Monthly Archives: September 2011

Glasgow University and Foreign Language Cuts

I tried unsuccessfully to retrieve the article from The Herald (Scotland) about playwright Tom Stoppard’s attempt to stop the University from axing foreign languages. Instead I found Tom Stoppard’s facebook page and hand copied the following article that he reprinted from The Herald:

The University is in a great uproar over significant cuts in general.

Sept 12, 2011 in The Herald written by Martin Williams:

Oscar-winning playwright Sir Tom Stoppard is to spearhead a campaign to stop modern languages from being axed at Scottish universities.

Sir Tom, 74, who won an Academy Award for Shakespeare in Love, is to present a petition to MSP’s signed by more than 2000 people, including senior academics, calling on the Scottish Government to protect funding.

It calls on the Scottish Funding Council to ringfence finance to preserve the teaching of “lesser taught” languages and cultures.

The Czech=born writer, who has a particular concern over the future of Slavonic languages, has already joined the fight against moves by Glasgow university to cut a raft of courses including modern languages and called on Michael Russell, the Education Secretary, to intervene.

The university has drawn up a number of proposals for cuts, including the axeing of several modern languages, including German, Italian, Russian and Polish.

Sir Tom is supporting a wider campaign to preserve the teaching of modern languages in Scotland’s higher education institutions.

“There is widespread recognition of the importance in the modern world of fostering and maintaining in-depth knowledge in a broad spectrum of modern languages and cultures,” he said.

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Cuts Continue in Critical Language Studies

Article from Inside HigherEd, September 2, 2011:

In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, a university that wanted to offer courses in Pashto or Farsi seemed to have a smooth road ahead. The Education Department increased spending on foreign language programs, especially those teaching rare languages, and student interest was on the rise.

But a decade later, programs in those languages, as well as many others that are infrequently taught but considered strategically important, face elimination on campuses after deep federal budget cuts.

National Resource Centers, so designated by the Education Department to teach foreign languages and culture at universities around the country, lost 47 percent of their budget for fiscal year 2011 in the last-minute deal to avert a government shutdown in April — a surprise to observers who had not thought the program was especially vulnerable. Since relatively few students opt for Bengali or Burmese over Spanish or French, federal funding was often the factor that made such courses financially feasible. The cut was across-the-board, so every center is facing the loss of half its federal funds.

“Many of these are in security sensitive areas, and this is exactly where we need to put resources instead of cutting,” said Richard Flores, senior associate dean of academic affairs at the University of Texas at Austin’s College of Liberal Arts. Many students who took the classes now at risk were on their way to careers with the military, the Defense Department or the State Department, he said. “When you’re cutting resources to sensitive areas, it has an impact.”

Some universities, including Cornell University and Indiana University at Bloomington, have mustered institutional funding to fill the gap for at least a year. Others, including Ohio State University, already have eliminated some language courses for the fall semester (including, at Ohio State, offerings in advanced Russian, Georgian and intermediate Hungarian), saying tight state budgets leave them with no choice. Many are pursuing outside support, either from other federal departments or private donors.

“Given the general situation, many of the universities are in a position where the departments now say, ‘As much as we’d like to offer that course in Persian, we can’t anymore,’ ” said William Brustein, vice provost for global strategies and international affairs at Ohio State. (Part of the Ohio State budget cuts included $10,000 intended for the development of a Persian, or Farsi, curriculum.) “That’s what’s happening here on this campus, and it’s going to happen on other campuses.”

There are 125 National Resource Centers total, located at about 50 colleges and universities, that offer language and regional studies courses. Centers are initially selected, and periodically redesignated, through a process that awards competitive multiyear grants. While some focus on Western Europe, the majority teach language and culture from other regions. The national centers are beneficiaries of one of several institutional grants under Title VI of the Higher Education Act, which pays for some international programs at the undergraduate and graduate level. Some colleges have found money for the languages this academic year, hoping that federal support will be restored — but few think that will actually come to pass.

“The problem is the budget is so constrained that I’m not quite sure we’re going to have a chance,” said Miriam Kazanjian, a consultant with the Coalition for International Education.

The Coalition for International Education is conducting a survey of Title VI programs, including the 125 National Resource Centers; 15 Language Resource Centers, which focus on language pedagogy and teacher training; and 33 Centers for International Business Education and Research.

The Language Resource Centers estimate that the number of teachers they train this year will drop 35 percent, from just over 17,000 to 11,130. If the cuts are extended, about 9,300 teachers will be trained in 2012-13, according to the survey, Kazanjian said.

The number of federally designated “priority languages” taught to teachers will drop from 51 to 15 over two years, the centers estimate. Research on 35 priority languages will be dropped, including Pashto, Tajik, Turkish and Urdu, Kazanjian said. Capacity in Arabic, Chinese and Russian — the most popular priority languages — will be severely limited.

