May 3, 2012

After Cuts, Department Saves Critical Languages

Print More

Correction appended

With Provost Kent Fuchs’ short-term funding of “critical language” programs slated to end at the beginning of next semester, individual departments have searched for funds to keep their programs alive. Although the fate of all 11 critical languages remains unclear, using previously saved funds, one department — Asian Studies — will support a couple South Asia program languages and East Asia program languages for the next few years, according to Prof. Walter Cohen, comparative literature, the Senior Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. After the U.S. Department of Education slashed 47 percent of its funding to critical languages –– lesser-known languages that are of national importance –– in 2011, Fuchs funded 90 percent of the shortfall for this year. Now, however, that funding is running out.Meanwhile, Prof. Tamara Loos, history, director of the Southeast Asia program, said that the University determined that the Southeast Asia program had the capacity to temporarily sustain its critical languages using its endowment.Because the Southeast Asia program would be able to, in part, make up for the Department of Education’s budget shortfall with this endowment, the University decided not to provide additional funding to the program to help it cope with the budget cuts, Loos said.Loos said, however, said that the program will attempt “to keep our languages alive for as long as we can.” “The bottom line is we’re rearranging how we spend our current endowments to try and make [the funds] spread out for the next two years, but after that we need the administration to kick in some funds,” Loos said. To help supplement the Southeast Asia program’s endowment, Prof. Fredrik Logevall, history, director of the Einaudi Center, said that these programs might ask the provost for “bridging funds.”“I anticipate we will be making a request [to the Provost] again this year,” Logevall said.Although it is still uncertain if the provost will provide aid to any programs, Prof. Daniel Gold, Asian studies, director of the South Asia Program, said the number of languages offered by the University will remain constant. “I think for the moment, this year, next year, we’re stable, in terms of the languages being taught,” Gold said. There is not currently a permanent solution, according to Gold. “We hope that, eventually, we will get this thing sorted out and we’ll find new sources of funding,” Gold said.Since the DOE cuts will remain an issue for the Asian Studies department next year, Cohen said the use of saved funding next year will be a trial run for the University. Although it will still keep the programs running for the next few years, the funding structure will not be permanent. “For next year, it is going to be more of a spit-and-chewing gum kind of operation, but we’ll be okay next year, and possibly the year after,” Cohen said. “But that’s not a solution.” With the stability of these programs largely undecided after the next two years, some professors questioned whether language teaching will remain a long-term priority for the University. “There are lots of people competing for a very small amount,” Loos said. “[The administrators] really need a lot more if they want to include under the rubric of ‘international studies’ all of these different kinds of objectives.”  Loos added that language programs are relatively inexpensive to maintain as compared to other institutional initiatives, such as the Tech Campus in New York City. “The amount it would take to sustain these programs is minimal by comparison –– really it’s embarrassingly small –– but the administration has yet to commit them,” Loos said. “If they put their money where their mouth is and are really supportive of their flagship programs … they are going to really need to look hard at their priorities.” According to Cohen, the University has “a vested interest in keeping a wide range of languages.”In the future, however, Cohen said that the way the University will respond to both University and DOE budget cuts is still uncertain. “For the next year or two were probably okay, after that it’s much more uncertain, and I don’t think that the University’s economy and finances will be totally back by then,” Cohen said.While Cohen acknowledged that the fate of the University’s critical language programs remains uncertain, he also said that budget constraints could have an impact on other programs as well.“So there will be some tricky decisions, not just in languages, but in a whole lot of areas over the next five years.”

Correction: A previous version of this article contained several errors. It incorrectly stated that the Asian Studies department will fund the South Asian and Southeast Asian language programs. In fact, it will fund the South Asian and East Asian programs. Additionally, the article stated that the Asian Studies department will use an endowment from the Mario Einaudi Center to maintain its funding. In fact, the department will receive funding from its own endowment. Finally, the article incorrectly stated that the Department of Education cut by 40 percent. In fact, it was cut by 47 percent.

Original Author: Caroline Flax