After weeks of coordinated and highly visible student protest, Provost Robert Zimmer decided late in May that the American Sign Language program, once slated to be phased out into the Continuing Studies program, will continue to be offered at Brown as a for-credit program.
The four courses previously offered through the program - SI 10, 20, 30 and 40 - will continue to be offered this fall at the University, and a full time lecturer will be hired to teach the classes, said Dean of the College Paul Armstrong. ASL is not its own department and will remain with the Center for Language Studies, which will be in charge of hiring the new faculty member.
The Academic Priorities Committee, which makes curricular recommendations, decided in February to cut back the ASL program because it did not have a permanent faculty member or departmental home and because ASL credits could not be applied to any existing concentrations or study abroad programs. The program, which had about 40 students in it at the time, was to be moved to Continuing Studies over a two-year period, where students would have had to pay a fee to enroll in class, and where they would not receive course credit.
Supporters of the ASL program, mostly current and former students and several independent concentrators, protested the transfer of the program. In addition to asking students to sign petitions, they printed "Save ASL" buttons and sold t-shirts, creating a visible support base on campus.
Leaders of the protests also spoke with Armstrong and Zimmer, who in late April asked the APC to reconsider the cutbacks to ASL studies. Zimmer appointed Sheila Blumstein, professor of cognitive and linguistic sciences and former interim president of the University, to write a report examining the relevance of ASL to existing faculty research and to the overall curriculum.
"What Professor Blumstein did was to work with faculty and students to write a report that was sent to the Provost, the Academic Priorities Committee and the (College Curriculum Council)," Armstrong said. After reading the report, both APC and CCC recommended to Zimmer that funding be set aside for the for-credit ASL program to continue in the fall. Zimmer obliged, Armstrong said.
Leaders of the campaign to keep ASL for-credit cheered their victory.
"I was thrilled beyond belief," Adee Thal '05 wrote in an e-mail. "There is no way that this could have been successful without so many people speaking up and saying this is what we want."
"I think the administration really took note of that and were impressed by how many people wanted ASL to be on campus," she wrote. Thal, Brown's only deaf student, founded the Brown ASL Club.
Armstrong echoed Thal, noting the tradition of strong student involvement in academia at Brown ever since the implementation of the New Curriculum.
"This was a decision made because there were good academic reasons to make it, and as always the case, when students have good arguments to make, I think students and faculty listen to them," Armstrong said. "I think students have been an integral part to the curriculum at Brown, especially since the New Curriculum.
"Students came and talked to me and the Provost and Professor Blumstein and other faculty members and brought information to our attention and had good arguments that were weighed as part of the educational process, and that's a good thing."