Boris Tsang / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

After uproar from students and faculty last semester, particularly the classics, romance studies and German studies departments, the language requirement will not be cut.

October 2, 2018

Controversial Recommendation to Cut Arts and Sciences Language Requirement Eliminated

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The Arts and Sciences Curriculum Committee’s recommendation to shorten the language requirement, which drew strong responses from both students and faculty last semester, has been officially tabled.

In a proposal released in March, the committee recommended changing the requirement so that students could fulfill it by taking one non-introductory class or two courses of at least three credits each in the same language. The committee also recommended allowing sign language to satisfy the language requirement.

A new version of the proposal was released in June that, if passed, would keep the language requirement as it is: one non-introductory course or 11 credits of instruction in one language. The only change would be allowing sign language to count as a foreign language.

Arts and Sciences faculty will gather in a meeting on Wednesday, where a vote on the modified proposal is likely, according to Prof. Tom Pepinsky, government, chair of the curriculum committee.

Pepinsky told The Sun that the recommendation was cut after conversations with faculty in the classics, romance and German studies departments, who he said see the current requirements as “really important.”

However, Pepinsky explained that the committee’s new recommendations did make some “compromises” in an effort not to “disproportionately burden” students with heavy course loads.

This includes allowing students in the college to “double-count” classes for distribution requirements. Students still need to fulfill 10 distribution requirements, but they may only need to take eight courses to fulfill those requirements, since two can be double-counted.

Prof. Stephanie Divo, Asian studies, coordinator of the Mandarin Chinese language program, said she was “certainly happy” that the committee listened to what professors and instructors had to say and modified the proposal.

“We felt that the original proposal rather shortchanged the language requirement in a way that would have been very detrimental, I think, to language programs in general, certainly to Asian languages, and would have kept a lot of students who would otherwise come and take our courses and actually benefit from them and enjoy them, from coming to our classes at all,” she said.

Students can currently use Chinese and certain other Asian languages to fulfill the language requirement in one year, as each introductory course is six credits, but if the language requirement had been shortened to only two semesters of three-credit courses then students who would normally would have taken these languages might have taken something else instead, according to Divo.

“The way that they proposed reducing the requirement would have basically attracted a lot more students toward languages where they could fulfill the requirement more easily, or at least that would be the impression,” she said. “They would tend to steer clear of the more difficult languages and go with something a little easier.”

Prof. Mitchell Greenberg, chair of the romance studies department, said that his department “welcomes” the committee’s decision.

“It appears evident to all of us that a university that purports to be one of the major centers of learning in the world and that wishes to form ‘global citizens’ can and should reenforce the idea that a ‘global citizen’ is not monolingual,” Greenberg wrote in an email to The Sun.

A survey about the arts college curriculum taken in the spring found that 61 percent of students surveyed preferred the recommendation in the previous report, which suggested shortening the language requirement. When The Sun asked Pepinsky if the committee considered the students’ response when making its decision, he said the committee has “absolutely taken it into account.”

“But the challenge of course is we get to make one proposal only, and it has to satisfy a number of different constituencies, so we did the best we could to balance the different constituencies,” he added. “Unfortunately, students don’t get a vote, but the faculty do, so in that sense, we had to make sure that what the faculty was getting was what they wanted.”

Destiny Malloy ’21 told The Sun that she wishes the committee’s initial proposal had been kept.

“I think that it’s fun for people who are interested in learning a language, but for people who aren’t interested in learning a new language but still want a liberal arts education, [the language requirement] can get in the way of that,” she said.

Malloy said that she enjoys studying Spanish and that though Spanish classes are often “very intense,” they are not a “burden” for her because she likes them. However, she added that “it would be quite burdensome” if she were a person who did not like learning a language.

JeNaye Beavers ’20, currently taking Chinese, said she would prefer the requirement to be a year instead of a year and a half.

“I think it would free up a lot of people’s schedules to be able to take more things,” she said, sitting at a table in the Temple of Zeus. “We don’t have that much time to be here anyway. I think it’ll give a lot of students more flexibility.”

Annie Bryson ’22 told The Sun that while the requirement is “challenging,” it is a part of the experience of being in the arts college.

“I think it’s a challenging requirement, especially depending on whether or not you’ve taken the language before,” she said. “So even though it’s a lot, I think that’s part of what Arts and Sciences is about.”

“Why you would pick Arts and Sciences in the first place is to kind of broaden your perspectives and your experiences,” Bryson added.