Balzac, Eco, Chekov, Virgil: unnecessary
October 4, 2010 4:00 AM   Subscribe

The State University of New York at Albany's motto is "the world within reach." But language faculty members are questioning the university's commitment to such a vision after being told Friday that the university was ending all admissions to programs in French, Italian, Russian and classics, leaving only Spanish left in the language department once current students graduate.
posted by Stewriffic (68 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Under current budget projections, he said in a statement on the cuts, by the end of 2012, administrative units will have had state funds cut by 22.4 percent and academic units will have had funds cut by 16 percent. Hundreds of positions have been eliminated, largely through leaving vacancies unfilled.
Welcome to the new normal.

Also, before we start debating whether Italian is necessary in the modern research university, keep in mind that the modern research university administration, bold and entrepreneurial, sees any department that isn't net positive for federal and industry grants to be unnecessary.
posted by ennui.bz at 4:38 AM on October 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


In other local news, Albany blocked an extra point, a punt and a field goal and recovered an onside kick en route to a 23-20 victory over Yale on Saturday in the schools' first meeting.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:39 AM on October 4, 2010 [9 favorites]


Well, that eliminates the last difficult subject for non-science, math and engineering students. Let's party!
posted by Faze at 4:41 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hey Faze: There's always Spanish!

(I can't bring myself to say "/hamburger" but imagine the above in a bitter, bitter tone)
posted by Stewriffic at 4:43 AM on October 4, 2010


also, hey grad students, academia is an industry and that industry (in the U.S.) has been downsizing (tenure track) jobs for twenty years.
posted by ennui.bz at 4:49 AM on October 4, 2010


Faze: "Well, that eliminates the last difficult subject for non-science, math and engineering students. Let's party!"

Hey, I was a CS major and the major reason that I didn't get a degree in my first go around at school was the damn language requirement. I did fine with my calculus, physics and core CS classes but managed to fail German after having spent the entire semester focusing on that course. My brain doesn't seem to be wired for human languages. Fortunately, the second school that I went to allowed me to take foreign government and history classes as a substitute.
posted by octothorpe at 5:03 AM on October 4, 2010


Jesus, that only leaves Buffalo, Stonybrook, Binghamton, Buffalo State, Cortland, Brockport, Geneso, New Paltz, Plattsburgh and Potsdam where one could get a classics degree!
posted by electroboy at 5:13 AM on October 4, 2010 [12 favorites]


Fredonia also. Asking each SUNY campus to cover every subject seems to be the wrong way to go about it. It is probably easier and more economical for prospective students to apply at another campus and move, rather than offer complete degree programs everywhere.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 5:37 AM on October 4, 2010


Languages seem like one of the few reliably dependable skills to master to keep yourself permanently employed in this day and age. Maybe these departments aren't money-makers for the school, but if I was an alum or a prospective student I'd be pissed that so many potential real-world employment pathways were being closed off.
posted by bardic at 5:44 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Asking each SUNY campus to cover every subject seems to be the wrong way to go about it. "

This is perhaps a reasonable plan for advanced degrees, but the programs do a lot of good work for undergraduates not majoring in the language. By eliminating the program you make it impossible for a math major to study French, French culture, German, etc. So, it's a disservice to the entire school. Alternatively, if you are alright with only some schools offering Italian would you be alright with only some schools offering math or science classes?

The article does not say whether classes in French, et al., will be dropped completely or just the major. At Florida, several programs were shutdown or merged while many of the courses themselves are still being offered. Although, that Albany is apparently set to fire the faculty suggests total elimination.
posted by oddman at 5:53 AM on October 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


Although, that Albany is apparently set to fire the faculty suggests total elimination.

Not hardly. More likely they'll fire all the tenured and tenure-track faculty and but keep around enough part-time folks to teach the language courses.
posted by escabeche at 6:10 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Although, that Albany is apparently set to fire the faculty suggests total elimination.

