Letter about Washington State University

Programs addressed: 
Sent to: 
Douglas Epperson, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts
Warwick Bayly, Provost
Elson Floyd, President
Date of letter: 
May 5, 2009

It is with deep dismay that we read about President Elson Floyd’s plan to eliminate the German Program at Washington State University. On behalf of the Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association, we petition President Floyd to reconsider this proposal, on academic as well as pragmatic grounds. Certainly, painful budget cuts await all institutions of higher learning, and the cost to students will be great. The plan to close the German Program, however, strikes us as ill considered and seems to represent a misunderstanding of what globalization could be at its very best. The academy should not react to globalization by repeating the mistakes of the past, which led to the exclusion of many non-Western literatures from academic study, but should instead react by being inclusive.

To close the German Program would cut off many students from the study of their own intellectual, cultural, and social histories. And such a closing would clearly also impoverish the study of the writings of many non-Western postcolonial, economic, literary, and political theorists, whose texts are in frequent dialogue with those of Kant, Hegel, Marx, Weber, Nietzsche, Freud, Heidegger, Adorno, and Einstein, to name but a very few of the most important German and German-Jewish thinkers in the intellectual history of the last 250 years. At research universities such as WSU, graduate students from a variety of fields outside of German (English, history, and linguistics, for example) need to study the German language and work with scholars in the fields of German language, literature, and culture. For many students pursuing careers in music, a working knowledge of German, French and Italian is a must.

Additionally, Germany is a major trading partner of the US and a world leader in business, science, and engineering. Your students who would like to pursue a career in engineering will be at a disadvantage without the opportunity to study German. According to Iowa State University, as recently as three years ago, 10,000 engineering jobs could not be filled because of a shortage of qualified candidates. The employers wanted to hire bilingual engineers and the most sought-after candidates were those proficient in German. In answer to this demand, ISU has developed a complementary German program for its engineering and business students. When one considers that Germany is the largest exporter in the world, that half of all pharmaceutical companies are based in Germany, it is no wonder that the business world continues to seek candidates proficient in German. Your students pursuing careers in the science fields and environmental technologies, where research in Germany leads the pack, will also be at a disadvantage. For example, there are numerous internship opportunities for biology, physics, environmental science and chemistry students through the DAAD (Deutsch-Akadamischer Austausch-Dienst or German Academic Exchange Servicehttp://www.daad.org ). These internships often lead to rewarding and challenging careers for students. An example of important collaboration between scientists in the US and Germany comes from your own university: one of WSU’s distinguished scientists, physics professor Lai-Sheng Weng, won a Humboldt research award from Germany’s Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, to collaborate with colleagues in Karlesruhe and Berlin. In corporate law, for that matter, knowledge of German, French, and/or Japanese propels one’s application to the top of the list.

At a time when budgets are being slashed, it is necessary to recognize strategically what will best serve our students’ futures. If your university truly wants its students to be competitive in the job market of the future, we urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to reconsider your decision to close the German Program. Similarly, if Washington State University aims to preserve the quality of its academic and research programs, it needs a strong program in German.


Beverly R. Voloshin
Professor and chair, Department of English Language and Literature
San Francisco State University
President, Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association

Thierry Boucquey
Professor of French and Associate Dean of the Faculty
Scripps College
Vice President, PAMLA

Sabine Wilke
Professor and chair, Department of Germanics
University of Washington
Second Vice President, PAMLA

Imke Meyer
Associate Professor and chair, Department of German
Bryn Mawr College
Past President, PAMLA

Craig Svonkin
Assistant Professor of English
Metropolitan State College of Denver
PAMLA Executive Director

Salah Khan
Assistant Professor of French
Mississippi State University
Former PAMLA Executive Director

And members of the PAMLA Executive Committee:

Lorely French, Professor of German, Pacific University

Pauline Beard, Professor of English, Pacific University

Heidi Schlipphacke, Associate Professor of German, Old Dominion University

Andrew Fleck, Associate Professor of English, San Jose State University

Catherine Montfort, Professor of French, Santa Clara University

Stanley Orr, Associate Professor of English, University of Hawai’i, West Oahu

Sophie Delahaye, Assistant Professor of Modern Languages, Washburn University

Jeremiah B.C. Axelrod, Adjunct Assistant Professor of History, Occidental College

Lorenzo Giachetti, Graduate student representative, Stanford University