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University sees 20 percent drop in language enrollment

At first faculty meeting of semester, faculty discusses language, budget, fundraising, Title IX

Dean of the Faculty Kevin McLaughlin announced a new initiative to promote modern languages at the University in yesterday’s faculty meeting. Provost Richard Locke P’18 also spoke about the University’s budget, and President Christina Paxson P’19 commented on the proposed national guidelines for Title IX and discussed gift acceptance policies.

The University saw a 20 percent decrease in enrollment in modern language courses from 2009 to 2018, McLaughlin said. In recent years, there has been a significant decrease in the study of language nationally: enrollment in “foreign language programs” decreased 15.3 percent from 2009 to 2016, and 651 language programs closed from 2013 to 2016, according to statistics collected by the Modern Language Association.

McLaughlin presented three areas of focus to promote modern languages, which include “establishing a reimagined center for language studies, … enhancing capacity to support the expansion of scholarship” of East Asian and Middle Eastern languages and “enhancing doctoral education.”

Moving forward, the University plans to assign faculty to working groups to promote the integration of language studies and related scholarships, and recruit small groups of PhD students to the University to study languages. McLaughlin also encouraged faculty to advise students to take language courses, regardless of requirements.

The study of language is fundamental to higher education, McLaughlin said, as it preserves the “ethos of critical reflection and clarity of thought that marks the well-educated person.”

At the meeting, Paxson also discussed policies on gift acceptances in response to recent concerns regarding one of the University’s donors whose company produces tear gas and other protective gear for the military. “The power of accepting gifts lies in the Brown University Corporation,” Paxson said. Gifts shouldn’t be considered as “quid pro quo,” which would produce immediate returns, she added.

Although the University doesn’t have the capacity to check the “moral stance” of every donor, it rejects all gifts or funds that are obtained through illegal means, require extra expenditures or compromise the academic freedom and mission of the University, Paxson added.

Locke also spoke at the meeting to discuss the University’s financial planning. In light of the upcoming corporation meeting, Locke touched on issues surrounding the University’s budget, which were first brought up in a 2016 report. The University’s expenses grow at a faster rate than its revenue, and compared to peer institutions, the University is more reliant on tuition and fees, Locke said.

In response to these issues, the University froze the incoming class size in 2017 and increased the tuition by 4 percent. The University also decreased endowment payout, formed a more comprehensive budget plan and aligned the growth of financial aid and tuition, Locke said.

Since these measures were taken, “things have been going better than predicted,” Locke said. With Paxson’s successful fundraising efforts and careful budgeting, the deficit is projected to stay at around $5 million out of the University’s total budget of $1.1 billion per year, Locke added.

Paxson also pointed out some specific concerns about the proposed regulations for Title IX from the Department of Education. Paxson submitted public comments to the DOE to recommend changes to the guidelines on Jan. 29, The Herald previously reported. She questioned the effectiveness of “one-size-fits-all” requirements that would be implemented across universities and colleges. For example, the regulations  “make the hearing process akin to criminal and civil trials,” and the expense of an attorney discourages students from coming forward due to the cost of legal counsel. Moreover, the proposals do not provide specific regulations for sexual harassment and assault incidents that happen while a student is off-campus or in a study abroad program.

An earlier version of this article stated that Dean of the Faculty Kevin McLaughlin proposed a potential language requirement. In fact, McLaughlin suggested that faculty encourage students to take language courses regardless of their requirements. The Herald regrets the error.


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