As I read the article, only the tenured (troublesome and expensive) faculty is definitely being fired. The adjuncts are merely "at risk." So SUNY is just following the same model as McDonalds and Walmart of wanting only part-timers.
posted by tyllwin at 6:14 AM on October 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


This is horrifying. I'm sad about Classics, but cutting out all of your modern languages except Spanish? Are you kidding me? Not even replacing Russian with Arabic because of the new geopolitical situation, or throwing a bone to the business majors who might want to work with European or heaven forbid, Canadian companies... just saying "No, languages aren't really important. Why would you need to talk to anyone outside of your own borders? Hopefully soon all those pesky immigrants will go away and we can get rid of Spanish too!"

I can understand why language departments are such an attractive place for cuts. Language departments are labor- and resource-intensive because, as noted in the article, there's no way you can teach French 101 to a lecture hall of 200. So you have to employ a lot of graduate students and adjuncts to teach those things. Your full professors can also teach them, but then they're going to want to teach classes that actually have to do with their research as well, and there's simply never going to be that many students who have the skills to take "Balzac" or "Pushkin," so those courses are doomed to low enrollments as well.

But now there's going to be even fewer students. And because languages are one of the skills that can reliably enhance any degree--I don't care if you're an engineer, a business major, a political scientist, or an English major, fluency in another language opens up doors--Albany students have just had a lot of pathways closed off to them.

And this hasn't been, and isn't going to be, the only university to do this.

"Wer fremde Sprachen nicht kennt, weiss nichts von seiner eigenen."

.
posted by besonders at 6:29 AM on October 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


Alternatively, if you are alright with only some schools offering Italian would you be alright with only some schools offering math or science classes?

To be fair, the school is still offering one foreign language. The better comparison might be a school that only offered chemistry and not physics or biology. Or a school that only offered the calculus series and not, say, linear algebra, abstract algebra, or real analysis.

I dunno. Probably depends on how easy it is to transfer between SUNY campuses (including transferring scholarships). Not every school can offer every subject. SUNY Albany didn't offer a major in Farsi or Quechua or any number of other languages, for example, so the line must be drawn somewhere.

Also, what were the enrollments like (the article just says 'comparatively few')? At some point there are so few people enrolling in a subject that their tuition no longer pays for the professors and administrative and physical overhead. Then you have to justify forcing other students to subsidize a class they have no interest in.
posted by jedicus at 6:39 AM on October 4, 2010


jedicus-- I never understand the "justify forcing other students to subsidize a class they have no interest in" argument. Personally I'm happy to subsidize classes I have no interest in.

Say I were at this university studying Spanish, which is evidently still making enough to pay the bills--I'm taking Spanish, so that's my thing, but am I happy there are other students at my university who can speak French or Russian? Of course I am, and knowing those people, and having those people in my alumni network, and knowing that I'm at a university that actually values the foreign languages, enriches my overall experience. Science classes can actually be more of a drag on university budgets than things like history or English, but as a history major, am I happy there are engineering majors? You bet I am.

Maybe it's idealistic of me to think that the university should see its students as a learning community rather than a group of discrete individuals each pursuing their own ends, but dammit, if that's not what we believe in, then why have the university at all?
posted by besonders at 6:49 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


From the comments section, by a commenter who claims to teach there:

UAlbany is going to be a laughingstock. The President set the tone for this at the recent meeting when he announced this decision. For a couple of years, the school's motto has been "The World Within Reach." When it was pointed out to him that he was consigning us to reaching only the English-speaking world, he told us that what the slogan *actually* meant was that the "world of opportunity was within reach". The double-speak has begun.
posted by Bromius at 6:51 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Octothorpe: During my graduate studies in French literature at U. of Manitoba, I taught a compulsory course in reading French for academic purposes to groups of other graduate students and to graduating students in their fourth year who were going on to graduate studies, mainly in the engineering and science faculties. The idea behind the course was to help the students understand enough of French-language academic writings specific to their fields to summarize them in an English "translation". They had to grasp 70% of the content to pass (it was a Pass or Fail course). The course wasn't designed at all to produce speakers or writers of French. Most of the students were not happy about having to take the course. However, once they realized there were language tools (e.g. specialised linguistic data bases) to help them out, they felt a little less unhappy. The vast majority had to sit the exam twice to pass, but the course was offered in each of the three sessions. Knowing the failure rate, many of the students planned ahead and registered for the course in their first graduate studies year.
posted by drogien at 7:00 AM on October 4, 2010


I never understand the "justify forcing other students to subsidize a class they have no interest in" argument. Personally I'm happy to subsidize classes I have no interest in.

