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A state university retreats from language study

Updated on 10/15, to clarify that several foreign languages will still be offered at SUNY Albany, although most degree programs apparently will not.

The State University of New York at Albany has generated a stir in the higher education industry with its announcement this month that nearly all several of its foreign language offerings will be discontinued, along with the theater department, because of budget cuts.

According to an open letter signed by several faculty, university leaders announced Oct. 1 the termination of degree programs in French, Italian, Russian, classics and theater "by presidential order."

President George Philip's order "would erase all courses in these disciplines from the curriculum of the university and result in the termination of 20 full-time teaching positions, 14 of which are held by tenured professors," the letter says.

More than 2,000 students are enrolled in the affected courses.

It may be the most severe cutback to a university foreign language effort since the 2008 fiscal downturn.

Commenting on the move Oct. 4, the publication Inside Higher Ed provided this context:

"While the last two years have seen many language departments threatened or eliminated, faculty members at Albany said they were stunned that so many languages were being eliminated at the same time and that this was happening at a doctoral university that has prided itself on an international vision."

In an Oct. 1 release, the university said it had "cumulatively experienced more than $33.5 million in cuts to its base State tax-dollar allocation, a more than 30 percent decline."

The release cites comparatively low enrollment in the axed programs.

"We will still offer degree programs in Spanish, Chinese Studies, and Japanese Studies, as well as East Asian Studies," said university spokesman Karl Luntta.

Luntta also provided the following clarification:

"New admission has been suspended to degree programs in Russian, French, and Italian, and the president's announcement concerned a plan to phase out degree programs in the three languages. Russian, French, and Italian are three of 13 languages taught at UAlbany. Those languages are Arabic, Chinese, Dutch, French, Hebrew, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. No changes are anticipated in these other areas. We also have a program in Linguistics that is also not affected in this plan.

"Further, even if the full degree programs in those three areas are eventually phased out, it is our hope to continue to offer instruction in Russian, French, and Italian languages."

All this mirrors retrenchments in the K-12 public education community, which has seen Spanish supplant French and Italian as the foreign language of choice, and a steadily dwindling number of foreign languages offered at some schools. Chinese instruction, supported with dollars from the Chinese government, is a notable exception.

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By Daniel de Vise  | October 13, 2010; 11:13 AM ET
Categories:  Administration, Finance, Pedagogy, Public policy  | Tags:  SUNY albany, SUNY albany cuts, SUNY cuts french italian classics, foreign language college, foreign language study, language program cuts  
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This is unfortuante for SUNY. The lack of breadth in the languages offered will effect the Spanish department as well. Many language students double major in two languages or another field. Only offering Spanish is not going to help them attract good language students who will go to other universities where languages aren't being cut.

This also underserves the growing US population that already knows Spanish. Often students of Spanish speaking backgrounds want to take another language other than the English or Spanish that they already know.

I am disappointed. My own children are studying French, and I thought perhaps they might like SUNY. I guess I will not explore that option any further.

Posted by: celestun100 | October 14, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

celestun100, you know that SUNY Albany is only one of 65 SUNY schools in NY, right?

Posted by: reiflame1 | October 17, 2010 5:32 PM | Report abuse

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