Left Behind

Ehab Ahmed, left, taught Hebrew at DLI for 14 years. David Holzberg, right, taught for 16 years. They say employees who have worked there for less time remain.

The U.S. Army’s Defense Language Institute confirmed in April that it was shuttering its Hebrew program in response to low demand from military forces. Only two instructors of 14 now remain, teaching the last class of soldiers who will graduate in March. All 14 were told that they could apply for other jobs at DLI. Seven were successfully transferred to other positions but five were terminated, according to Dennis Hickman, president of the local chapter of the union American Federation of Government Employees.

Two of the five were in the U.S. temporarily on H-1B visas. Two others have filed equal opportunity complaints against the institute, claiming they were discriminated against because of their religion. Ehab Ahmed is Sunni Muslim and his colleague, Rabbi David Holzberg, is Jewish. They say the instructors who remain are all secular. “Is this a coincidence you are getting rid of the two religious people?” Ahmed asks.

The two men say they were given assurances by supervisors that other positions would be found before contracts ended—Holzberg’s ended Sept. 14 and Ahmed’s ended Oct. 2. “The end came and nothing was arranged for myself and Ehab,” Holzberg says. Meanwhile they watched as others were offered positions elsewhere. Ahmed says he applied for 12 jobs and was not offered a single interview, despite a history of good performance reviews and numerous awards.

DLI Chief of Staff Steven Collins says by email that “no promises were made to any employee.” He also says that DLI cannot publicly comment on individual cases of faculty assignments. The institute has throughout its history had an “ebb and flow” of languages based on the needs of the military, so departments are sometimes shrunk or eliminated based on those needs. Ahmed contends that while no direct promises were made, they were told instructors in closing departments would be given priority for open positions. “How come we were not considered for any job?” he asks.

In Ahmed’s case, he says there was a promise inherent in the process he followed. Originally from Egypt, Ahmed’s native language is Arabic. He says he was told if he passed a test in one Arabic dialect, he could find a job in the Arabic Department. He passed, and then was told he needed to test in a different dialect. He passed again only to be told he needed to pass in a third dialect, which he did. Finally he says he was told the Arabic Department was being downsized and no job was available. Days before his termination he sat in a meeting where staff were told the Arabic Department was not being cut back. In his complaint he accuses supervisors of “simply running out the clock” on his contract.

The two men have been told their cases will be looked into by a military investigator, possibly within the week. The third citizen who was terminated was a woman who was pregnant at the time, just five days shy of her one-year work anniversary. She filed a pregnancy discrimination complaint and received an out-of-court settlement.

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(1) comment

Henry Leinen

It has been my experience with DLI Instructors, that they apply for a "Tenure-track" position. None are employed as General Service (GS) government employees rather as Excepted Service (E) employees. There is quit a difference as GS employees are protected and in the case of a Reduction in Force (RIF) the government must retain them. The case is just the opposite with E employees. The use of the term Tenure-track typically means that an Instructor is evaluated after 6-7 years. Again this is not the case. The DLI also states that they support Academic freedom, yet when you attempt to go to their ACCREDITATION PAGE hyperlink you will find it dead.

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