The survey of National Resource Centers isn’t complete. But many of the least commonly taught languages will probably be eliminated, Kazanjian said. “A number of them have engaged in stopgap measures for the first year of the cut,” she said. “If these cuts are going to continue into fiscal year 2012, something drastic will have to happen.”

The impacts of the cuts vary. By federal standards, the Title VI program is small: the cuts this year total $50 million, and few campuses lost as much as $1 million. But the money was a “linchpin” that drove universities and private donors to invest in language, Kazanjian said. “The money is not very much, but it’s actually had a multiplier effect,” she said. “Once you pull that plug, it starts to unravel.”

Indiana University, which lost $1.7 million in Title VI funding, has covered the gap for this year, said Maria Bucur, associate dean for faculty and academic programs in the university’s College of Arts and Sciences. For the future, the university is looking for donors and for help from elsewhere in the federal government.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta championed language training as a Congressman and recently spoke on the importance of foreign language to national defense. “I think the Department of Defense can be a wonderful partner,” Bucur said. “There are possibilities out there still in the federal government.”

Finding private donors willing to support language classes that are lucky to attract students, focusing on parts of the world few Americans visit, can be a challenge, she acknowledged. But other universities have had some success. At the University of Texas at Austin, all three resource centers — in South Asia Studies, Middle East Studies and European Studies — have outside support, and some have their own endowments, said Flores, of the university’s College of Liberal Arts.

Some language courses, including Tamil, Telugu and Bengali, are supported at least in part by grants outside of Title VI, Flores said. While he has not cut any language classes this year, he said some might have been canceled at the department level due to low enrollment.

Other universities may be able to streamline their programs through collaboration. The Committee on Institutional Cooperation, the academic arm of the Big Ten conference, has encouraged its member universities to collaborate on language programs since 2005. Students can enroll in languages offered at other universities through a video link and get credit on their home campus, said Barbara McFadden Allen, executive director of the committee.

“This whole national conversation, if not crisis, around Title VI has really created a sense of urgency to the sharing,” Allen said. The 12 Big Ten universities host about 40 percent of the National Resource Centers, and many have been hit hard by the funding cuts.

While no consensus has emerged so far, the universities have been discussing how they can expand collaboration, she said. “It just made them say, ‘How are we going to work together to preserve the languages we’ve been offering through these centers?’” Allen said. “We can’t afford to just let this drop.”

While collaboration might solve some problems, some languages were only offered by one or two universities in the first place, said Brustein, of Ohio State. While he fears the national security consequences of dropping courses in Tibet or Persian — “Who knows where the next crisis for the United States might break out?” he said — there are few options for public universities already facing tight budgets.

“We’re going to try to be entrepreneurial,” Brustein said. “We have to be. We’re so lean — we’ve cut things to the bone. And when you talk about cuts between 40 and 50 percent, there’s not much flesh you can cut away.”

— Libby A. Nelson

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History, Memory and Foreign Language Study

Conference at Berkeley, Sept 10, 2011:

Saturday, Sept.10, 2011
9-5:30 pm
370 Dwinelle


The MLA Ad Hoc Committee on Foreign Languages (2007) has advocated teaching, together with functional language abilities, ‘critical language awareness’ and ‘historical and political consciousness’. Indeed, the many commemorative events in the cultures we teach as well as the many literary and non-literary texts we deal with in our language classes confront us with the necessity to refer to, explain, discuss the remembrance of historical events that our students are not familiar with. From which perspective should language teachers give these events signifi cance? Unlike historical events encountered in a history class that are taught in a scientific manner from multiple perspectives, in communicative language teaching, historical events live in the embodied memories of teachers and learners who have experienced these events themselves or learned about them in different textbooks. Furthermore, foreign language teachers and students have often been schooled in a different way of interpreting historical events (see Wertsch 2002). For example, American youngsters have been schooled in a different view of WWII than Russian youngsters or than Germans who grew up in the German Democratic Republic. How are American teachers of Russian or German expected to teach texts that deal with communism if many of their students dismiss communism as mere propaganda?

Interpretations of history might be different if the teacher is a native or a nonnative speaker, has been schooled abroad or in the U.S., is of this or that generation, of this or that political conviction. History and memory are profoundly linked to emotions and moral values. Foreign language teachers whose professional status is vulnerable to students’ displeasure and budget cuts or whose visitor status holds them to a visitor’s politeness might be hesitant to present to American students a vision of history that might be different from their own. These teachers might be reluctant to teach any kind of text that would raise historical controversy and make the students uncomfortable. In addition, American foreign language textbooks might take an anachronistic or colonialist attitude towards worldwide historical events that are perceived differently by speakers of other languages. To what extent should teachers follow the textbook? This colloquium is meant to initiate a critical dialogue between academic colleagues in the social sciences and in foreign languages. It will explore these issues from a theoretical and/or empirical perspective, and consider concrete pedagogical implications for the teaching and learning of foreign languages at the college level.

