Cuts Threaten More Foreign Languages at UCLA

Kevin Matthews writes for UCLA Today, April 27, 2011:

Unless the Education Department acts to spread out painful federal cuts among a broad set of programs, UCLA may be forced to eliminate some foreign languages with small enrollments, such as Czech, that are offered in advanced tutorials as well as to reduce staff and training programs in international education.

Fellowships that enable students to learn languages and study overseas are also in jeopardy of being cut by 40 percent, along with the budgets of National Resource Centers (NRCs) and other units at UCLA involved in community outreach and teaching about the world.

“These programs are essential for ensuring U.S. global competitiveness and national security, and for our knowledge about the world beyond the United States,” said Randal Johnson, vice provost for international studies at UCLA, a Brazilian film scholar and fluent Portuguese speaker who began learning the language under the fellowship programs that would be affected. “They allowed generations of leaders and scholars to study and do research abroad. I personally would not be where I am today without those two programs, nor would many, many others.”

As Congress was reaching a deal to avert a government shutdown earlier this month, international education, which makes up a tiny portion of the federal budget, was not raised in the public debate. The programs were not mentioned by name in the budget deal that passed Congress. But to the surprise of many, news of a $50 million, or 40 percent, cut to two key pieces of legislation, Title VI of the Higher Education Act and the Fulbright-Hays Act, emerged in a breakdown of the budget plan published after negotiations ended.

So international and foreign language education advocates, including Johnson, are now lobbying the Education Department to distribute the cuts across a wider range of programs. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has 30 days from the date when the bill was passed, April 15, to decide how the final cuts will be made.

“What remains to be seen is how the secretary plans to implement that cut,” said Kim Kovacs, UCLA’s executive director of federal relations. “That’s the big question sitting out there. It’s not at all clear how this cut will be applied. They could decide to maintain the awards that have already been made and not fund new awards. We just don’t know. What we’re asking is that this cut be mitigated as much as possible.”

At UCLA, the Title VI money, totaling $2.6 million a year, supports five NRCs dedicated to major world regions, the National Heritage Language Resource Center and the Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER), making UCLA a major recipient of funding under the program. These centers are part of the International Institute and the Anderson School of Management. As much as $1 million could be cut. While that is a small amount compared to other federal grants, the impact would be sorely felt.

The federal money pays for all or part of the salaries of instructors in several foreign languages with small enrollments, such as Indonesian. The Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowships awarded every year under the federal program help support more than 60 UCLA undergraduate and graduate students working on 31 languages.

“I think what we’re finally realizing is that globalization is real and that the American economy, while it is still dominant and large, is adjusting to a new world,” said Robert Spich, director of programs for CIBER at UCLA’s Anderson School. “Title VI organizations are really important for that reason: Keeping that global mindset and focus on global competencies is a really fundamental activity.”

Title VI funds also connect UCLA with local communities, for example, in training programs for middle and high school teachers. The NRCs at the International Institute, for example, are working with an LAUSD secondary school, the International Studies Learning Center in South Gate, to develop a rigorous international studies curriculum for grades 6 through 12. The program will provide UCLA experts as guest speakers at the school and field trips to bring students to UCLA.

Because the learning center is part of a larger network, lesson plans developed with UCLA’s help could have an impact on international education at seven California schools and 27 campuses around the country, according to Guillermina Jaureguí, principal of the South Gate International Studies Learning Center.

“Obviously, we have an international staff, but world regions are so large. How can you have all of that information?” Jaureguí said of the impact of the UCLA partnership. “How do we provide teachers with the perspective and knowledge on the different regions of the world, so that our staff will really be knowledgeable about the three or four regions they will have to present to students? Without UCLA we could be lacking that advantage.”

After Sept. 11, 2001, there was heightened awareness of the national need for in-depth knowledge of world affairs and advanced language proficiency. Congress approved a series of increases to Title VI and Fulbright-Hays.

If implemented in the current fiscal year, a 40 percent cut would wipe away all of the gains made over the past decade, Johnson said.


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