Today we have a guest post by Alvina Lopez
Both in the United States and Europe, and most recently in the UK, higher education budget cuts have threatened many aspects of university education that were once taken for granted. Particularly hard hit have been humanities and arts departments. Cutting funds for foreign language study seems to be the latest trend.
At the beginning of October, The State University of New York (SUNY) Albany made unprecedented cuts to its foreign language offerings, announcing that it would completely eliminate its French, Russian, Italian, and Classics departments. The move sparked an outcry, not just in New York, nor simply in the United States. Recently, over 13,000 people from around the world signed a petition protesting its foreign language program cuts, including signees from 37 countries in Asia, Europe, and the Pacific, according to a Times Union article.
While SUNY’s cuts are at the forefront of media coverage reporting on threats to foreign language study in the United States, the school is hardly the only one. In the UK, massive budget cuts may sacrifice one of its oldest teacher exchange programs run by the non-profit organization, the English Trust for European Education (ETEE). According to a PRWire article, the Foreign Language Assistant program has been running for the past century, enabling UK students to serve as teaching assistants in Europe, where they further develop their language skills and cultural understanding. The program also brings in foreign language teachers from abroad.
Denmark, too, is experiencing cuts to university foreign language departments. A University World News article reports that more than twenty foreign languages are under threat of elimination or will merge with other language groups. Copenhagen Business School Professor Emeritus Robert Phillipson was quoted as saying, “It is lunatic for Denmark not to maintain strong research and teaching environments for a wide range of languages.”
While it is typical for humanities and arts programs to get the ax during periods of economic difficulty, slashing funding for foreign language education is short-sighted. Learning foreign languages isn’t simply a luxury, and to treat it as such is to ignore the fact that countries and cultures are not isolated enclaves. In order to get on in this world of rapid globalization, being multi-literate is absolutely essential. If our leaders don’t recognize this, who will?