Alright, then I suppose you'd be equally happy being forced to subsidize a couple of dozen sports teams and a new stadium for each? Or, if athletics are distasteful, what if the school created an entire faculty for every major that even one student expressed an interest in? At some point lines have to be drawn or tuition would be even more out of control than it already is.

Maybe it's idealistic of me to think that the university should see its students as a learning community rather than a group of discrete individuals each pursuing their own ends, but dammit, if that's not what we believe in, then why have the university at all?

Because of the economy of scale of sharing resources like dorms, libraries, lecture halls, and laboratories? To provide a coordinated and consistent set of courses and majors from year to year? To ensure a regular system of admissions so that a student need only be admitted once and then may take courses from throughout the school?

All of those benefits come independent of whether a school follows a liberal arts model, a research university model, a professional school model, or what-have-you. Not all schools need to follow the liberal arts model in order to be successful. Consider Thunderbird, for example, a highly specialized school that is successful within that specialty. Would you demand it transform into a generalized university replete with a full undergraduate curriculum?
posted by jedicus at 7:09 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is just bullshit. Sorry to sound all liberal artsy and shit, but a real university should have a strong commitment to the humanities. The humanities are not optional. You can't fulfill teaching mission of a modern university without them. Language instruction and courses in [Your Culture Here] studies are essential to that mission. And don't give me that crap about them not being "practical." They teach you: a) that there are people that aren't like you, a truly valuable skill that you aren't going to get in Business Methods 106; b) that hard stuff is sometimes good, another tidbit that you'll never get, this time on MTV; c) that humans--just like you and me--do incredible things for something other than money, a third valuable lesson that your accounting teacher is not likely to relate.

Insane, just insane. All these positions could be funded with the rounding error in a Goldman Sach's annual report.
posted by MarshallPoe at 7:18 AM on October 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


How dare anyone be forced to subsidize anything they're not interested in. I mean, I graduated from grade school, like, years ago and my taxes still go towards helping those kids get those blocks with letters on them. I mean, I have no interest at all in blocks with letters on them. Or those pull-down maps they attach above chalkboards. If I wanted to know what North America looked like, I'd slap some sense into myself and go back to watching "Jersey Shore." I expect to only have to pay for exactly what I want, because no one ever subsidized anything I was interested in but couldn't pay for.
posted by chasing at 7:28 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


jedicus-- I agree with you that lines need to be drawn somewhere--obviously not every school can offer every language, I don't expect every university to have a faculty member in every sub-field of history or biology or chemistry or what have you, and a state university with multiple campuses certainly ought to have specialized programs.

But excising four language programs from a university at one fell swoop, leaving it with only one, is a huge decision, that requires a comparably huge justification. As I said above, foreign languages may not have a lot of majors, but learning another language is a skill that will genuinely enhance every other major out there, which is something you can't say as easily about "theater" or "biology" or "philosophy."

(You'll notice that I'm not complaining about them getting rid of classics and theater--sad, to be sure, but maybe a necessary decision for the economics of the university. If they have to get rid of something, fine. My argument is more that foreign languages are a tempting but ultimately deeply misguided target for those sorts of cuts.)

And Thunderbird makes my point for me here--they have a foreign language program which they appear to devote a lot of resources to, because foreign languages are important. Is it expensive for Thunderbird to provide Chinese and Spanish language instruction, and to work one-on-one with students who want to learn Russian or Turkish or French or whatever else? Of course it is. Does that benefit pay back to every student who goes to Thunderbird in the increased international reputation of the place? I would imagine yes.

My biases are fairly strong here--I was a history/German major currently pursuing graduate education in history--but even though I should care more about history for my own job security, I'd rather see colleges shuttering history departments en masse than foreign language departments. Every non-academic job I've ever interviewed for has been extremely excited about my German fluency, and I wouldn't have that if somebody hadn't turned me onto it in college.
posted by besonders at 7:33 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


that humans--just like you and me--do incredible things for something other than money, a third valuable lesson that your accounting teacher is not likely to relate.

