August 25, 2011

After Cuts, Cornell Fights for Future of Eleven Languages

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Cornell administrators and professors are fighting to save the University’s “critical languages” program — which offers instruction in 11 lesser-known languages of national interest such as Thai and Khmer — after the federal government slashed approximately half of its funding on May 13.

Students will continue to receive instruction in these languages this year after Provost Kent Fuchs decided in June that his office would temporarily provide 90-percent of the languages’ lost funding. Beyond that, however, the future of the program looks bleak.

Fuchs said the University could not be responsible for sustaining the program in the long-term.

“We only have the resources to replace the federal funds for one year. We very much hope the government will come to an understanding that the Title VI funding is truly important and must be restored,” Fuchs said. “It is in our national interest that university language programs be supported and sustained with Title VI funding.”

The Office of the Vice Provost for International Relations will provide the remaining 10 percent of lost federal funding, which was administered through the Title VI program, according to Fred Logevall, director of the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies.

Cornell administers both intensive and non-intensive language instruction in the critical languages, and administrators were relieved that the axe did not fall on the intensive instruction sponsored by the Department of Education’s Foreign Language and Area Studies program. However, they were dismayed by the $346,899 reduction to the University’s three National Resource Centers, which offer the non-intensive language courses.

The eleven languages that face severe reductions are Burmese, Tagalog, Indonesian, Khmer, Vietnamese, Thai, Bengali, Nepali, Hindi, Farsi and Sinhala. While East Asian languages such as Mandarin, Japanese and Korean also receive federal funding, they have more support from the College of Arts and Sciences and are therefore not considered by administrators to be among the imperiled programs.

Logevall said that, due to the emergency funding from Day Hall, there would be “no direct and immediate impact on the language programs.”

Yet he and other administrators and professors in the field expressed concern for the future of the programs after this year.

“The future beyond this academic year is uncertain, and it’s vital that we think seriously in the coming months about what kind of language programs we want to have and plan accordingly,” he said.

While the effect of the cuts — once the Provost’s temporary funding expires — is uncertain, Prof. Tamara Loos, history, director of the Southeast Asia Program, said in April that a 40-percent reduction could force Cornell to eliminate four of its 11 critical language programs. Title VI funding was ultimately cut 47-percent — more than administrators feared.

“Language instruction is extraordinarily important. We were obviously very disappointed both at the focus and the magnitude of the cuts,” said Alice Pell, vice provost for international relations. With drastic cuts this fiscal year, Pell anticipated that “there will probably be more cuts in store for the future.”

In addition to jeopardizing money used to pay Cornell program staff’s salaries and benefits — which in April, Loos said totaled $1.5 million — insufficient Title VI funding may hamper other program functions. Within each language program, coordinators use federal funds to conduct outreach at local schools, raise cultural awareness and host educational events on campus, Pell said.

Pell said that over the summer, program administrators were actively trying replace the lost federal funding, appealing to other government sources and private organizations for aid.

Logevall stressed that the critical language programs are not alone: Many of the University’s foreign language offerings have already decreased recently. From 2007 to 2010, Cornell offered 38 distinct languages, but following cuts to several programs last year — including Dutch, Modern Greek and Swedish — Logevall said only 32 modern language programs are being offered.

Because most of the affected faculty members were gone during the summer, Pell said “we’re really just starting a lot of the discussion right now.”

She said that the administration had not yet decided how it would distribute funds among the critical languages for the following year once the Provost’s funding expires, as different programs have received varying amounts of federal support in the past.

“We only have two options … we’re seeing if we can find outside funding to solve the problem and at the same time we’re exploring … what happens if we can’t,” Pell said.

Original Author: Akane Otani