Shrewd move for languages

Queen’s German, Italian and Spanish departments may merge into a new modern languages and linguistics department for the 2010-2011 school year if a vote this winter proceeds in favour.

Spanish and Italian currently share a department, while German is separate. A planning committee has been discussing the merger for about a year, and has consulted with faculty and graduate students from each department.

The transition would allow the association of administrative resources. Under the new system, the modern languages department could share staff like graduate support officers and administrative assistants.

Arts and Science Dean Alistair MacLean said the new department would aim to preserve as many programs as possible. German, Italian and Spanish would be able to merge similar courses with only a few students into one single course within the department.

The merge would be an innovative way to keep small departments afloat while coping with budget cuts of 15 per cent over three years. In an economic climate where cost cutting is a reality, merging the modern languages departments will let the University keep a broad curriculum.

The choice to cut administrative costs is the best option when the alternative is to sacrifice either staff members or whole departments.

Facing the possibility of nonexistence as departments, merging German, Italian and Spanish is the better choice.

Combining smaller courses into one is a potential drawback because it’s unclear how this would work on a practical level in the classroom. It would be effective to consult students potentially interested in taking these courses.

However, the new department may encourage students who are interested in acquiring a basic, working knowledge of several modern languages rather than an intense focus on one. Inter-disciplinary education has its benefits, and is likely more reflective of skills required in the real world.

As an added benefit, the German, Italian and Spanish departments may enjoy increased lobbying power as a larger modern languages department.

It’s unlikely students will notice any inconvenience if the modern languages departments merge. Courses offered by language departments will retain their unique value, regardless of whether or not their administrators have to share ink toner.

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