How exactly do language courses teach that? My guess is that the language faculty at SUNY Albany are unwilling to teach their courses for free or with a drastic pay cut.

And actually, in a good business school students will learn about the concept of utility, which makes it quite clear that, although utility and money are often correlated, they are not the same, and people will often do things for something other than money.

How dare anyone be forced to subsidize anything they're not interested in. I mean, I graduated from grade school, like, years ago and my taxes still go towards helping those kids get those blocks with letters on them.

You can't compare primary and secondary school with higher education. The former are mandatory, and if we're going to require everyone to attend school we should make it high quality for everyone without regard to their own income. The latter is optional, and consequently it relies on student tuition for a significant fraction of its budget. Schools should be free to tailor their curricula to the interests of students as tempered by the realities of their budget and the requirements of accreditation.

There are several people in this thread deeply concerned by this development (and don't get me wrong, in an ideal world you'd be able to get a great education in any subject imaginable at any school for free, so I agree that this sucks for the students at SUNY Albany). Why don't you organize a fundraising campaign to save the language courses at the school?
posted by jedicus at 7:37 AM on October 4, 2010


And Thunderbird makes my point for me here--they have a foreign language program which they appear to devote a lot of resources to, because foreign languages are important.

Of course they do. Thunderbird is the Thunderbird School of Global Management. From its inception its emphasis has been on international management and business. You'll notice that that language program is part of the Executive Education division. I guarantee you that the students taking those classes are paying every penny of their cost with no subsidy from other students (and little subsidy from the state; Thunderbird is a private school).

My point was that Thunderbird is extremely far from a general university. Virtually everything it offers is tailored to its narrow field. There are no engineering courses, no algebra courses, no art courses, no Latin courses, no theater courses, etc, etc. That doesn't make Thunderbird a bad school.
posted by jedicus at 7:44 AM on October 4, 2010


Why don't you organize a fundraising campaign to save the language courses at the school?

I did. By going to college and grad school and probably having some of my tuition used to subsidize programs less profitable than mine. Without whining about it.

And I'm also all about raising taxes and putting that money towards education of all kinds. Education -- whether it's learning French or business school -- is immensely valuable and I don't think we get enough of it. And it's so cheap relative to other crap this country blows its trust fund on.

I mean, raising taxes might also force you to pay a few bucks towards helping someone else get an education. I hate to put your head on the block like that, but, y'know. The kids.
posted by chasing at 7:46 AM on October 4, 2010


Brockport

You most certainly cannot study classics at Brockport (I should know, as I teach there).

Eliminating classics and foreign languages has a dangerous ripple effect for the university's other graduate programs, like English. Medievalists, for example, need Latin plus multiple romance languages. Otherwise, they can't function in the field, full stop. Moreover, it's extremely difficult to just pack up and go somewhere else in the system for study, as the four-year and research center campuses are all located miles away from each other. (Brockport is 37 miles away from Geneseo, the closest four-year college, and about 51 miles away from Buffalo--which is a very dangerous commute during the winter.)
posted by thomas j wise at 8:05 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Um, also, they cut Theatre.

Not that theatre is important or anything...
posted by cvp at 8:05 AM on October 4, 2010


What is with SUNY's weird setup anyways, in that they have no "main" campus? Is that unique among the states?

Plenty of other states have "second-class" campuses without a full set of subjects.
posted by smackfu at 8:08 AM on October 4, 2010


I mean, raising taxes might also force you to pay a few bucks towards helping someone else get an education. I hate to put your head on the block like that, but, y'know. The kids.

I'm not opposed to paying taxes to pay for other people's education. I'm all for it, in fact. We should higher taxes and higher tax brackets. We should make post-secondary education closer to free and less reliant on loans.

But we should recognize the reality as it is now, which is that New York has a serious budget crisis. That state funding for the SUNY system has been in decline for a while now. That tuition rates are increasing at an unsustainable pace. That students majoring in foreign languages will, on average, be signing onto a lifetime of crushing debt that the degree will not pay for. That given limited resources, something has to give, and the reality of the market for higher education is such that cutting low-enrollment foreign languages doesn't reduce the number of incoming students (i.e., customers) the way cutting sports or the construction of fancy new dorms does.

