University of Iowa

Disappearance of language programs

October 6th, 2010

In light of my previous post–on the importance of language learning–it is particularly unsettling to hear of the decision at the State University of New York in Albany to suspend admissions to the B.A. programs in French, Italian, and Russian, as well as Classics and Theatre. In our world of 2010, with so many global exchanges in higher education and throughout the business world, it has never been more important for our students to understand multi-cultural perspectives.  Part of being globally competent is having an ability to understand others, in and through the languages they speak.

Admittedly, fiscal pressures have been extreme.  More than 360 faculty and staff positions will have been eliminated from 2008 through 2012, by SUNY estimates.  And the New York Legislature did not pass legislation that would have given SUNY more control over tuition, forcing university leaders to find other ways to meet budget targets.

The October 1st announcement by SUNY-Albany’s President indicated that the rationale behind the suspension of these programs was to “reallocate resources to support [our] core academic and research mission.”  Yet it is difficult to understand how providing students with the global skills to navigate and be successful in our world are not part of that core mission. Language courses will no doubt continue to be taught.  But students will not be able to obtain credentials in these key areas that lead to job opportunities in international business, global health, education, and other areas.  As I wrote last time, “as global perspectives and globalization become increasingly important, and indeed as English continues to serve as the premier international language, it is all the more important for us in the U.S. to have a strong knowledge of world languages and cultures.”  A couple of semesters of language courses will not provide students with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in the local-to-global contexts in which we now live.

Downing Thomas
Downing Thomas