Beginning next fall, each program with a BA degree will be left with the responsibility to submit proposals for alternatives to the traditional requirement that students complete a sophomore-lvel foreign language course.

This will affect many different departments—including language departments.

Associate Professor Horst Lange said that the change in requirements has already taken a negative toll on the German program.

Lange said the psychology department was the first to abolish the language requirement.

“Then other departments followed suit. There was no university-wide discussion about what the widespread abolition of language requirements really means for the identity of the university,” Lange said. “The current development is just putting a rubber stamp on a policy to give these developments belated legitimacy.”

Phillip Bailey, associate vice president for International Education and Engagement and professor of French, said that although he has not seen the proposal, he still has an understanding of the changes as well as ideas on how it will affect the Center for Global Learning and Engagement.

“Education Abroad Semester Exchange is the one area where a reduction in foreign language study at UCA would limit the number of destination options for UCA students whose only option is to study in English,” Bailey said. 

“Students can study in English at many UCA international partner universities, but it is always good to speak at least, at an elementary level, the language of the country where you are studying,” Bailey said.

Katelyn Knox, chair of the department of languages, linguistics, literatures and cultures, said the department “relishes the opportunity to serve UCA’s critical mission to ensure that students can truly ‘go here, go anywhere.’” 

She said learning a language allows students to become refined in other areas. “Learning a language through the intermediate level gives students valuable linguistic and intercultural tools they need to draw from diverse world views, become more innovative and nuanced problem solvers, and, above all, connect with our increasingly diverse populations globally, nationally and locally,” Knox said. 

Knox said Arkansans who speak a language besides English within their homes grew 1.5 times the national rate of 22% in 2019. “Given Arkansas’ broader evolving linguistic landscape, in-depth engagement with languages is a critical tool that truly helps UCA students and alums impact Arkansas and beyond,” Knox said.   

Enrollment in foreign language classes has been affected already.

“Student numbers have dropped precipitously, and as a result, faculty positions have been eliminated,” Lange said. “As far as German is concerned, student numbers that were healthy two years ago have dropped so steeply that a further drop will call the very existence of a German minor into question.”

Lange continued to stress the negative impact these requirements have on specifically the German minor: “For this reason, there is another effect on the department: I will retire earlier than originally planned.”

With all these negative impacts this requirement change will have on the language department, Bailey explained just how the changes might positively affect UCA.

“I would think this proposal allows faculty in the various majors of the BA degree to reevaluate the goals and desired outcomes for student learning in their major and to align their discipline-specific goals to broader desirable outcomes to which we are all committed,” Bailey said.

Lange said the effects might help the financial situation at UCA.

“Since UCA is in serious financial distress...the savings from faculty positions in the language department can be used to shore up departments that are more essential for any strategy that aims at leading the institution back to financial health,” Lange said. 

Although Lange mentions that the changes might help UCA’s finances, he also explored the idea that it might worsen UCA’s financial situation.

“With a small, non-vibrant language department, some prospective students might not attend UCA, thereby deepening the financial distress due to the loss of tuition money,” Lange said.

Lange also brings statistics into the issue and said this change will have a negative impact on students’ earnings after graduating.

“Statistics show that a student with a language minor will on average earn $3,000 a year more for the rest of their life. That is real money, and there will be fewer students making it,” Lange said. 

Bailey said he hopes studying a second language will remain a strong option for all students, “because speaking another language is a profoundly empowering key to opening the door to intercultural communication, to seeing the world through other people's eyes.”

The faculty members expressed concern for students when it comes to these revised requirements, which limits opportunities for students to fall in love with something new. 

“Many students who took my classes just for the language requirement or because they did not want to take Spanish or French or because they had already taken these languages in high school, fell in love with the language and culture, decided to minor, and often went for a semester to Germany,” Lange said. “The fewer languages are being taught, the more doors are being closed for many students.”

 

Editor’s note: In the Nov. 17 print edition of The Echo, this article was printed incorrectly. All quotes that were originally attributed to Katelyn Knox should have been attributed to Phillip Bailey. In this version, the article is corrected and expanded with comments correctly attributed to Knox. Also, the print edition misspelled Knox’s name.

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