Is it good that this has happened? No. Am I in favor of reforms that would prevent it? Yes. But given the facts we have from this article, I'm willing to grant that the administration may have made an acceptable decision (if maybe not the best decision or even a good one) given a crappy situation.
posted by jedicus at 8:08 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


That students majoring in foreign languages will, on average, be signing onto a lifetime of crushing debt that the degree will not pay for.

You majored in business, I'm guessing.
posted by chasing at 8:29 AM on October 4, 2010


You majored in business, I'm guessing.

Computer science and mathematics (BA at a small liberal arts college in which I took a lot of German courses), computer science (MS), and law, actually. I've never taken a business school course, nor do I ever expect to.
posted by jedicus at 8:42 AM on October 4, 2010


besonders: But excising four language programs from a university at one fell swoop, leaving it with only one, is a huge decision, that requires a comparably huge justification. As I said above, foreign languages may not have a lot of majors, but learning another language is a skill that will genuinely enhance every other major out there, which is something you can't say as easily about "theater" or "biology" or "philosophy."

You must have some sort of justification for suggesting that foreign language would enhance another major more than biology or philosophy. For my part, I'd suggest that even a basic understanding of biology is extremely useful - it helps teach you how living systems work, which has important ramifications for any behavior that affects your health. Basic philosophy is also incredibly useful for anyone - it includes such things as logic and skepticism, which is very powerful in helping to avoid being deceived (even by yourself.) It's also very fulfilling if you get far enough into it.
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:42 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


You must have some sort of justification for suggesting that foreign language would enhance another major more than biology or philosophy.

Albany is one of the SUNY Research Centers--that is, one of the four universities (along with Buffalo, Binghamton, and Stony Brook) qualified to grant doctorates. Minimal to no foreign language instruction makes it impossible for just about any doctoral candidate to achieve minimal competency in their field...even if all you want to study is American political history. Are they planning to subsidize graduate students who need to do foreign language study elsewhere? (Depending on the foreign language, there are online "X language for graduate students" courses, but you still have to supply the $.) Moreover, it puts those undergraduates who can't be talked out of pursuing graduate study at a distinct disadvantage, especially if they're interested in fields that require multiple classical and modern languages. Even non-humanities fields require foreign languages. This isn't just a value-added issue; it's a "you can't produce competent scholars this way" issue.
posted by thomas j wise at 9:00 AM on October 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


Brockport is 37 miles away from Geneseo, the closest four-year college

Brockport isn't 4-year? Is it junior/senior only?

What is with SUNY's weird setup anyways, in that they have no "main" campus? Is that unique among the states?

SUNY has four "main" campuses; Stony Brook, Albany, Buffalo, and Binghamton. As far as undergraduate education goes, I think it's reasonably clear that Binghamton is the most flagshippy campus.

It's not that weird. Lots of states have two flagship or "main" campuses; usually University of Statename and Statename State University. Michigan and Michigan State, Florida and Florida State, etc. There are other states where the main university system arguably doesn't have a main campus -- the UC system comes pretty close. I mean, at one level Berkeley is the "main" campus, but you'd have to be bonkers to consider UCLA or UCSD to be regional campuses of Berkeley.

Where SUNY is really weird is that it's a combination, sort of, of the UC system *and* the Cal State system *and* some of the community colleges.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:17 AM on October 4, 2010


More likely they'll fire all the tenured and tenure-track faculty and but keep around enough part-time folks to teach the language courses.

This. The trend around here (WA state) is to eliminate tenured degreed professors and have courses taught by non-degreed adjunct faculty.
posted by hippybear at 9:25 AM on October 4, 2010


Even non-humanities fields require foreign languages.

