Lisabeth Hock is an associate professor of German in the Classical, Modern Language and Cultural Department.
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Wayne State University has been working hard for the past three years to roll out a new general education structure for our students. While in particular two requirements of the new university plan will open doors to new ways of thinking and problem solving, the suggestion of the Dean’s office of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) to reduce its foreign language requirement from three semesters to one will close off opportunities for our students.
One goal of restructuring General Education was to update the university's requirements to reflect 21st century needs and our university’s mission to “create and advance knowledge, prepare a diverse student body to thrive, and positively impact local and global communities.” Two new inquiry areas do this best and most uniquely: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the United States and Global Learning. These inquiry areas have learning outcomes that allow for humanities, social science, and natural-science courses to be taught under them. The U.S. diversity requirement could be fulfilled by a history course on Civil Rights Movements in the United States or by a public health course on Pollution and Public Health in Detroit. The Global Learning requirement could be fulfilled by the Global Stories course that I have taught or by a science course on the Global Effects of Ocean Acidification. Students have choices, but I hope they are encouraged to take the courses outside of their main disciplinary areas.
While these inquiries open doors to students and faculty alike, cutting the language requirement in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences will harm our university’s reputation and limit our students’ opportunities on the job market.
We are one of three Research-1 institutions in Michigan. Dropping the language requirement to one semester would place us on par with the non-research institutions in the state, all of which have language requirements of one or zero semesters. One of Wayne State’s key mottos is that “we aim higher.” This should apply not only to the University but also to CLAS.
While reducing the foreign-language requirement might appear to offer students more flexibility in choosing classes, the move does not consider flexibility on the job market. When I ask high-school German students what they plan to do with the language after graduation, they inevitably say they would like to travel, but most can imagine using German professionally only in teaching or translation. Yet this is not what students in our programs do. German major Manon N. (’19) wants to become a physician’s assistant and received a UROP grant to conduct research in Germany on the history of prosthetics. Four semesters of German allowed psychology major Jasmine H. (’17) to earn a full scholarship to participate in the Munich Brain Program, where she worked in an anatomy lab dissecting brains. We encourage our majors to double major across disciplinary fields and to participate in our Junior Year in Munich Program. Many have gotten jobs with Detroit Diesel, which is owned by German Daimler AG. Foreign language competence opens myriad professional doors. While speaking on November 11 as part of WSU's International Week, Consul General of the Federal Republic of Germany Herbert Quelle confirmed: "Your chances of getting a job with the 1,300 German companies in the Midwest are much greater if you know German." I write here only of the language program I know best. There are fourteen others in my department. The opportunities are endless, but students will not know about them if they don’t have the opportunity to do so in our classes.
Cutting back foreign language education would also bring the College out of alignment with the WSU Strategic Plan, which lists as a goal: “Implement and Enhance Academic Programs Focused on Cultural, Language, and Global Competencies.” My department trains students who go on to work internationally, and it is highly involved in local communities that speak Arabic, Greek, Italian, Polish, Russian, and Spanish. Cutting back the language requirement signals disregard both for these goals and for the local and global communities they to serve.
Finally, a reduction of foreign language education at WSU could deprive students of the opportunity to see the world through a different lens, a different language, a different culture. This should not be a privilege reserved for students at elite schools. We should provide our diverse student body with an education that will open as many doors as possible. A robust foreign language requirement should, therefore, remain a part of the education of all students in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences so that the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences can continue to do its part to achieve the goals of Wayne State University.