Cutting Foreign Languages at Universities

Here are two recent articles about the budget cuts to foreign language departments at universities.  The immediate impact is being felt by the students and faculty but such cuts will have a drastic effect on their future plans.

1.  “Foreign Language Classes Silenced” posted by Sarah Rabot on September 25, 2009 from a blog called “The Little Rebellion”:

Many upper division language courses at SUNY New Paltz have been cancelled due to this year’s budget cuts. Most language classes are now only offered in two different levels and some have been canceled entirely.

This year the budget cuts have led to the cancellation of Arabic, Latin and Russian. Minimum class size is the primary reason many of these languages were taken away according to Elisa Davila, head of the Foreign Language Department. The class size for foreign language classes has always been 27 students, but the class size for special topic classes and upper division classes has increased from 15 to 20 last semester as part of the college’s budget cuts.

“Getting 15 students to take upper division classes was difficult,” said Davila. “Getting 20 students to take them is almost impossible, so many of the classes have been cancelled.”

For the more commonly taken languages, like Spanish, fewer classes were cancelled.

If students wish to take a less popular language for their major, they may find that only one or two levels of the course are being offered. In some cases, that language may have been eliminated altogether. Many students are being forced to find a replacement for their language class.

The cancellation of classes is not the only problem. Some classes, like the Intermediate Italian 2 class, are only offered in the spring semester.

Jamie Biglow, a double major in art history and history, is struggling to learn all of the languages necessary for her major. Some of the languages Biglow needs to take are only offered up to the intermediate level and some are not taught at all.

“The lack of language classes affects my future because I need [to be familiar with] several languages to be a successful art historian,” Biglow said. “Aside from Italian, I will also be taking French and I desperately need to take Latin, which New Paltz does not offer anymore.”

Davila said since the school is offering fewer courses with larger class sizes, students will be discouraged from taking languages and it will take them longer to graduate. She also said that having a large class size in a foreign language class is not educationally sound.

“There are two solutions to this problem,” Davila said. “We need more money to hire more teachers and we need to be able to offer more courses with smaller enrollments.”

2.  “Students, professors fight foreign language class cuts” from Daily Titan, March 1, 2010

Students and professors alike rallied in front of the humanities building at Cal State Fullerton on Thursday, Feb. 24 in an effort to raise awareness about classes — in particular, foreign language — that are being cut from the school.

The programs that are in danger of being discontinued are master’s and bachelor’s degrees in French; master’s, bachelor’s and minors in German; and a minor in Portuguese. If these programs are done away with, majors such as International business in French, German, and Portuguese will have to be canceled as well.

This serves as a major problem for students such as Brianna Zarlinga, who hopes to be able to graduate next spring as an International business major with an emphasis and minor in German.

“I plan on finishing my studies abroad in Germany because it is the only way to get the courses that I need in order to graduate with my major,” Zarlinga said.

Many students will be facing the same problem in terms of getting the necessary classes they need in order to graduate if these courses are cut.

Grad student Judy Nguyen, who came out in support of the Department of Modern Languages and Literature, feels for the students who will be affected if these programs are discontinued.

“I sympathize with the people who are majoring in these subjects because if they cancel the classes they won’t be able to graduate, and they are who will suffer the most,” Nguyen said.

Dr. Janet Eyring, the Chair of the Department of Modern Languages, also spoke at the rally about the misfortune of these classes being cut.

“We cannot let it happen and we must not let it happen”, said Eyring, “We are the target right now. When are we going to say no, stop, that’s enough?”

French Professor Helene Domon sees the discontinuance of these programs as a “tragedy for the CSUs.”

“We are mainly fighting the discontinuance of degrees, and over the past 10 years there have been over 100 graduates in French,” Domon said.

Zarlinga argued that if the course catalog would list 101 classes in these language classes, maybe more students would sign up.

“As a student, if you are interested in taking or beginning a language course and you go to the course catalog, the only courses you see offered are either the second beginning course or intermediate courses, not the first beginning course, which is what you need. ”

Zarlinga pleaded, “Let us prove ourselves, that there is interest.”

A number of students and professors expressed their opinions through words during the rally, but there were also students who expressed their views in other ways. The Association of Chinese Students took to the stage in a colorful performance where two dragons came out from the crowd to the beat of a drum and other students and supporters contributed by putting on an Arabic dance.

Andrew Delos Reyes, a Latin American studies major, took to the stage with his guitar and sang a song in Portuguese.

“Without Portuguese,” Delos Reyes said, “there will just be Spanish.”

Unity was shown between the students, professors, and people in the crowd that came out to support the rally by chanting all together, “We are family. French, German, and Portuguese.”

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