Most technical degrees don't require any foreign language.
posted by electroboy at 9:28 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Minimal to no foreign language instruction makes it impossible for just about any doctoral candidate to achieve minimal competency in their field...even if all you want to study is American political history.
What makes you think that jedicus supports people being able to study American political history? People like him often believe that the only legitimate subjects are ones with direct practical application. If you feel that way, then getting rid of foreign languages is actually advantageous, because one of the side effects is that it destroys the ability to study the humanities or soft social sciences.
posted by craichead at 9:44 AM on October 4, 2010


Brockport isn't 4-year? Is it junior/senior only?

Sorry, worded vaguely--we're a four-year school.
posted by thomas j wise at 9:57 AM on October 4, 2010


What makes you think that jedicus supports people being able to study American political history? People like him often believe that the only legitimate subjects are ones with direct practical application. If you feel that way, then getting rid of foreign languages is actually advantageous, because one of the side effects is that it destroys the ability to study the humanities or soft social sciences.

I never said any such thing, and in fact I said much the opposite. I'll thank you not to put words in my mouth, particularly such distasteful ones.

My point was, as I said repeatedly, only that this decision may not be as horrible as it's being painted given the reality of the state budget, the university budget, and the higher education market. Again, I don't wish it were so. Again, I wish we had a much more progressive tax structure and that post-secondary education were free to all. Again, I wish we didn't rely on student loans to pay for college, which makes subjects without 'direct practical application' less attractive.

But that's not the world we live in yet.
posted by jedicus at 10:04 AM on October 4, 2010


La plaisanterie est sur eux. Je peux les appeler connards en français et personne ne sera le plus sage.
posted by wcfields at 10:04 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


My point was, as I said repeatedly, only that this decision may not be as horrible as it's being painted given the reality of the state budget, the university budget, and the higher education market.

If we prioritize the market over education, we are totally and completely fucked.
posted by mek at 10:40 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Most technical degrees don't require any foreign language.

Most technical degrees are also degrees that fewer and fewer graduating high school students have sufficient competency in math and science to start, let alone complete.
posted by blucevalo at 10:40 AM on October 4, 2010


If we prioritize the market over education, we are totally and completely fucked.

That may be true, but the university administrators can't conjure money out of thin air. They're working within a system they have very limited power to change. Anger should be primarily directed at the state legislature and Congress, not the university administrators.

And to make clear a point that may be the source of some confusion: it's unfair to force the subsidy of an unpopular program via tuition not because every program should have to pay its own way but because doing so means, in the current system, subsidizing it via student loans. Raising a few hundred thousand dollars via a tuition increase actually costs students more like a million dollars in principal and interest. It's far more fair and efficient to subsidize such programs through taxation, which spreads the cost even further, can take advantage of progressive taxation, and (at least in the case of state taxes) doesn't rely on debt financing.
posted by jedicus at 10:47 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


La plaisanterie est sur eux. Je peux les appeler connards en français et personne ne sera le plus sage.
Ben detto (anche se chiaramente e volutamente un calco semantico dalla lingua di Albione)! Andiamo tutti a prenderli in giro (magari con i giubbotti antiproiettile) e vediamo che succede.....Piirla, piirla, piiirla...scemo chi legge (e non capisce...)
posted by MessageInABottle at 10:58 AM on October 4, 2010


Most technical degrees are also degrees that fewer and fewer graduating high school students have sufficient competency in math and science to start, let alone complete.

I don't understand what this is supposed to mean. Kids can't do math so there should be classics education?
posted by electroboy at 11:03 AM on October 4, 2010


I think a lot of people here are reading something in to the article that it doesn't say. It does not say that SUNY Albany will stop offering foreign languages. It says only that they will stop offering them as a major. It's not at all clear how many courses will be eliminated.
posted by tyllwin at 11:09 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Where SUNY is really weird is that it's a combination, sort of, of the UC system *and* the Cal State system *and* some of the community colleges.

Not to mention that SUNY overlaps with an Ivy League university (in Cornell's College of Ag and Life Science, College of Industrial and Labor Relations, College of Human Ecology, and School of Veterinary Medicine) because of Cornell's curious combination private endowment and land-grant origins.
posted by aught at 11:31 AM on October 4, 2010


I think a lot of people here are reading something in to the article that it doesn't say.

