Between the fall 2019 semester and the spring 2020 semester, most languages in the department of modern languages and literature have seen a significant decrease in course offerings. For example, in the fall of 2019, 59 Spanish language sections were offered, but in the spring of 2020, course offerings decreased to 30. Total enrollment in French language courses dropped from 181 students in fall 2019 to a whopping 76 students in spring 2020, a more than 50 percent decrease, and Chinese enrollment dropped from 26 students in fall 2019 to 18 in spring 2020. Portuguese, Arabic and Japanese language courses were not offered in the spring of 2020, nor will they be offering these classes in the fall of 2020. It is unclear if courses will be offered during the 2021 semesters. 

“To my knowledge, the decrease in course offerings for the spring 2020 semester was unprecedented,” said Joel Goldfield, Ph.D., associate professor of French and chair of modern languages.

The Portuguese language offerings at Fairfield are a prime example of the changes within the department of modern languages and literature, as its courses will not be offered for two semesters in a row. This will not allow new students to begin Portuguese language courses at the elementary or intermediate level in fall of 2020, prohibiting them from moving forward with the language in spring of 2021.

The implementation of the Magis Core in the fall 2019 semester has huge implications for the department of modern languages and literature. The previous core mandated that students in the College of Arts and Sciences take up to four semesters of a modern or classical language, depending upon placement, in order to complete the intermediate level. Students could also test out of the requirements. However, students in the Marion Peckham Egan School of Nursing and Health Studies could take either courses in modern languages or in visual and performing arts. The School of Engineering students, under the previous core, had no modern language requirement. Charles F. Dolan School of Business students had to complete two semesters of the core language requirements under the old core. In efforts to create a shared- single core experience, the new Magis Core requires one semester of a modern language for all Fairfield University students, regardless of their academic program. Second semester courses are optional. 

This has led to a number of changes— an increase in fall 2019 semester enrollments, and a drastic decrease in spring 2020 enrollments as many students opted only to take the mandatory single course. This has major impacts on each of the language programs, especially those with lower enrollments rates, such as Japanese, Arabic and Portuguese, each of which are considered by the U.S. Department of State to be critical languages and have specific funding opportunities available to continue their study. 

“The goal of a liberal arts education is to allow students to move beyond what they studied in high school and expand their horizons… it’s more important than ever to offer Mandarin, Portuguese, Arabic and Japanese at the university level. Our shrinking language programs are a detriment to our students and our mission as a university,” said Dina Franceschi Ph.D., Roger M. Lynch chair and professor of economics.

Despite this, the university has its reasons for changing the core language requirement.

The objective of the new Magis Core curriculum is to reduce the number of core requirements that students have to take and ensure that all students have a uniform experience across the university,” said Elizabeth Petrino, Ph.D., director of the Magis Core curriculum and professor of English. “The Orientation Tier requires that students take one additional course in either language or mathematics. For all students, this choice ensures that Magis Core was designed to allow students more flexibility to pursue majors and minors.”

Goldfield recommends that departments within Fairfield’s colleges begin to use languages as allied courses in various programs.

The idea of education isn’t just the knowledge area, but it is the links in the knowledge areas. For example, environmental biology and Portuguese,” Goldfield said. “Part of the Magis Core that may help with languages are its links… it may provide stabilization in enrollment.” 

Allied and cognate courses are well established within the Portuguese-related disciplines. Biology 319: Vertebrate Zoology Field Experience, International Studies 298: Internship and Latin American and Carribean Studies 300: “Justice and the Developing World” have historically offered sections taught in Brazil. Numerous faculty members in disciplines ranging from the humanities to the natural sciences have expertise and pursue research in the Lusophone world.

This doesn’t only apply to Portuguese. Goldfield believes that if language programs ally with other disciplines, languages will make a comeback despite their prior low enrollments.

Goldfield also believes that the decreased language course offerings have roots in student engagement. He advised that if language programs are to flourish at Fairfield, students need to be vocal in which languages their interests lie.

“There needs to be heritage interest, grant interest, interdepartmental interest or study abroad interest,” he said.

Ultimately, it seems that the solution for the diminishing language programs is up to the students and affiliated faculty. If students show more interest in different language programs, like Portuguese, Japanese or Arabic, by vocalizing interest to professors and faculty members or even taking online language classes at different colleges or universities, the programs will have a chance to return to campus. The resurgence of low-enrollment language programs is ultimately the decision of the student body and, as Goldfield said, “we vote with our feet.”

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