The Daily erroneously advised the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts faculty on Tuesday (Mala Idea, 09/27/2005) to reject a proposed change to the language requirement. The change would let students meet the language requirement with two semesters each of two different languages rather than requiring fourth-semester proficiency in one language. This shift to a two-plus-two system is in students’ best interest and should be adopted.

Sarah Royce

It is difficult for the Daily to take a consistent editorial position on the language requirement because doing so forces the paper to choose between two beliefs it strongly advocates. On the one hand, the Daily generally supports plans that give students more freedom. Indeed, this page has previously argued for the abolishment of the language requirement (Reconsider requirements, 01/15 /1987).

However, the Daily also believes that LSA students should receive a liberal arts education. The supposed importance of the four-semester language requirement to a liberal arts education has swayed the editorial board to support the continuation of a four-semester proficiency requirement in recent years.

A modern liberal arts education, however, does not force all students to master a defined body of canonical works. Recognizing that learning Greek and Latin and reading the work of dead male British authors isn’t interesting or relevant to many students, the University has instead taken a buffet-style approach to liberal arts. Currently, LSA requires students, through distribution and vague content requirements, to gain exposure to a broad variety of subjects to graduate.

This approach to a liberal arts education better allows students to pursue their specific interests while still requiring students to study a broad range of subjects to graduate. Furthermore, it is a fairer and less Eurocentric way to approach liberal arts in a multicultural world.

A four-semester language requirement, however, barely fits into this scheme. Those whose idea of a liberal arts education includes reading novels in the original language or living abroad will not be fluent after four semesters and will elect more courses. Other students do not wish to take any languages and struggle through four semesters – or just pass out on the language placement exam and never take a college language class.

It would be more consistent with LSA’s modern liberal arts education to require two semester of college language instruction, regardless of placement exam scores. This strategy would expose students to college language courses – which are far more intensive than their high school counterparts – while not wasting the time and money of students who do not wish to become proficient in a language.

Though the proposed change does not go this far, it would allow students to try two semesters of a less commonly taught language they find interesting instead of continuing with French or Spanish just to finish the requirement. And it would be fairer to students who had little desire to study any language.

Certainly, knowledge of foreign languages is vital in today’s interconnected world, and students would benefit in the job market – as the Daily pointed out – by becoming fluent in another language. But the failure of the American education system to provide adequate foreign language instruction begins in our elementary and middle schools, and it needs to be addressed there. It is not something that LSA can or should expect to fix by requiring language proficiency.

The proposal before LSA recognizes that fact while giving students more control over their education. It is not a mala idea, and it should be adopted.


Christopher Zbrozek is an LSA senior and an associate editorial page editor. He can be reached at zbro@umich.edu.


“In Dissent” opinions do not reflect the views of the Daily’s editorial board. They are solely the views of the author.

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