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UNC-system schools may be forced to cut foreign language programs

N.C. A&T may cut entire departments

The ever-present burden of budget cuts is forcing UNC-system schools to follow a national trend of bidding “adieu” to foreign language programs.

A report published by the University of California, Riverside said the number of universities offering undergraduate degree programs in European languages and literatures — Romance, Germanic and Slavic — declined steeply from 1971 to 2006.

Steven Brint, one of the authors of the report, said some of the trends captured in the report have continued since 2006. In times of budget cuts, schools look to cut low-enrollment programs, he said.

But according to a report produced by the Modern Language Association, nationwide enrollments in Spanish, French, Italian and German all increased from 1998 to 2009.

To combat budget cuts, administrators are looking to cut programs that don’t produce as many majors, which often include language programs.

Students and faculty are concerned administrators are focusing more on the decline in language majors than student interest that is represented by increasing class enrollment.

‘Doesn’t make any sense’

Effective this semester, N.C. Agricultural and Technical State University terminated its French and Spanish majors, the only two majors in the department of foreign languages. Students can still take classes, but no new students can declare a major in either language.

Jose Bravo-de-Rueda, chairman of N.C. A&T’s department of foreign languages, said he was surprised the department received cuts.

“On the one hand we’re pushing to be global. On the other hand we’re cutting languages,” he said. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

David Aldridge, associate dean for research and graduate studies for N.C. A&T’s College of Arts and Sciences, said the school has proposed eliminating the whole foreign language department.

Aldridge, who served as interim dean of the college until February, said the department is at risk because it no longer offers majors.

Bravo-de-Rueda said he wouldn’t be surprised if the department was eliminated.

“Without majors, what do you need a department for?”

Examining enrollment

N.C. State University announced last week its plans to review low-productivity programs — including French and German — for elimination or consolidation.

Ruth Gross, head of NCSU’s foreign language and literatures department, said low enrollment is not an issue for those programs.

But neither the French program nor the German studies program meet UNC General Administration’s standard of producing at least 20 majors every two years.

The French program only produced 13 graduates in 2009 and 2010 combined. Its German program graduated seven students.

UNC-CH does not plan to cut any foreign language majors, said Bill Andrews, senior associate vice dean for the fine arts and humanities at the University.

He said low productivity is not a problem for foreign language programs now that the Slavic and German programs are merged.

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The University combined its undergraduate degrees in Slavic and German studies into a single degree last month. Students still choose from the concentrations that were available in the individual majors.

A nationwide trend

N.C. A&T is not the only university to cut foreign language degree programs — other universities, including Louisiana State University, have also done so.

LSU eliminated its German and Latin majors and cut its entire Russian, Japanese, Portuguese and Swahili programs.

Chairman of LSU’s department of foreign languages and literatures John Pizer said the German program was not producing the minimum seven graduates a year, so it was eliminated. He said the university is making cuts to the already weak and understaffed programs.

“It’s almost like Darwinian,” Pizer said. “The operative mood on the campus is just dread that there will be more cuts coming,” he said.

LSU junior Caleb Van Pelt, a German major, said he probably won’t be able to finish his degree on time because course offerings in the languages will be severely reduced.

He said students are upset and confused because the foreign language department was bearing the brunt of the budget cuts.

A more positive outlook

UC Berkeley will not cut foreign language majors — instead, it will increase funding for foreign languages, said Rick Kern, director of the Berkeley Language Center, in an email.

Kern named 13 languages that will benefit from the funding, which will come from increased student fees and out-of-state tuition costs.

The University of California system is expected to increase tuition by 8 percent for in- and out-of-state students for 2011-12. It increased tuition by 32 percent last year.

The UNC system maintains a 6.5 percent cap on tuition increases for most circumstances.

“Offering language courses, even if enrollments are low, is absolutely essential to a world-class university,” Kern said.

Contact the State & National Editor at state@dailytarheel.com.