In the midst of Mills College’s budget struggles, students from the department of languages and literatures are worried about their department being dissolved.
The department consists of three foreign language programs: French and Francophone studies, Spanish and Spanish-American studies, and Chinese language and literature studies. There are four tenured and tenure-track professors and three visiting professors that teach in the department.
Based on data from Mills Academic Records, as of Fall 2014, there are six undergraduate French and Francophone studies majors and eight minors, which is a decrease from eight majors and 14 minors from last semester. For Spanish and Spanish-American studies there are eight majors and 12 minors in Fall 2014, which is a decrease from 13 Spanish majors and 12 minors from last semester.
Due to budget cuts, the class size minimum has been increased from six to 10 students, putting foreign language departments in danger due to smaller class sizes.
According to Acting Provost David Donahue, the addition of the new class size minimum has proven to be a challenge.
“I got to speak with a group of students, and that was much more dialogic [since] there was an opportunity to really learn their perspective which was valuable to me,” Donahue said. “There are many things I’ve liked about being Associate Provost. One thing I don’t like is having to cancel classes.”
Sophomore Charlotte Depersis, an economics and international relations major, is currently taking intermediate Chinese and noted that the enrollment numbers decrease as the level goes up.
“If one person drops the class, I may not be able to take it next year or the year after,” Depersis said. “There’s not enough people in the classes to let it become a major or minor.”
According to Junior Cat Cousins, a French and Francophone studies major, French majors are required to study abroad, which is tough financially for many students.
“It’s no longer a question of wanting or not wanting to be a [language] major, it’s can I afford it?” Cousins said. “Because if study abroad is a mandatory requirement for a language student, but there’s no funding, how is a student going to be able to afford being a [language] major?”
Senior Cheryl Reed, a Spanish and Spanish-American studies major, is frustrated by how Mills is not involved enough in the department.
“It’s very frustrating to see classes being cut, not being able to have certain classes that I was looking forward to, like Latin American Short Stories, ” Reed said. “What I see is that the Spanish language is not being valued, and that is deep-rooted in the history of our nation, not valuing Spanish speakers, not valuing multilingual people. That is highly problematic.”
Funding for the spring lecture series for Spanish has been cut, according to Reed.
Senior Yessery Morales, a political, legal, and economic analysis (PLEA) major and French minor, said that she chose Mills because of their French department. Morales stresses the importance of learning French since most international organizations utilize French as one of their official languages.
“We’re becoming a more globalized world, and we have to recognize that if we are educating students here, we have to prepare them for this increasingly globalized, multilingual world,” Morales said. “We don’t want students to only work in English-speaking countries, we want them to be able to work in organizations and expand borders. That’s something Mills students have to take into account.”
Morales also said that it is unusual that the international relations department does not make it a mandatory requirement to take a foreign language course.
Some students agree that there should be a foreign language requirement. Many feel it is necessary for most careers and some regret not taking a language course.
Donahue also advocates for a foreign language general education (GE) requirement to be in place because he would like the languages and literatures department’s enrollment to increase.
“I want to see the language departments thrive at Mills,” Donahue said. ” I want to figure out what we [can]do so languages don’t always have small numbers of students in them.”
Cousins likes the idea of a foreign language GE but is not convinced that it will happen.
“I don’t think we have the support of the administration, staff members and faculty members who are really pushing for that type of internationalization in our education,” Cousins said.
Contributing reporting: Emily Mibach and Abbey Flentje