West Virginia University has announced it will move to eliminate nearly three dozen degree programs, including the Department of World Languages, Literatures and Linguistics and to discontinue the seven programs it offers and related instructional activity. The university will move to dissolve the departments and all programs and faculty including tenured and non-tenured faculty. The president of the University, E.Gordon Gee stated that foreign-language classes will be replaced with online apps or remote classes in a public statement that reads, “Recognizing that some students will still want access to foreign language instruction, the University is exploring alternative methods of delivery such as a partnership with an online language app or online partnership with a fellow Big 12 university.”
Additionally, the University is reviewing plans to eliminate the language requirement for all majors.
The university offered the excuse of “low and declining” student interest in the language programs, which include Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Russian, and Spanish along with Foreign Literature in Translation, Latin American Studies, Linguistics, TESOL, and Slavic and Eastern European Studies.
WVU faculty has spoken out, with Jonah Katz writing in an open letter, “The reason given for this egregious violation of ethical and professional norms is that the university faces a dire budget crisis, and the administration has no choice but to cut academic programs in order to close their structural budget deficit. But the administration’s own financial data, gathered at great cost with external consultants and publicly posted here, clearly indicate that the department as a whole (p. 7) has generated operating profits of more than $800,000 in each of the last three years, even without counting our grant income, which is substantial (our NSF project is just one of several large external grants that faculty in our department have been awarded in the past several years). This is not a financial decision: it is an ideological one, as our president’s public comments make clear.”
Paula Krebs, executive director of the Modern Language Association also wrote an open letter to Gee, stating, “A full liberal arts education includes providing students with the tools that enable them to interact both with their neighbors in West Virginia and with the rest of the world. Science, technology, and business courses and majors are not enough for WVU to offer if it wants to produce fully informed and thinking citizens for West Virginia.” The letter goes on to say, “All students’ job prospects and lives are enriched by language study, writing instruction, and the research and analytical skills taught in beginning and advanced literature and culture courses. Access to these courses is especially important in public higher education, which is often the only route to a degree for many state residents. The humanities should not be reserved for students who can afford private higher education.”
The American Association of University Professors, the leading faculty group in the U.S., has called for instructors to have a “decisive role” in determining which programs are discontinued, noting these decisions should be based on educational considerations.
ACTFL also spoke out on Twitter, stating: “ACTFL supports world language professionals at WVU & urges Gordon Gee & WVU leadership to re-think the short-sighted, proposed elimination of world languages at the state’s flagship university. It’s bad for teachers, it’s bad for students, it’s bad for WV.”
“While we view these preliminary recommendations for reductions and discontinuations as necessary, we are keenly aware of the people they will affect,” President E. Gordon Gee said in a statement Friday. “We do not take that lightly. These faculty are our colleagues, our neighbors and our friends. These decisions are difficult to make.”