Modern Language Department may undergo changes

by Zoë Berg | Feature Editor
Published: Last Updated on

The Department of Modern Languages is set to change its name and curriculum beginning in the 2016-2017 academic year. According to the Chair of the Modern Languages Department and Assistant Professor of French and Francophone Studies Peter Vakunta, Modern Languages will be called Global Languages and Cross Cultural Studies, to better represent the new curriculum.

Beginning in the 2016-2017 academic year, both the French and German majors will no longer exist and will instead be replaced by a Franco-Germanic Studies major, Vakunta said. A Latin American Studies major also will be added to the department’s new curriculum. Associate Professor of Spanish Daniel Briere said that because of the change, the department also is planning to remove some courses that are currently offered.

“Obviously there have been a number of classes that will be eliminated,” Briere said. “We are in the process of going through the curriculum committees, so that they can approve the deletion of French and German as majors and minors and incorporating these two majors that we have into one we call Franco-Germanic Studies. The other [new major is] Latin American Studies…. They are interdisciplinary majors because they’re pulling from a variety of sources of disciplines like international relations, communication … and history.”

Within the new majors are courses intended to teach students more about the culture of the people whose language they are studying. Students can take courses such as COMM 333: Intercultural Communication, ANTH 200: Global Problems, HIST 331: History of Latin America, IREL 100: World Regional Geography and others that pull from other departments to enhance students’ knowledge of history and culture.

According to Vakunta, students need to obtain 32 credit hours to graduate with a major in Global Languages and Cross-Cultural Studies and are required to take the basic languages—101, 102, 201—from which they will earn eight credits. The language they choose to study will be specific according to the student’s chosen major. For example, Franco-Germanic Studies majors can pick between taking the basic levels of  French or German and students who focus on Spanish or Latin American Studies can take the basic levels of Spanish. Students who pursue Spanish can continue to take upper-level courses, but the upper-level French and German courses may been eliminated in the curriculum change. Briere and Vakunta said they were being eliminated due to the 10-student minimum policy put in place by the university.

“Last summer, it was announced that the 100- and 200- level classes would need a minimum of 10 students to be allowed to go … in the coming year,” Briere said. “[In] the academic year 2016-17,  all classes would have to have at least 10 [students].… When we looked at the history of the enrollment of French and German, it became crystal clear that having 10 [students] was more of an exception than a constant.… French and German realized they could not meet this minimum of 10 [students], so that engendered our looking into what other possibilities can we work up.”

Briere said that when they realized French and German would not meet the requirement, they began looking into other possibilities, so that they did not have to completely eliminate those languages. He said the Department of Modern Languages worked together in a very collegial manner,  making sure they agreed with the changes, but that the process was still complicated. According to Briere, the department wanted to make sure it could retain the Spanish major and upper-level courses, while still finding a way to work in a major including French and German. He said the department began to look online at what other colleges were doing, to get ideas, and also checked what kinds of courses it could offer to students based on that and what was already being offered in other departments.

“Well, the department—once it realized that German and French could not survive with a minimum of 10 [students] at the upper levels—operated in, I would say, a very collegial manner in trying to design classes that would be used in the [new] major [and] for Spanish, but [also] courses that would not necessarily have to be driven by the language itself but by the material contained in the courses, such as a translation course, such as a course heavy on cultural studies that might consider a class with international constituents or clients,” Briere said. “These are areas that we have some knowledge about because we have dealt with the countries and the different nationalities …”

To approve these changes, they have to go through various committees. Briere said they began the process by deciding what they wanted to change and putting together all of the information about the changes.

“[We also had to explain] our rationale for the changes,” Briere said, “and so we provided a rationale for the deletions of French and German and we provided a rationale for the new majors. And that has gone through the SCAS [Shaheen College of Arts and Sciences] Curriculum Committee and is now on its way to the UCC, University Curriculum Committee, and then once it passes there, then it goes on to the [university] senate then becomes more or less operational.”

Vakunta said they plan to implement the new curriculum and name change beginning in the 2016-2017 academic year, but students who are already majoring in French and German will be able to continue with their major. These students will be referred to as pipeline students, and the department will work with them to come up with alternative methods to ensure that they can still graduate on time with their intended major.

“There are three things we can do,” Vakunta said. “The first one is that we can waive some of the requirements. I can waive it if somebody has had some exposure to a foreign language community and that student had to take a course that is focused on culture…. If somebody … has done an extensive stay in the target language culture, like Spain, I would say, ‘OK we can count that toward your degree and cultural acquisition…’ Number two, we can come up with alternatives… say, for example, you did not take one of the courses you were supposed to take, and it’s now eliminated. I would look for a different course … that will fulfill the same course requirement. So there is a possibility for us to substitute courses that have been eliminated. And the third one is … the directed readings. We can do one-on-one with the students. It’s called 440, Directed Readings … So we are doing one-on-ones to enable students to be able to graduate on time.”

Although it may be more difficult for students with an eliminated major to fulfill their degree requirements, Vakunta feels that adding the Franco-Germanic Studies major will be beneficial to future students.

“You have the opportunity to take a combined major that you may never have been able to before,” he said. “Because right now, we have a combined Franco-Germanic major that will expose us to two languages and cultures. For sure the second language acquisition is going to be [for] lower-level courses … but at the end of the day, if you push your major in the Franco-Germanic Studies area, you’re going to be doing a bilingual major … It’s kind of a disguised double major, because you’re dealing with two languages, two cultures and two world views.”

Being exposed to two cultures can give students an advantage in the job market and when competing with graduates of other universities who have a mono-lingual major, Vakunta said. He also feels that because the upper-level languages are being eliminated, students can benefit from studying abroad to further their proficiency in the language as well as have intercultural exposure.

According to Briere, the department also is looking to the future.

“There will be a new course that will be introduced, Selected Topics in Cross Cultural Studies, that will encourage any new development in any areas that we, as a department, may expand into,” he said. “Since it is cross-cultural, we might very well be looking at offering classes in some Asian programs or even some African studies. Those are two areas that are under consideration. Nothing has been officially done.”

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