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Minor change, major consequences

The Spanish minor has been suspended for one year, but has the decision accomplished what it was intended to do in alleviating waitlists and facilitating class enrollment for Spanish majors?

The Spanish department's two-year moratorium on the Spanish minor was instituted last September to alleviate the difficulty Spanish majors face when enrolling in classes, but even now that the freeze is halfway over, those students still are finding it frustratingly difficult to enroll in their required classes. As these problems continue, the chances of the minor returning to the University look increasingly bleak, especially in light of stagnant department funds and the hiring freeze in the College.

When push comes to shove\nUltimately, the problems that led to the moratorium - and that make it seem unlikely that the minor will return - remain at the University. Gustavo Pellon, director of undergraduate studies for the Spanish program, said the popularity of enrollment has outpaced the department's growth during his time at the University.

"I've been here for 26 years, and over that period, Spanish enrollment has grown exponentially, but the faculty and department has not kept up with that growth," Pellon said. "We have the same number of faculty - minus two who can't be replaced because of budget cuts - as when I first came here 26 years ago."

Individuals such as fourth-year Nursing student Rhode Baptiste said the freeze on minor declaration seems to be detrimental to students, given its popularity and usefulness.

"I really don't think that it's a smart idea because Spanish is so important today," Baptiste said. "Just about everywhere you go they need Spanish speakers."

Unfortunately, Pellon said even the University's Spanish department - which he called one of the best in the country, often peaking with 375 majors and 200 minors in the past - found itself overtaxed.

"We're ranked fifth in the country and we're up there with rich, private universities," Pellon noted, but "when push came to shove, we couldn't cater to minors as much as majors."

Lingering sentiments \nBut even with all the pressure the department faced to suspend the minor, some students continue to lament its absence. Third-year Nursing student Liz Smith, for example, fulfilled the course requirements to declare the Spanish minor at the end of the spring 2009 semester, but when she tried to declare her Spanish minor early in the fall, she was told that applications would not be accepted until the third week of school. Unfortunately for her, the moratorium was announced before the said declaration period commenced.

Smith, who was debating between a Spanish minor and a music minor to accompany her Nursing degree, decided on the Spanish minor with dire results, she said. Her frustration stems in part from both the rigidity of the nursing curriculum and the amount of course planning required to add a second area of study to her degree.

"I could've minored in music if I'd known they were going to take the Spanish minor away," Smith said. "I could've really gotten the most out of my education, but I'm now just walking away with a nursing degree."

In addition, Smith said the College and Spanish department did not conduct sufficient dialogue with University students. She said she wished the department would have taken students in situations similar to hers into consideration before they decided exactly who could be grandfathered into the minor program.

"I was just shocked that they got rid of it; I had absolutely no idea," Smith said. "I don't think they consulted students well - they made a really fast decision. They could've made an exception, but I just feel like in certain situations if you were able to apply for the minor and just waiting, they should've just let you make it."

And despite the department's stated reason for suspending the major, Smith said she personally never experienced any difficulty in enrolling in Spanish classes before the moratorium was announced.

"The only time I had a problem was the semester they got rid of the minor," Smith said. "Before, even first year when it's hard to get into classes, I still got into a Spanish class ... considered an upper-level class, even though I had an awful signup time."

Second-year College Marco Segura, a Spanish major, said he found it difficult to enroll in 4000-level classes his first year, when the moratorium started. In fact, he noted that it took him several weeks to even enroll in a single Spanish class because of the long waitlists.

"I was becoming very desperate and frustrated to see that even though I signed up for 10 classes on the waitlist, I could not take Spanish," Segura said. "It took me one month to figure out whether or not I could take a class."

Furthermore, Segura said even though eliminating the Spanish minor was a problem, the department still faces the challenge of accommodating the overwhelming number of Spanish majors who compete to enroll in the same classes.

"It is unfortunate that the department is not focusing on hiring more professors or offering more classes," Segura said. "First was the Spanish minor, now is the overwhelming number of students - we gotta fix it!"

Baptiste, meanwhile, faced a different problem that has since prevented her from minoring in Spanish. Although she had declared the minor in spring 2009, records of her enrollment in the program - which appeared on the old Integrated Student Information System - were lost in the transition to the Student Information System.

"A lot of things have been wrong with SIS in terms of glitches, but the people I spoke to at Monroe Hall said I needed proof - a copy of the form that I had signed by the department head - but I didn't think of making the copy, so there was nothing I could really do," Baptiste said. "I was just appalled. I couldn't believe they would wipe me out even though I only have two classes left and thought I was fine."

The moratorium, however, has not necessarily solved the problems it was created to alleviate. For example, students such as second-year College student and Spanish major Lexi Moutafakis still experience overcrowded classes that are filled beyond capacity. Still, she also notes that continuing the Spanish minor would further aggravate the situation.

"I think if they do implement the minor, they'd have to expand the department significantly," Moutafakis said. "I don't think they have the classes or enough people to staff all the majors and all the minors. There are a lot of overfilled classes. I have one class this semester that had a limit on 25 people, but now there are 35 people in the class. Thirty-five people is not that bad, but those are just majors." Moutafakis added that if minors were still able to register for these classes, enrollment for this and similar seminars would likely reach upwards of 50 people.\n\nTemporary solutions\nIn an effort to alleviate the difficulties Spanish majors encounter in enrolling in the necessary classes, the department has instituted a number of measures. For example, department officials have created open-enrollment upper-level courses for declared majors - in contrast to how these courses normally require instructor permission - and have hired lecturers without doctorates to fill certain vacancies on a temporary basis.

Specifically, the hiring freeze in the College - which was imposed last September in response to state budget cuts - stunts any growth in the department. Even though the department has been able to hire lecturers, this action is only a temporary solution, Pellon said.

"Even though lecturers are cheaper than professors, they still cost money and they can only teach up to a certain level," Pellon said, referring to how lecturers usually cannot teach higher-level Spanish courses.

Open-enrollment classes for Spanish majors, meanwhile, were added to ensure more Spanish majors could enroll in upper-level classes before they were filled.

"Majors still didn't get into the classes they needed, so what happened was instructor-permission-only classes for courses required for the major became permissionless for Spanish majors," so instructors were able to manually add Spanish majors who request major-required classes, Pellon said.

Even this measure, however, is not a perfect solution, he said.

"It's not an ideal situation, and there's a need for a minor, but it's difficult getting into these Spanish classes who aren't Spanish majors."

Possible farewell?\nUltimately, it may take a while for the situation to look more favorable for perspective Spanish minors. Major changes, after all, will need to occur before the minor has any chance of returning, Pellon said.

"Things will have to change very fundamentally among our staff," Pellon said. "We lost two professors last year and we've found a lecturer. We [as a department] have to fight for absolutely everything."

Ken Kipps, special assistant to the College dean, noted that they will evaluate the effects of the moratorium in the spring before discussing the fate of the minor.

Pellon echoed Kipp's statement, also noting that the department met with College Dean Meredith Woo prior to the decision.

"We'll study the matter after two years to see if we can afford it, but it's extremely unlikely that we'll have the minor again," Pellon said.

As unlikely as the department is to reinstate the minor, Pellon said the loss of program disadvantages many students, from majors and minors to those individuals who are interested in but not majoring in the language. Overall, he said, having non-majors in Spanish classes is a positive experience, one that makes for "better discussions, presence of a variety of perspectives, which enrich the experience"


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