August 30, 2011

Preserving A ‘Critical’ Educational Experience

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THE UNIVERSITY DESERVES A GOOD DEAL OF CREDIT for funding Cornell’s “critical languages” into at least the next year.

The past couple of years have been tumultuous for language programs at Cornell. Faced with major federal and state funding cuts and increased budgetary constraints, the University has decided over the past few years to make several difficult reductions in its course offerings. Cornell’s smaller-sized language programs often have been the first on the chopping block. Programs like Modern Greek, Dutch, Swedish and Russian have all seen their funding threatened or eliminated entirely.

Amidst this climate, it was refreshing to see the University announce its decision to fund the 11 lesser-known languages that make up Cornell’s “critical language” program. The decision sends a message that Cornell is serious about preserving the educational experience of its students and the scope of its course offerings above purely financial considerations.

Fundamentally, the University is here to offer courses to students. That is the basis of higher education. In times of economic duress, courses of study — and other University resources that directly benefit students — should be the last to go. Alternative means to reduce spending are always preferred over restricting the educational experience Cornell provides. Even courses that may seem small in terms of the University as a whole can have major impacts on the lives of individual students.

Cornell has always been known for the breadth and depth of its course curriculum as well, which serves as a major selling point for students in the U.S. and around the world. Administrative decisions that limit this academic diversity threaten to undermine one of the University’s biggest draws and greatest strengths.

The University should be commended for this decision and we hope that ultimately alternative sources of funding can be found either from the federal government or privately. But, if they cannot, we urge the University to keep languages, academic diversity and the student experience at the forefront of their mission when it comes time to reassess this decision one year from now.