The fight for foreign languages
Will French fade at Lock Haven University?
Melanie Bowman, Lock Haven University’s sole French professor, bobs from her office into her French 3 class promptly.
“Bonjour” she’ll inevitably say with a nerdy and enthusiastic grin. “Are we excited for French today?”
To which she may hear an occasional groan or two from the gray-faced class as she loads her Powerpoint.
She’ll press on, unabated.
Few students are aware of the lines which now are drawn through her classroom.
Bowman is a new professor to the university.
She applied for a full-time position at LHU and traveled across the country from Luther College in Iowa only to learn upon arrival that she would be kept on only as a part-time assistant professor.
The reason is a decline in the number of students choosing French as a major course of study.
Kyoko Amano, dean of Liberal Arts and Education at LHU, said, “It’s a national problem. There are fewer students who want to study French.”
Amano explained that the university administration is exploring options involving intercollegiate cooperation.
For example, LHU may be able to offer higher level courses in Spanish, while other universities in the Pennsylvania State System of High Education (PASSHE) might provide the upper level courses in other languages, like French.
She speculated that languages other than Spanish might be primarily be moved online for future students who choose to major in those foreign languages.
“Think about how the Spanish professors are doing it,” Amano said. “They have been offering all four levels of Spanish as well as other major courses online, and they have been very successful. We are living the in the 21st century and we should take advantage of technology to benefit our students.”
Amano said LHU students currently enrolled as French majors or minors will be able to continue with their studies, and the university is obligated to ensure that they can graduate with those degrees.
However, for the first-year student just now declaring French as a major, the required coursework may be delivered in different formats than the past.
According to Dr. Brooke Harlowe, professor of political science, universities are simply giving too many people Ph.Ds.
Currently, however, there are not enough jobs within academia to support them. Although many professors are highly qualified to take on full-time roles, they struggle in a system which is harsh to incoming professors and where the professors’ union, APSCUF (Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties) can’t protect them.
Stan Berard, a tenured political science professor who has served as the president of the LHU branch of APSCUF, raised concerns about the context surrounding Dr. Bowman’s hire.
He said, “What’s at issue here is that the contract does not guarantee that a temporary appointment will be full time. So the position was advertised as full time temporary. Then after the offer was extended, they figured out that the enrollment wasn’t going to be what a full time position would require. So they decided to change the offer.But this was after having conducted a search for a full time position.”
Berard explained that faculty consulted the state APSCUF office, not on behalf of Bowman because she is not a full-time employee, but on behalf of the department and faculty members because the university had originally advertised for a full-time position and interviewed people as if the job was full-time.
He found that there was nothing that could be done for the situation.
“The reason that languages are failing at Lock Haven University is because our faculty don’t value them,” Harlow argued.
She said faculty who have a role in crafting the curriculum have the ability to create a demand for foreign languages by requiring them to be taken to graduate.
“When we say that our students don’t want to take this or nobody will sign up for my major, we’re essentially saying that we’re going to let the students decide what we’re going to teach,” said Harlowe.
“Then, we’re no longer the experts, we’re just teaching whatever.”
In regard to Bowman, Harlowe said, “They didn’t give–and not just Professor Bowman–but they didn’t give who was going to take that position a chance to succeed, and that makes me angry.”
“Apprendre une langue, c’est vivre de nouveau” (learning a language is to live again)– French proverb
(Derek Danneker is the Opinion Editor at The Eagle Eye, the student-produced newspaper at Lock Haven University.)