Letter about Armstrong Atlantic State University

Programs addressed: 
German Minor
Sent to: 
Linda Bleicken, President
Ellen Whitford, Vice President
Laura Barrett, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts
David Wheeler, Chair of Languages, Literature and Philosophy
Kevin Hampton, President of the Faculty Senate
Date of letter: 
April 20, 2010

Dear Drs. Bleicken, Whitford, Barrett, Wheeler, and Hampton,

I am writing to you in my function as vice-president of PAMLA, the Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association, which is the professional organization for scholars and university teachers in language and literary studies. Our organization is dedicated to the advancement and diffusion of knowledge of ancient and modern languages and literatures. It is with deep dismay that we learn about your plan to eliminate the minor in German at Armstrong Atlantic State University; on behalf of PAMLA we petition you to reconsider this proposal, on academic, but also on pragmatic grounds. 

Let me speak to the pragmatic reasons first. Certainly, painful budget cuts await all institutions of higher learning, and the cost to students and to society at large will be unprecedented. We applaud you in proposing bold vertical cuts. In a crisis of this magnitude it is the right way to proceed provided the savings make up for the radical nature of program elimination. However, when contemplating cuts, you should also take into account the end product: how will your university look like once these cuts are carried out, and is it the kind of institution that will best serve the interests of your state? Will the students graduating AASU in the future have all the necessary skills to compete in an increasingly global market, or will a one-time savings move at a relatively low level undermine your strategic goals and your stature in the nation as a reputable academic institution? Will future students opt to go somewhere else because your institution will offer less opportunity for language proficiency development to students who are looking to work abroad? To cut just as a matter of expediency without taking into account current and future trends may result in a deeper and longer lasting negative impact than retaining this program would mean, when some creative thinking leading to teaching efficiencies might be implemented instead.

We are all aware that, once programs disappear from university curricula, it is nearly impossible--and very expensive--to bring them back. Is it wise, from a business point of view, to cut relatively small and inexpensive programs with faculty who are extremely hard working? At many institutions, the engineers represent the least cost-effective unit in terms of leveraging tuition dollars and generating student credit hours, the arts break about even, and the languages typically bring in a surplus because of the number of students they teach and graduate. In our experience, most Foreign Language programs tend to fall quite below the national ratio for direct instructional expenses.

And let’s not discount advances in the field that have given way to teaching efficiencies while preserving disciplinary learning goals. Foreign languages, similar to expository writing, have a structural need for smaller classrooms. Indeed, our national organization recommends a 1/15 instructor-student ratio for language courses. However, most of us have been able, thanks to modern technology, to introduce effective cost-saving measures through hybrid online models that have resulted in us being able to provide for larger enrollments while preserving quality instruction. In addition, online delivery of these courses is fast becoming an area of program development and growth that many institutions are pursuing due to several financial considerations among our population. We are sure that AASU ability to offer some of these courses within a distance or online delivery platform could add new enrollment and revenues to your institution. For all these reasons, and at a time where strategic investments have to be made, it is hard to understand how the elimination of the German minor which is sustained with one part-time faculty member can be a substantial cost-saving measure.

Business wants to hire people who know languages. Earlier this month the Language Flagship Program, an initiative of the Department of Defense’s National Security Education Program, released a report titled “What Business Wants:  Language Needs in the 21st Century.” The report reflects the input of over 100 business leaders who were asked to “identify the role and value of languages and cultural skills to business’ bottom line” and identify ways in which leaders from business, K-12 and higher education, and government can work together to “bring significant change to language education in the United States.” In your area, German business is investing $150M to build a wood pellet plant. German executives will make their home in Savannah. Institutions of higher learning need to maintain languages if their students are to compete successfully for jobs. 

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 minor.


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

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

Ana María Rodríguez-Vivaldi
Associate Professor of Spanish and Associate Dean, College of Liberal Arts
Washington State University
Second Vice President, PAMLA

Beverly Voloshin
Professor and Chair, Department of English Language and Literature
San Francisco State University
Past President, PAMLA

Imke Meyer
Professor and Co-Chair of German
Bryn Mawr College
Former PAMLA President

Kathleen Lundeen
Professor of English
Western Washington University
Former PAMLA President

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

And members of the PAMLA Executive Committee:

Roswitha Burwick, Professor of German, Scripps College

Lorely French, Professor of German, Pacific University

Jeffrey Gray, Professor of English, Seton Hall University

Pauline Beard, Professor of English, Pacific 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

Lorenzo Giachetti, graduate student representative, Stanford University