University of Northern Iowa Threatens Foreign Language Cuts

Here we go again! More attempts to eliminate critical foreign language programs …. Story from The Des Moines Register, March 20, 2012:

University of Northern Iowa faculty this week continued to push back against proposed cuts in academic programs in advance of today’s scheduled vote by the state Board of Regents on the plan.

Professors advocated against the elimination of French and German degrees by noting that at least 55 students have declared majors or minors in each field of study. They also argued that foreign language faculty have a broad reach on campus, as evidenced by the more than 1,200 students they taught last year.

UNI also wants to eliminate minors in Portuguese and Russian as part of a plan to close low-demand programs. The plan, unveiled two weeks ago, calls for eliminating or restructuring more than a quarter of UNI’s degree programs to help close a $5 million budget gap. Under the plan, only beginning-level language courses would be offered to students.

Foreign language faculty are bucking a national trend of language program closures that is driven by universities’ struggle to balance budgets in a tough economic climate. Since 2010, majors in French or German have been eliminated at such schools as the University of Maine, Louisiana State University, South Carolina State University and the University of Nevada-Reno.

Universities that slash language programs are not top-tier schools with large endowments. Rather, the schools tend to rely on public funds and target European languages such as Italian, German and French, said Rosemary Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association in New York.

“Distinguished universities aren’t doing it,” she said. “Universities doing it have financial crises they have to manage by taking away swaths of academic programs.”

The decision by UNI officials to eliminate degrees and shutter Malcolm Price Laboratory School, a hub of education research and teacher training, has garnered national attention and produced sustained local protests.

The American Association of University Professors said last week that it would investigate allegations that UNI faculty were shut out of decisions to eliminate programs and tenured jobs. If the Washington, D.C.-based organization were to sanction UNI, it could affect the school’s ability to recruit professors, faculty said.

Rallies and protests are scheduled on the UNI campus on Thursday and Friday. Earlier this month, people lobbied the Legislature, and students conducted a weeklong sit-in outside the offices of university administrators.

UNI’s German and French programs have at least one professor each who is expected to accept a buyout offer, faculty said. In all, 29 tenured faculty have received the offers.

Siegrun Bubser, UNI’s director of German studies, said the decision to eliminate language degrees puzzles her because students majoring in business and science often choose to take advanced foreign language courses in preparation for working in a global economy.

The future of new study-abroad programs is in doubt, she said. Though the university has promised current students will be offered the courses necessary to graduate, she said she’s unsure of what kind of instruction they’ll receive.

“We have been given no information about any plans regarding staffing,” Bubser said.

Jacob Dannen, a junior majoring in German and psychology, said he’s concerned about the passion and experience of teachers he’ll have in his remaining classes.

The university will continue to offer beginning courses in German and French to help students meet a foreign language requirement. But he said he’s skeptical of the value of duplicating courses offered at two-year colleges for far less money.

“We don’t want to turn into Panther Community College,” he said, a reference to UNI’s mascot.




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