On May 25 faculty members attending Arts Faculty Council (AFC) will be presented with a proposal coming from the department of Modern Languages & Cultural Studies (MLCS). It is a highly contentious and divisive proposal, rejected by half of MLCS faculty and twice by the Academic Affairs Committee (AAC). In order to reach an informed decision members of AFC would need to hear a complete analysis of the problematic aspects of the proposal, but it’s unlikely that there will be enough time for that. Therefore we hope through this blog to provide important details that will help others across the Faculty understand the issues.
First, a few words about the context of the proposal. It was devised not as an academic plan with pedagogical value, but as a perceived solution to an accounting problem. The proposed plan is to subsume all individual programs (German, Russian, etc.) under the heading “MLCS” (Modern Languages and Cultural Studies), so that administrators see one larger number for the counting of majors rather than several smaller numbers, even though it’s the same distribution of students across programs. This approach would allegedly save the smaller programs of the department. However, half of the MLCS faculty fear that as it is currently formulated, the proposal saves the endangered programs at the expense of the larger ones (French, Spanish, CLit), weakening the latter and resulting in a department of all weak programs. By forcing us to choose between saving endangered programs or weakening stronger ones (and wiping out Comp. Lit) the proposal set some of us against the others instead of seeking consensus. Such a choice is simply unacceptable. We believe it is possible to save the endangered programs without weakening the stronger ones.
Some particularly problematic aspects of the proposal are the following:
1) The new requirements reduce the number of language credits required for a Major, which will result in decreased language proficiency. As it stands the proposal requires students to take 24 credits (including 6 credits at the 400 level) in the target language. In the case of French, the overall number of credits is significantly lower than in other French programs throughout Canada (the standard being 30 credits at the senior level) and increases the number of courses in English (which will be one of the highest in Canada for a “French program”). The French major will be replaced by a generic MLCS major, which will penalize students in the Canadian job market competing with peers holding a BA in French (better known to employers). Overall the proposal — mostly inspired by Modern languages programs in a few universities in GB and the US models —disregards our Canadian bilingual environment.
2) It requires students to take 6 credits in Community Service Learning or CSL or study abroad. We know of no other program in Canada that makes CSL a requirement, and only a very small number require study abroad. There are problems with this requirement:
i) It puts at the same level two very different pedagogical experiences (i.e., is 20 hours of community service in Edmonton and a fully immersive study abroad the same “experience”? Making CSL an alternative for those students who can afford studying abroad is not a pedagogically sound alternative. It is also providing students with an excellent reason not to bother investing in studying abroad. Why make studying abroad a requirement in the first place?
ii) Based on several MLCS instructors’ experience, roughly 20% (this number can vary depending on departments) of students choose CSL in optional courses. We feel it is not fair to force 80% of students to do CSL knowing that some of them work part-time or full-time, have a family, have no means of transportation, etc, and simply do not want to do CSL.
3) The new proposal will wipe out Comparative Literature (which accounts for 10 Majoring students), weaken French & Spanish (which together account for more than half of all Majors in MLCS), force students to do CSL and study abroad whether they like it or not, and make students transfers likely more difficult (because of idiosyncratic program requirements like CSL). The Faculty of Arts expects us to grow our enrolments; for the reasons stated above, we believe the new proposal will have the opposite effect.
Marisa Bortolussi, on behalf of concerned members of MLCS