Spanish, French majors removed from curriculum
Marcus Clem | editor in chief
Pittsburg State’s current slate of students who declared a major in Spanish or French may well be the last.
Effective immediately, no student of Pittsburg State may declare a Spanish or French major. Both programs will be gradually deleted as majors.
Those already enrolled, says Karl Kunkel, dean of arts and sciences, will be allowed to complete their major.
“We are also committed to allowing students who are already engaged in the program to finish,” he said. “We can’t pull the rug out from under them. We don’t do that sort of thing.”
The Spanish and French minor programs are unaffected by this decision, Kunkel says.
A letter from Judy Berry-Bravo, chair of modern languages and literature, to each Spanish and French major in her department lays it out.
“We are saddened by this decision, but we are being told that it is final,” she said in the letter.
Berry-Bravo could not be reached because of a family emergency that will keep her away for at least a week, says Kathy Dyer, administrative specialist for the department.
Significant student concern
Sen. Lynzee Flores of Student Government Association (SGA), a sophomore in Spanish and communication, says she’s nervous about the changes, though she was relieved to be allowed to continue in the major.
“To find out,” she said, “that I had chosen a school that may end up not carrying Spanish as a program anymore, because I really love Pitt State … I would hate it.”
Jeanine Kunshek, who graduated from the Spanish program last year, says she made what she described with humor as a “rant” on Facebook after hearing the news.
“It’s insane to me that we won’t keep Spanish as a major,” she said. “With French, you can study another language and have the door open for you. To take these away from future students, it just doesn’t make sense.”
Ali Blanchard agrees.
“It’s really frustrating, overall,” said Blanchard, senior in premedical biology. “This squanders away possible opportunities for people.”
Big changes, bigger questions
The department is preparing a “teach-out” plan that aims to graduate students who choose to remain as quickly as possible without compromising their education.
Much remains an unknown, Kunkel and the languages faculty say.
How many classes the department will offer, what exact tiers of study will survive, what certifications will be offered and how they will function are all open questions.
Kunkel pledges to see these questions resolved through the university’s structure of program review as quickly as possible.
“We will have a committee to look at what form is the best way to offer answers to future students,” he said.
Tyler Egbert says he has some doubts about that.
“We don’t know very much right now,” said Egbert, senior in premedical biology and Spanish. “I think it is really strange to see something like this all of the sudden happen and there is no apparent plan for action.”
Blanchard says that the announcement in her view is worse for what she says is the lack of effort to involve students.
“One of the main things that it comes down to is how they’ve handled the situation,” she said. “It’s kind of like a dictator, in a sense … The university on all levels needs to be held responsible for keeping people informed.”
Taylor Gravett, SGA president, says that he and several other SGA members are concerned with the decision. They discussed the matter during the SGA meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 25.
“Obviously, this decision is one that does not seem to quite connect all the dots,” Gravett said in a press release sent to The Collegio. “Spanish and French majors allow for students to compete in a 21st century business world, and their termination set us all back as a university.”
Kunkel, the arts and sciences dean, says it’s important that the exact implications of the change be known.
“There’s all kinds of rumors going around and people are getting mad,” he said. “There may even be some panic, but I want to reiterate that figuring out what the institution should do to most benefit students is important.”
Spanish and French will still be taught at the university, and fears that these changes are an attack on language learning are unfounded, Kunkel says.
“The idea that we are abandoning languages as a university is false,” he said. “That kind of notion is just an uninformed opinion.”
The department as an independent entity has an uncertain future.
Language faculty say that it may end up folded into the Department of English. Language courses could become an elective emphasis for other degrees.
Kunkel says one idea he’s considering is inspired by the structure of other departments such as communication or family and consumer sciences.
Under such a system, he speculates, language students could all have the same major, with an emphasis in French, Spanish or another language.
“We have other bachelor of arts degrees that include foreign-language requirements. We have a vibrant culture of music, art and the humanities. To me, that indicates a commitment to the liberal arts.”
Kunkel says that regardless of whether the department continues to exist as an independent unit or not, the people working for it will still be around.
“We’ll still be offering general education- and minor-level courses,” he said. “We need people to staff those responsibilities.
“Nowhere at any point in this conversation has anyone talked about people losing their jobs.”
Kunkel says that he himself is a student of French who graduated with certification in the language, and that cutting the majors from the program does cause him “a bit of remorse.”
“This decision was not arbitrary,” he said. “It was done through the program review board and the process that closely considered numbers like the number of people who’ve declared a major and the number of graduates.”
Kunkel pointed to numbers compiled by his office that show an average of four Spanish graduates every semester for the past several years, despite the same records showing dozens of enrollees.
“You’d think to see at least 15 or 20 of those people go on to finish the program,” he said. “What’s happened in my view is students are not successful in completing this program. The way the program is structured is not leading to student success.”
Path to deletion
The turnover factor, Kunkel says, is not about academic performance. Spanish and French have been mostly selected as double-majors midway through students’ time at the university.
The problem with that is many students end up figuring out that seeing the full major-program through will keep them at the university longer. Thus, they quit the program before they’re done.
Findings like this prompted the university to decide, after conducting a review of the modern languages department in 2009, that the problem of student retention in the program had to be addressed.
This is in keeping with standards set by the university’s state governing body, the Kansas Board of Regents, say Kunkel and Steve Scott, university president.
When expedited reviews in 2012 and this year prompted findings that did not satisfy the review board that is composed of the dean and faculty, motions toward program deletion began.
“Program termination is not the outcome anyone is seeking,” Scott said. “It only comes about after efforts to sustain the program are unsuccessful.”