The language barrier

University-wide budget cuts threaten future of language programs

Students and faculty gathered in front of Richardson Hall yesterday to raise awareness about the importance of language departments at Queen’s. Forty degree combinations are facing admission suspension due to budgetary constraints.
Image by: Christine Blais
Students and faculty gathered in front of Richardson Hall yesterday to raise awareness about the importance of language departments at Queen’s. Forty degree combinations are facing admission suspension due to budgetary constraints.

Yesterday, students and faculty gathered to rally for the protection of language programs at Queen’s.

With Queen’s facing 20 per cent in budget cuts over the next three years, faculty and students are increasingly concerned about which departments will be most affected.

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science Alistair MacLean said he is working with departments to implement the budget cuts.

“No programs are being cut,” he said. “We’re considering suspending admissions to certain degree combinations that have typically attracted low enrollment in the last three years.”

MacLean spoke at the rally held at noon in front of Richardson Hall.

The rally came as a result of the news that small programs are facing cuts by Queen’s administration. Languages in particular will be affected.

“I fully understand why people are upset about it. Some programs are under threat,” MacLean said. “I tried to indicate what was happening. There will be a full report given to the Faculty Board a week from today.

“Queen’s students are very engaged and passionate about what they’re doing. I don’t disagree with their aims. I have limited resources. I have the job to try to make it happen.”

MacLean said the degree combinations that have attracted 25 or fewer enrolments are under consideration. There are 70 degree combinations which reach these criteria but only 40 are being looked at.

The Bachelor of Fine Arts was restructured so it won’t face admission suspension, MacLean said.

“The sustainability of a program is considered.”

Low sustainability of a program means there is no redundancy in a department, allowing faculty members to take over for each other in case of maternity leave, paternity leave or sabbatical.

“The Bachelor of Fine Arts was able to restructure to no longer be vulnerable to this problem.”

MacLean said undergraduate students currently at Queen’s are not at risk of being unable to finish their degree.

“Any student who is enrolled in a program will complete that program,” he said.

MacLean said there are 1,613 possible degree combinations in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and 848 of them have students currently enrolled in them. Many departments agree with the recommendations from the administration, he said.

“It affects less than five per cent of students and faculty, but it doesn’t make it less important,” he said. “It’s not a contentious issue in all cases.”

MacLean said admission suspensions to certain degree combinations will begin in the fall, but will vary depending on the program.

“It will affect people registering next September. Within the next couple of weeks, we’re going to have to make decisions. We’re in different stages of negotiation.”

MacLean said most graduate students will not be affected by the cuts because supervisors of graduate students should not be contract faculty.

“Generally, contract faculty are not supposed to supervise graduate students because we cannot guarantee the availability of the supervisors [during the graduate students’ degree].”

In the department of French Studies, nine graduate students lost their supervisor, Eugène Nshimiyimana, who did not have his contract renewed. MacLean said he is working with the department to fix the problem.

“We will certainly do everything we can to facilitate [the students],” he said.

Tracy Russell, PhD ’10, said she’s unsatisfied with the administration’s response to her concerns about Nshimiyimana’s departure.

“One third of the department’s graduate students will be unsupervised. We’ve been under-supervised until now.”

Russell said Nshimiyimana is the only professor who teaches Francophonie.

“A course in Francophonie is mandatory for undergraduate students majoring in French. I’ve been here four years and he’s the only person who’s ever supervised me.

“I feel that the cuts going on right now are a convenient way of explaining why [the administration] chooses not to fund a professor.”

Russell said the University hasn’t fulfilled its promises to students in the department of French Studies.

“When you take on students, you assume a certain responsibility to them. At least one graduate student has left the department to pursue studies elsewhere [due to] a lack of adequate supervision.”

At the rally, faculty and students protested the possible reduction in language programs offered by Queen’s. Speeches in English, French and Spanish were given to a crowd holding banners and signs.

Helen Kneale, ArtSci ’09 and a TA for the Italian department, said the rally was meant to raise awareness about the importance of languages at Queen’s.

“This protest is meant to show solidarity for languages. I want students to have the same opportunity I did in undergrad,” she said. “We’re doing this because we care. We’re not here to criticize the administration.”

Kneale said studying language contributes to understanding different humanities.

“The Italian department does not serve to teach tourism. It’s not a mere language school. It contributes to teaching, researching, opening the world, engaging the world,” she said. “Language offers you a perspective on literature, cinema, philosophy.”

Martina Di Gioacchino, ArtSci ’09 and Kneale’s co-TA, said professors in the languages at Queen’s are committed to their work.

“Our profs are very passionate about it. The professors are so dedicated to their students.”

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