~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Kunst and Alterthum
A friend who is a foreign language educator sent me a link to a site discussing the elimination or “deactivation” of basically all foreign language study at SUNY Albany, with the exception of Spanish. It would appear that this decision was motivated by purely economic bottom feeder line reasoning.
I could state some lame pun here about being “speechless” or not having “the words” to describe my disappointment. But, I have to say a thing or two.
As some of you may have already read, I studied foreign languages at SUNY Stony Brook in the 1980s. At the time, I viewed this as an alternative path of study after abandoning my earlier decision to follow a course of education to prepare for medical school. Stony Brook is one of the four major university centers in the SUNY system. The other three are Buffalo, Binghamton and Albany. According to Wikipedia, SUNY is “the largest comprehensive system of universities, colleges and community colleges in the world.” Overall, there are 64 campuses across the state of New York.
Thus, the decision to eliminate all French programs (BA, MA & PhD) as well as BA programs in Italian and Russian at a university in the world’s largest university system is a devastating and short-sighted decision.
Those already engaged in the “deactivated” programs will be allowed to complete their studies and earn their degrees. However, all faculty and staff have been advised either to take early retirement or to seek employment elsewhere. This means that our state will have seven (7) fewer tenured positions for French scholars.
I just keep thinking back to my SUNY experience. It was outstanding. I studied under some of the best and brightest French and Italian professors. I have kept in contact with a few of them up to the present date. However, had this deactivation announcement come down during my university years, I would have seriously questioned continuing in my field of study. There is a strong possibility that I would have viewed further pursuit of my degree as futile. In my mind’s eye, I can see the filled-in scantron form effectuating my change of major to psychology or political science.
Thus, I think we can also expect a fair number of students currently engaged in SUNY Albany French, Italian and Russian programs to change majors. I fear that, in the minds of the bean counters who made this awful, tragic decision, this effect will justify their faulty reasoning.
Granted, the following perceptions about French and foreign languages are out there:
- English is growing in popularity around the world;
- The USA is the world’s last remaining “Super Power”;
- France-American relations have been deteriorating in recent years (especially since the W. administration fanned the flames of French resentment during their march to war in Iraq over the past decade);
- French and foreign language degrees do not guarantee automatic jobs in the 21st Century workplace;
- In terms of “on the street” utility, Spanish is much more significant than those “other languages”; and
- French is a difficult language for Americans to learn to speak properly.
All of these factors possibly went into the decision by SUNY Albany President, George M. Philip, and his hand-picked rubber stamp committee to deactivate the programs in question. However, the main reason apparently cited was “undergrad majors-to-faculty ratio.” If this is true, that means that the whole thing is a numbers game. SUNY, Inc. is eliminating an under-performing division. Sales are down.
If you can speak three languages you’re trilingual. If you can speak two languages you’re bilingual. If you can speak only one language you’re an American.
I’m also thinking now of all those bright high school students who are linguistically gifted, and who may be interested in pursuing a path of study in French, Italian, Chinese, Arabic, Russian or other “non-Hispanic” languages. In light of SUNY Albany’s decision, what incentive do they have to go on? Smells to me like we’re about to see more young people with English degrees flooding an already saturated market.
As younger generations would put it: FAIL!
A different language is a different vision of life.
– The Major