The magic number 12

Class size cut-offs jeopardize language courses

Merrifield Hall hosts numerous programs, including language courses of all sizes and regions.

Trevor Alveshere / Dakota Student

Merrifield Hall hosts numerous programs, including language courses of all sizes and regions.

Andre Marquis Washington, News Writer

Contrary to popular belief, the most spoken language in the world is Chinese, followed by Spanish and bringing home the bronze is English.

Considering the facts, in addition to modern trends of globalization and internationalization, some may wonder why there isn’t more academic attention prescribed to foreign language acquisition at UND.

“Many students at UND feel that learning another language is superfluous because so many people around the world speak English,” said Ayla Rubenstein, a classical studies major.

Out of the world’s population of nearly eight billion, roughly 1.5 billion speak English. That leaves more than 80 percent of the world’s population that does not speak English.

“Several programs at UND (English, History, Aviation) have either reduced or eliminated their foreign language requirement,” Eric Ross, classical studies professor, said.

In fact, many UND programs believe foreign languages are irrelevant to their discipline and or believe language studies actually decrease enrollment in their own programs.

“The general culture in America does not encourage language acquisition,” Virgil Benoit, French professor, said.

Believe it or not, the official language of the United States is not English. There is no official language of the United States.

“A large proportion of our student body comes from regions/communities that are somewhat insulated from international exposure/concerns,” Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literature Chair Jeffrey Weatherly said.

The many perspectives and reasons why more and more UND students are choosing to opt out of studying a foreign language are not the main concerns. The main concern is with the ever-declining amount of UND students who are pursuing more advanced levels of foreign languages.

“You can’t have a legitimate flagship institution without languages,” Ross said.

Furthermore, “UND offers the most language programs in the state, three of which are completely unique in the state, and also offer some instruction online in four languages,” Weatherly said.

As a proclaimed flagship institution, UND is expected to go and be above and beyond in providing higher education instruction to those pursuing traditional or nontraditional majors.

Yet, many UND students pursuing upper-division courses in foreign languages are being restricted in doing  do so due to the unavailability of such courses.

Welcome the magic number 12.

Benoit explains, “At least 12 students must be enrolled in a course for it to be offered.”

“Meeting this (12 student) quota is a major challenge for the Languages Department, especially our upper-level courses,” Ross said. “The biggest challenge, I think, is that we offer so many continuation courses. It’s not difficult to fill up a 101 course, but how many of those people will stick with it?”

For lower-division courses (levels 200 and below), a 12 student quota is easy to fulfill.

But as students progress upward into their major studies, upper-division courses (levels 300 and above), class content becomes a bit more demanding and class sizes become a bit smaller.

Actually, they shrink drastically. But for foreign language classes, the situation is quite different. UND’s twelve-student quota has become a death sentence for many students trying to graduate in four years.

Before the switch is pulled, students may want to better understand the method behind the madness of UND’s decision to not offer a particular class.

“The (12 student) policy is in accordance with a budget which shows it takes that many students to cover costs to offer the course,” Benoit said.

“If the classes that you are offering do not appeal to at least that many students, then you need to seriously reconsider the value of offering them – especially in times where resources are scarce,” Weatherly said.

It all boils down to the magic number 12, which in UND’s case isn’t as magical as it is rational and economical.

Although foreign language studies are on the decline, “the foreign language faculty here at UND are outstanding and are actively working to ensure that we have vibrant and broad language offerings in the future,” Weatherly said.

André Marquis Washington is a news writer for the Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected].