Letter about Central Washington University

Programs addressed: 
German
Sent to: 
Marji Morgan, Dean, College of Arts and Humanities
Date of letter: 
March 9, 2012

It is with deep dismay that we have learned about the plan to eliminate the German Program at Central Washington University. Indeed, it is very disturbing to us that, as Washington State legislators are realizing the need to fund higher education if the state aims to ensure and promote future global leadership among its citizens, your institution is contemplating closing a program that serves an important sector of the state’s population and provides significant support to the state’s economy. On behalf of the Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association, we strongly request that you reconsider this action, on pragmatic as well as academic grounds.

Certainly, painful budget cuts have affected all institutions of higher learning, and public institutions in your state have not been exempt from this reality. However, the plan to close the German Program strikes us as ill considered given your institution’s stated mission of service to the state and its citizens. From a purely pragmatic point of view, let’s consider some context-related data on the impact of German culture in Washington. First, among reported ancestries in the last WA state census, Germans were the largest group, at 18.7%. In addition, Germany ranks 7th among the top 25 nations conducting business with the state (in percentage of the state’s total exports).  That percentage grew over 15% from 2009 to 2010 at a time when other exports fell, and continues to grow quite significantly. This represents over $1.6 billion going towards supporting the state’s economy by providing markets for its products. Thus, closing the German Program would not only cut off many German ancestry students from the study of their own intellectual, cultural, and social histories, but hinder the understanding of one of the European Union’s undisputed leading nations, one that has been long heralded as a technology and industrial power house that we must continue to partner with, and one that most of our future engineers and scientists will continue to interact with in this global economy.

Undeniably, Germany is a major trading partner of the US and a world leader in business, science, and engineering. But the study of its language and culture has a very clear academic value. 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 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 Service http://www.daad.org). These internships often lead to rewarding and challenging careers for students.

From a Liberal Arts perspective, 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. Students from a variety of fields outside of German (English, History, Philosophy, 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. And for students interested in film, the productions coming out of Germany, many of them recognized by our own Motion Picture Academy’s Oscars, are examples of some of the cutting edge practices in the medium.

Furthermore, it is our understanding that your university is actively pursuing an initiative to “internationalize the campus/curriculum” by bringing more international students to campus as well as by establishing more faculty exchanges, faculty-led trips and/or study abroad programs. We do not quite understand how you can support these endeavors without considering that it is important for students to learn languages in order to take full advantage of such programs. Without some understanding of the language and culture, we might as well be tourists rather than true students. Your new provost is an example of someone who obviously believes in the value of learning foreign languages, given that she speaks Chinese and French.

Our last point is quite poignant. If your program disappears, you’ll be the only institution of higher education in the state without German. Other schools such as WSU, Eastern Washington, Western Washington, and the UW all offer German language majors and/or minors, or German Studies programs that incorporate at least three years of German language study. For students considering applying to your institution, and looking forward to a breadth of academic choices, this puts you at a unique disadvantage.

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.

Sincerely,

 

Ana María Rodríguez-Vivaldi, PAMLA President, Associate Professor in the Department of Foreign Languages and Cultures, and Associate Dean for Student Affairs & Global Education, Washington State University

Lorely French, PAMLA First Vice-President and Professor of German/Distinguished University Professor, Pacific University

Cheryl Edelson, PAMLA Second Vice-President and Associate Professor and English Program Coordinator, Chaminade University of Honolulu

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

Heather Wozniak, PAMLA Webmaster and Humanities Web Specialist, University of Washington 

Roswitha Burwick, Pacific Coast Philology Editor and Distinguished Chair of Foreign Languages, Scripps College

Friederike von Schwerin-High, Pacific Coast Philology Editor and Assistant Professor of German, Pomona College

Thierry Boucquey, Former PAMLA President and Associate Dean of Faculty, Scripps College

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

Jeffrey Gray, Professor of English, Seton Hall University

Shirin A. Khanmohamadi, Assistant Professor of Comparative and World Literature, San Francisco State University

Damian Bacich, Assistant Professor of Spanish in the Department of World Languages and Literatures, San José State University

Ellen Finkelpearl, Professor of Classics and Helen Chandler Garland Professor of Ancient Studies, Scripps College

Emily Merriman, Assistant Professor of English, San Francisco State University

Aili Zheng, Assistant Professor of German, Willamette University