It makes a huge difference when a department goes from being an academic department interested in attracting scholars in its field, to being a service department hiring adjuncts to teach undergrads fulfilling distribution requirements. Kind of a departmental lobotomy.
posted by aught at 11:33 AM on October 4, 2010


(No offense to college/university adjuncts. I was one once.)
posted by aught at 11:34 AM on October 4, 2010


Mitrovarr: You must have some sort of justification for suggesting that foreign language would enhance another major more than biology or philosophy.

I am as pro-the-liberal-arts as you can get, personally, and in my dream world everyone is required to take all of these things.

That statement was made from the market-centric context of the world we actually appear to live in, because speaking German or Spanish or Chinese or Arabic is more obviously a plus on your resume across a wider variety of fields than having a philosophy, biology, or theater minor is, and only having one foreign language offered at a research university makes me seriously doubt that university's commitment to research.
posted by besonders at 11:42 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


It makes a huge difference when a department goes from being an academic department interested in attracting scholars in its field, to being a service department hiring adjuncts to teach undergrads fulfilling distribution requirements.

For foreign language though, those scholars are not teaching the language to undergrads, which is what many people above are worried will be lost.
posted by smackfu at 11:46 AM on October 4, 2010


What is with SUNY's weird setup anyways, in that they have no "main" campus? Is that unique among the states?

This New York Times article talks a bit about the history of the SUNY setup.
posted by pemberkins at 11:52 AM on October 4, 2010


Universities need to cut programs that are doing poorly and reallocate resources to programs that are succeeding. It sucks for students caught in the middle (I was a linguistics major when my school cut the linguistics department entirely), but in the long run students want to go to great programs in their fields. Old-fashioned state universities with 500 mediocre departments are struggling to attract great students, because they'd rather go to the schools with 20 really good departments. Not everyone knows their major when they pick a college, but most know beforehand if they want to do humanities, social science, science, or engineering and can apply to schools with good programs in those areas.

That said...you can't major in French? Really?
posted by miyabo at 12:04 PM on October 4, 2010


besonders: That statement was made from the market-centric context of the world we actually appear to live in, because speaking German or Spanish or Chinese or Arabic is more obviously a plus on your resume across a wider variety of fields than having a philosophy, biology, or theater minor is, and only having one foreign language offered at a research university makes me seriously doubt that university's commitment to research.

On the other hand, taking languages in college won't make you speak them unless you start long before college and follow through afterward, and failing to understand basic biology or philosophy can absolutely train-wreck you later in life (if you get caught up in medical quackery or fail to maintain a skeptical attitude and get scammed.)

Also, I think you're overestimating the advantage a second language offers in most fields. Spanish is obviously a huge asset in many fields in the US, but I think most other languages are fairly irrelevant for most positions. It'll just be treated as a generic achievement most of the time.

Finally, what does the number of foreign languages taught have to do with the commitment to research? Most research is absolutely independent of foreign language. It does say something about the size of the school, I suppose, but not research specifically.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:07 PM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Don't get me wrong, aught. I'm not happy about this as a NY taxpayer. I think they're being penny-wise and pound-foolish. They save a little now at the cost of sapping the long-term academic diversity of the university. I think it's particularly nasty in that it's aimed at forcing out people with tenure and replacing them with lowest-cost labor. (Notice that they are not retaining that staff and rolling them in to a combined languages department.) I'm just saying that we don't know at this point whether the particular criticism that undergrads will be denied the opportunity to study other languages is true or not. It may be that bad or it may not.
posted by tyllwin at 12:08 PM on October 4, 2010


And I agree that speaking a foreign language is of virtually no value in modern research. Everything is published in English. I've read tons of papers from all over Europe, and it's their scientists who have to struggle to learn a foreign language, not me. The one exception is math, where there's still a ton of work published only in German.
posted by miyabo at 12:13 PM on October 4, 2010


The SUNY system at large might be considered to lack a main campus, but UAlbany -- my alma mater -- does have a pretty big main campus.
posted by ben242 at 12:30 PM on October 4, 2010


An issue I prefer not to address but would simply ask:
How long does it take for people to realize that the contemporary academic institution here and elsewhere is simply a mirror image (though a bit slower) of the corporate world?
posted by Postroad at 12:40 PM on October 4, 2010


And I agree that speaking a foreign language is of virtually no value in modern research.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. If you study anything in the humanities or social sciences, you must know a foreign language to do your research if you study the non-English speaking world. Which is to say, most of the world.

