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Conclusion: The Transformative Professional

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This has been a time of upheaval at my university. In a move that the administration chooses to present as both a response to continued disinvestment in higher education by the state and a pro-active strategic realignment around potential areas of excellence, colleges have been consolidated, departments have been merged, and programs have been combined or eliminated. Despite our sense that over the last few years we have already jettisoned all non-essential components of our programs and then some, members of the language faculty have found ourselves engaged recently in conversations about which of our core activities might not be so central after all. We have yet to reach a consensus about what our programs will look like one or two years from now. However, we recognize that a failure to articulate our own compelling vision about the centrality of language and culture education at our institution will certainly lead to the imposition of an external vision that is unlikely to resonate with our generally progressive personal and professional values.

The alternative favored by influential forces external to the language and culture teaching profession—including university administrators, legislators, state boards and corporate interests—is a bleak one in which the role of language education is restricted to the kinds of activities that can readily be presented as marketable. Indeed, a major reduction of language offerings at my institution has been justified this year by imposing firm numerical targets across the curriculum; any university program that cannot reliably fill classroom seats and graduate n students annually is not worth keeping. In this environment, language education becomes a commodity subject to market demand rather than a path toward personal and collective enlightenment.

Even languages recognized as being of national strategic importance (Arabic and Russian) have now been relegated to Ecampus, a selfsupporting university division that contracts adjuncts on a per-course basis to deliver content online. Adjuncts receive a cut (about 25%) of the tuition and fees collected from students as their pay and are not eligible for health benefits. Most of the cash generated by the courses flows to the department where it is used to fill funding deficits. Ecampus is touted as an entrepreneurial opportunity that allows language teachers to offer even more new content. Unsurprisingly, the opportunity ended abruptly this year for two adventurous adjuncts who developed Catalan and Czech courses only to have them canceled for low enrollments. Instead, multiple sections of languages that always have healthy enrollments on campus (Spanish in particular) have moved online and netted the department a small but welcome windfall.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2010

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