The University of California, Santa Cruz promises a world-class education. Let’s hope the whole world speaks English.
As the globe is becoming ever more connected and dependent on cross-border communication, the UC is regressing to a place where foreign language skills are deemed worthless.
Language programs are becoming vulnerable to budget cuts on all UC campuses. Next year the Russian, Portuguese, Hindi/Urdu and Hebrew programs at UCSC will be in danger. The most popular languages, such as Spanish, French, Italian and German, may face huge cuts to their classes.
Cuts are nothing new for UC students. It’s a familiar pattern: we hear about cuts to a program we care about, feel upset about it, and then blame administrators. Transparency and openness on the part of decision-makers is a legitimate demand. But placing blame on some distant figure also makes it easier for students to justify complacency.
The cuts facing foreign languages at UCSC are not yet certain. There is still time to make a difference. It’s up to students to speak up for foreign languages.
Dean of Humanities Georges Van Den Abbeele is making efforts to be transparent in his decision-making process. On the Division of Humanities website, students can submit comments with their opinions on language department cuts. The dean has expressed sincere regret at the task he is faced with, suggesting that he values undergraduate education.
Even if some cuts must be made, our input can help them be made in a way that is least damaging to the quality of our education. Language faculty have begun circulating a letter that students can send to UC administration, voicing their support for languages they care about.
Language students and non-language students alike should show support for these programs, because they are important for all of our futures. Cutting foreign language education for UC students will not only deprive us of opportunities to learn about other cultures, but will also directly damage our ability to succeed in today’s extremely competitive global economy.
The UC administration constantly engages a rhetoric that prioritizes diversity. Chancellor George Blumenthal has recently created a Diversity Advisory Commission to promote diversity on campus. And yet one of the primary aspects of cultural diversity, language, is currently being put on the chopping block.
Even those who place little value on cultural diversity must recognize that the ability to communicate globally is an economic asset in this world. One look at online job listings is evidence enough to show that an education without foreign language is insufficient to compete in California alone. Many jobs today require Spanish fluency. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, at least 1 in 5 California residents speak Spanish. Many other jobs ask for French, Vietnamese or Chinese.
As UC students, we should have the opportunities to educate ourselves for success. As jobs become more and more scarce, we should focus on becoming more proficient in communication, not less. Those of us competing for jobs in government, technology, business, finance, health care, or practically any other field may be beaten out by others if they can speak a foreign language and we cannot. Regions such as the Middle East and China are building ever-stronger and more complicated ties with the U.S. as their economies boom. We will need people who can communicate with them, both for economic reasons and for diplomatic reasons, to preserve peace and understanding.
But there is no point at all in having a university that calls itself one of the best in the world if it sends its graduates out unprepared.
It’s up to students to demand support for foreign languages, and other programs that matter to them.
So if you look forward to that song in Spanish, that French conversation and Nutella party, or a Japanese poem, tell someone that it is important to you. If California doesn’t want to pay for our foreign-language education, we will all pay the price when our culture becomes homogenous and our degrees are worthless.