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Language under fire

Budget cuts affect foreign language departments

Schools across the nation have been cutting traditional foreign language programs, while enrollment of students studying those languages has been climbing, according to two recent studies on the subject. Arabic, Chinese, Korean and American Sign Language have displayed a significantly increasing presence in higher education curricula, according to a report by the Modern Language Association.

Despite growing numbers of interested students, the economic recession, which has left many institutions faced with budget concerns, might explain why many universities have decided to cut funding toward foreign language programs with lower student interest and fewer faculty, according to a study conducted by Steven Brint, sociology professor and associate dean of the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences at the University of California at Riverside.

A national trend\nMany universities throughout the country have faced decisions to cut foreign language programs.

The University at Albany, State University of New York, which is part of the greater SUNY system, was asked to eliminate $34 million from its budget during the past three years, said Jean-Francois Briere, professor of French studies.

Last October, the university's president announced that five degree programs would be terminated: French, Russian, Italian, classics and theater. "All degrees [were] deactivated," Briere said. Spanish, the most studied foreign language at Albany, was spared, Briere said.

The decision to end the French program was particularly controversial, Briere said. "French is the second most commonly taught foreign language [in the world] after English," he said. "It's an embarrassment for our university that if you want to get a degree in foreign language you have a choice between the Asian languages and Spanish."

The decision gave way to major student initiatives and national campaigns, Briere said. After many efforts at Albany, and a petition signed by 13,200 people in more than 30 different countries, the president decided to re-establish minors in all the above programs, but did not reinstate majors, Briere said.

Despite these minor victories, Briere noted an underlying tension.

"It is like the university is trying to push the faculty to leave by reducing their student body to minors, with no majors and graduate students," he said. "It's pressuring the faculty to leave on their own ... but they have no intention of leaving."

Louisiana State University also recently faced massive state budget cuts, said Tom DiNapoli, associate professor of German. Three hundred instructors were fired and class sizes increased dramatically in all departments, DiNapoli said. The foreign languages were the departments most affected by the financial cuts.

"Every language was lost except Spanish," he said. "We lost four complete language programs: Portuguese, Swahili, Russian and Japanese. We [also] lost two degree programs


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