This colloquium is free and open to the public. It is sponsored by the Berkeley Language Center with the generous support of The Doreen B. Townsend Center For The Humanities.

PROGRAM (Scroll down for abstracts)

9:00 – 9:30 Introductory remarks: Claire Kramsch, UC Berkeley

Change in time:
9:30 – 10:25 Ryuko Kubota, University of British Columbia
Memories of War: Critical Content-based Instruction
(CBI) in Japanese via Exploring Victim-Offender Perspectives

10:25 – 10:40 Coffee break

10:40 – 11:35 William Hanks, UC Berkeley
Linguistic Conversion and the Making of Colonial Yucatec Maya

11:35 – 12:30 Yuri Slezkine, UC Berkeley
The Joys and Challenges of Teaching “One’s Own” History

12:30 – 2:00 Lunch

Change in time:
2:00 – 2:45 James Wertsch, Washington University
Texts of Memory and Texts of History

2:45 – 3:30 Glenn Levine, UC Irvine
The Study of Second Language Literary Texts at the Nexus of
Multiple Histories

3:30 – 3:45 Coffee break

3:45 – 4:30 Responses by 3 language program coordinators from UC Berkeley:
Lihua Zhang (Chinese), Jaleh Pirnazar (Persian), Niko Euba (German)

4:30 – 5:15 Other speakers’ comments, followed by general discussion

5:15 – 5:30 Closing remarks: Claire Kramsch, UC Berkeley


James Wertsch, “Texts of Memory and Texts of History.”
With the rise of modern memory studies, the distinction between history and memory has been a frequent topic of debate. Some scholars have argued that no clear distinction can be made while others have argued that it exists and must be invoked. In studies of national memory, for example, it has been argued for over a century that history not only stands in opposition to memory, but is a threat to it. I shall argue that while the distinction between history and memory is difficult to maintain, it must be recognized for ethical as well as analytic reasons, and a way of understanding this distinction is through the analysis of “text” as outlined by Bakhtin.

William Hanks, “Linguistic Conversion and the Making of Colonial Yucatec Maya”
This paper will sketch aspects of the historical formation of Colonial Yucatec Maya (ca. 1550-1820’s), and the processes of translation and missionization that helped shape it. Never more than about 50 in number, Spanish missionaries faced a population of 1-2
million Mayas, the vast majority of them monolingual Maya speakers. The missions were in fact central nodes in the production and spread of a new variety of Maya, which I call Maya reducido. This variety was mostly true to Maya phonology and grammar, but the lexicon and semantics were reorganized to fit the contours and objects of Christian Truth, charged with new associations and expressed in new ways of speaking. Maya reducido was an instrument for commensurating between profoundly different languages and cultures. We will briefly explore and illustrate some of the principles that guided the missionaries in their fashioning of the new language, and the colonial subjects who would speak it.

Yuri Slezkine, “The Joys and Challenges of Teaching “One’s Own” History”
The talk will focus on national history in an international (or another national) context and on the place of personal memory and the “native” narrator in the teaching of historical events anchored in a foreign-language tradition.

Ryuko Kubota, “Memories of War: Critical Content-based Instruction (CBI) in Japanese via Exploring Victim-Offender Perspectives”
This paper presents a language specialist’s content analysis of four topics related to the memory of WWII for CBI in an advanced Japanese language course being developed at a Canadian university: A-bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Canada’s A-bomb responsibility, the accident at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear power plant, and representations of peace and war in language arts and history textbooks used in Japan. The paper argues that it is more productive to view the higai (suffering from harm) and kagai (causing harm) perspectives as a duality, rather than a simple binary, in order to reach an ethical understanding of historically complex events in the target and the students’ own societies.

Glenn Levine, “The Study of Second Language Literary Texts at the Nexus of Multiple Histories”
This paper addresses the teaching of complex representations of history and identity through two literary works by German-Jewish authors, Heinrich Heine and Else Lasker-Schüler, to be taught in an intermediate-level German language course. The proposed
curriculum asks learners to engage with multiple, intersecting and overlapping historical, literary, cultural, and religious issues and questions. The paper examines critically why and how teachers and learners in U.S. university classes generally instrumentalize literary texts of this sort, and how one can help students gain access to worldviews and mindsets remote from contemporary U.S. cultural frames.

The conference program is available in PDF format is available here:

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