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Changes proposed to foreign language requirements

(Jessica Picard / Daily Collegian)

Changes in academic requirements for the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences may be in the works for next year’s incoming freshmen.

The Faculty Senate is currently working on a proposal to shift requirements for foreign languages from being a college-determined requirement to a departmental one. Such a shift would allow departments ranging from economics to anthropology to require different course loads for their students, and increase a University initiative to provide a globalized education.

“The primary goal of the proposal is to replace the existing college-level global education requirement,” MJ Peterson, Secretary of the Faculty Senate and professor of political science, said. “The idea is that each major will be in a better position to design a program that will draw the connections to the kinds of things that the majors …are interested in.”

According to Peterson, the majority of those involved in the process of shaping the proposal are in favor of redistributing the foreign language requirement to SBS departments. However, some students and faculty members have expressed concerns regarding both class enrollment and the potential for some students to graduate with a diminished education in a foreign language.

“There’s been some concern about one element of it, which is that studying a foreign language becomes optional,” Peterson said.

In a preliminary SBS report to the Faculty Senate, analysis found that the College of Humanities and Fine Arts might see a drop in enrollment and course hours taken as a result of this plan.

In the report, maximum impact analysis shows potential for a 50 percent reduction in student credit hours taken in foreign language. The drop in credit enrollment in HFA foreign language courses represents 15 percent of all student enrollment in HFA classes, meaning the College of Humanities and Fine Arts may see decreases in enrollment of up to 3,000 credit hours per year.

“I know there would be concerns from HFA,” SGA Secretary of University Policy Lucas Patenaude, said. “If this was a proposal that was going to decrease enrollment in language classes, then HFA would not like that, because they would be losing students in their school.”

According to Patenaude, there was discussion of potentially dropping the foreign language requirement for some majors altogether last spring. However, significant pushback against such a curriculum shift led to the proposal being floated this fall.

“I like a language requirement,” Patenaude said. “I don’t know how the best way to do it would be. I would not want to see a language requirement get dropped…how that is best articulated, I’m not sure.”

The potential change to the language requirement comes on the heels of another move by the Faculty Senate to the University’s diversity requirements, both impacting next year’s freshman class.

Last year, the Faculty Senate proposal reclassified the general education diversity requirements for undergraduates at UMass. The “U” and “G” requirements will change for the class of 2022 to “DU” and “DG” in an effort to emphasize updated diversity goals.

Both the diversity goals and the language requirement proposal reflect a University trend toward what some call “internationalization,” according to Patenaude.

“[Internationalization is] looking at how we’re preparing UMass students to be global citizens, global leaders and interacting in this global world,” Patenaude said. “That’s kind of been a theme pushing a lot of the curriculum – how we are preparing students for this.”

According to the preliminary SBS report, the proposal on foreign languages will “provide flexibility to strengthen B.A. major requirements.” Additionally, it stated, “This approach also models for students that international and intercultural studies are integral to their chosen fields, rather than an adjunct to them.”

The College of Social and Behavioral Sciences includes students in the anthropology, communication, economics, journalism, legal studies, political science, social thought & political economy and sociology departments.

The Faculty Senate, which holds monthly meetings that are open to the public, will hear the proposal in full for the first time at a Committee of the Whole discussion on Thursday, October 12.

Will Soltero can be reached at wsoltero@umass.edu and followed on Twitter at @WillSoltero.

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