Thursday, February 10, 2011

Controversy remains for French major and minor

By Andrea Allis
Copy Editor

Toward the end of the spring semester last year, the French major and minor at Saint Mary’s University were suspended by the curriculum committee based on findings presented to a faculty committee formed to discuss the issue.

According to Dorothy Diehl, Ph.D., chair of modern and classical languages, the faculty committee was formed at the end of the 2009-2010 academic year at the request of SMU President Brother William Mann. Administration made the decision to suspend the French major and minor shortly after the committee’s decision, Diehl said.

According to Marilyn Frost, Ph.D., vice president for academic affairs, the administration’s decision was based on research on the French major over the last 10 years. In her report to the faculty committee, Frost said she looked at the number of students enrolled in French courses and the faculty hours it takes to staff those courses. She also compared the French department with other SMU departments.

Since foreign language is one of only two academic departments at SMU that is not included in general education program requirements, French class sizes are typically very small, Diehl said. French classes only fulfill the requirements of French majors and minors, Diehl said.

Based on the research presented to the faculty committee by both Diehl and Frost, it was decided that it was “not viable” to continue the French major, Frost said. She added that if an increase in students interested in French at SMU is observed in the future, the French program issue will be “revisited in an expedient way.”

Still, Diehl finds it “difficult to justify” the discontinuation of the French program at SMU. She said that French has been offered at SMU since she became a part of the faculty in 1999 and that relatively little has changed in the way of student interest in the French program or the how the program itself is run. Said Diehl, “It’s difficult to understand why such a sudden decision was made without asking the students how they felt about it.”

Diehl further described the decision as “short-sighted.” She said that this decision will make SMU one of two liberal arts schools in Minnesota that does not have a foreign language requirement and that only offers one foreign language as a major or minor. (Spanish is now the only foreign language major or minor at SMU.)

“This decision will not make [Saint Mary’s University] more appealing,” said Diehl. “We are not thinking of what’s best for our students or for our university.”

Frost said French classes at SMU will still be offered on a rotating basis according to interest. Frost, Diehl and Elizabeth Throop, Ph.D., dean for the School of Humanities and Sciences, will meet to determine how often French classes will be offered.

Currently, there are three students majoring and three minoring in French at SMU, Diehl said. Those students who had already declared a French major or minor prior to its suspension will be able to take the necessary classes to complete it, Diehl said.

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