Also, not speaking a foreign language is, well, a sign of remarkable parochialism, particularly for "international" researchers, regardless of field. In this regard, the US is the laughing stock of the entire educated world.
posted by MarshallPoe at 1:09 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Researchers in other countries have a clear choice in a second language to learn. Not so clear in the U.S.
posted by smackfu at 1:11 PM on October 4, 2010


How do they presume they're going to educate future French and German language teachers? Leave it to the other campuses?
posted by anniecat at 1:17 PM on October 4, 2010


La plaisanterie est sur eux. Je peux les appeler connards en français et personne ne sera le plus sage.

How do you say, "Yo mama so fat...."
posted by anniecat at 1:21 PM on October 4, 2010


Wrong, wrong, wrong. If you study anything in the humanities or social sciences, you must know a foreign language to do your research if you study the non-English speaking world.

So then, only if you're a humanities/social science major that studies the non-English speaking world? What proportion of the student body is that?
posted by electroboy at 1:29 PM on October 4, 2010


The one exception is math, where there's still a ton of work published only in German.

This is false, by the way. There's still a certain amount in French, but even that has become uncommon. I am not aware of having needed to read anything written in German that dates from after 1985 or so.
posted by escabeche at 1:55 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


So then, only if you're a humanities/social science major that studies the non-English speaking world? What proportion of the student body is that?

Well, I can tell you that where I teach every history major (around 400 students) is required to study the non-English speaking world. How the heck could you understand world history without doing so? (Unless of course you think that America is the world...) And I'm happy to say that all of our majors are required to study a foreign language.
posted by MarshallPoe at 2:01 PM on October 4, 2010


It's not like one additional language solves all those problems either.
posted by smackfu at 2:08 PM on October 4, 2010


For foreign language though, those scholars are not teaching the language to undergrads, which is what many people above are worried will be lost.
Typically, those classes are taught by grad students in the foreign language departments. If there are no scholars, there are also not going to be any grad students. Who exactly do you think is going to teach foreign language courses?
posted by craichead at 2:49 PM on October 4, 2010


MarshallPoe: Wrong, wrong, wrong. If you study anything in the humanities or social sciences, you must know a foreign language to do your research if you study the non-English speaking world. Which is to say, most of the world.

Also, not speaking a foreign language is, well, a sign of remarkable parochialism, particularly for "international" researchers, regardless of field. In this regard, the US is the laughing stock of the entire educated world.


Well, it's certainly not necessary in the hard sciences (at least not the ones I know.) Most research is published in English, most of the rest is translated, and the rest is scattered between many other languages so knowing any particular one of them isn't particularly beneficial. Some fields have a concentration of researchers from one area which makes that particular language useful, but not all fields are like that, and it usually isn't necessary.

It may occasionally be needed for field studies, but I think there's more tolerance for the use of translators or interpreters if needed. You can't really expect the researchers to know the language of the place they plan to do the research; even if they did learn a second or third language, they would have probably done it before they planned out where they were going to do their study, so it probably wouldn't be the right one.

As far as the parochialism, it isn't part of your research, so the researchers from other countries probably won't care and definitely won't know unless you go out of your way to tell them.
posted by Mitrovarr at 3:15 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


The one exception is math, where there's still a ton of work published only in German.

This is false, by the way. There's still a certain amount in French, but even that has become uncommon. I am not aware of having needed to read anything written in German that dates from after 1985 or so.


I have put my somewhat wobbly French skills (the product of two semesters of university French) to use helping people with no French background limp through Grothendieck. I think I've only used my actually serviceable German for non-necessary purposes math-wise.

However, I think, despite the language requirements slowly decreasing or disappearing entirely from PhD programs, an assumption persists that one can at least limp through something in German, French or perhaps Russian, depending on what sort of math you do.
posted by hoyland at 4:48 PM on October 4, 2010


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