LSA faculty voted down a proposal yesterday that would have allowed students to elect two semesters each of two different languages to fulfill the foreign language requirement, instead of four semesters of a single language, as is currently required.
During a special meeting of LSA’s faculty college in Angell Hall, 65 members voted against the proposal and 51 voted in favor of it.
At the meeting, proponents of the proposal said it would diversify students’ exposure to different cultures, increase enrollment in less commonly taught languages and allow students an out if they find they do not like a language after their first year.
Opponents said requiring students to take four semesters of a single language forces them to become proficient in that language.
LSA Student Government President Andrew Yahkind said he was frustrated with the outcome of the vote because the discussion never focused on the importance of giving students the choice to decide how to study foreign languages.
“Students who choose the 2-2 option would do so in the best interests of their academic careers,” he said.
Early last month, LSA-SG voted 12-6 to support the proposal.
Before the vote, some discussion was devoted to whether even four semesters of a language is enough to make a student proficient.
The Residential College administers a proficiency test after its students complete the equivalent of four semesters in a single language, RC Prof. Herb Eagle said. According to Eagle, RC students boast a 90 percent success rate on the tests.
“Students who work hard can become proficient in two years,” Eagle said, adding that giving the students the choice of taking two languages may result in many students lacking proficiency in any language.
Other concerns raised by some faculty members were a potential lack of enrollment in upper-level language courses and the difficulty of shifting resources to first-year classes to meet increased demand.
LSA Dean Terrence McDonald assured the faculty that the logistics would be taken care of if the proposal were passed.
Linguistics Prof. Sarah Thomason said allowing students to dabble in multiple languages would increase their understanding of how language functions.
“A benefit of the two-term option is that it helps students learn the skill of language-learning,” she said. “If you take two languages unrelated to each other, it’s particularly advantageous.”
Justin Benson, the budget allocations chair of LSA-SG attended the meeting in support of the proposal.
“The best option for students is an option of choice,” Benson said. “Basically, it all comes down to letting students choose what’s best for their own educations.”
During the meeting, Asian Languages Department Chair Nancy Florida reminded her fellow faculty members that the issue at hand was not voting between requiring students to acquire fourth-semester proficiency in one language or second-semester proficiency in two but whether they should give students a choice between the two.
According to a LSA-SG online survey taken by 1,204 students in September, respondents who expressed interest in the four most popular languages at the University – French, Spanish, German and Italian – outnumbered students who were interested in any of the other languages offered 578 to 117.
In the same survey, a little more than 60 percent of students said they would take advantage of the two-and-two option to satisfy their language requirement if it was offered.