by their flagship fellowship, Davis Fellows for Peace, which challenges students to "bring about a mindset of preparing for peace instead of preparing for war." 

Despite this stated mission, MLS has welcomed the CIA into our community for decades, allowing the Agency to conduct recruitment and information sessions at its programs at Mills College in Oakland, California and Middlebury College in Vermont. The CIA’s presence undermines the spirit of MLS, and we unequivocally condemn this partnership. In pursuing its mission of collecting intelligence and conducting covert action, the CIA has a known record of human rights abuses and international law violations. We are acutely aware of the Agency’s violent application of language mastery to destabilize governments and oversee torture in the Arab world and across the Middle East. The CIA specifically aims to recruit Arabic speakers, and the majority of attendees at the 2019 CIA information session at Mills were Arabic Program participants. The Agency’s impact, however, spans the entire world and affects all language learners. 

The long-standing relationship between the CIA and MLS implies an institutional endorsement of the Agency, idealizing espionage as the apogee of top-tier language skills. In fact, the CIA information session has been the only career-oriented event for MLS students at Mills in recent years. Thus, MLS has been complicit in the politicization of the Arabic language and the implication that American English-speakers learn Arabic to further American interests in the Middle East –– an implication clearly at odds with MLS’s stated mission of “intercultural understanding.” 

In light of these recent events, we demand:

  • A promise not to renew an MLS-CIA partnership in the future. 
  • A commitment from Middlebury College at large not to collaborate with the CIA.

Further collaboration with the CIA compromises MLS’ integrity as a leading institution for language learning and peacebuilding. It contradicts the Mission of Middlebury College as a whole "to practice ethical citizenship." We believe in Middlebury Language Schools’ potential to promote cultural empathy and engage with a legacy of justice. Please sign in support of ending the MLS-CIA partnership and achieving this legacy.

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