Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
August 17, 2022

CLE reduces language curriculum

By FRANK BRANCATI | November 29, 2012

In the past three years, the Hopkins Center for Language Education (CLE) has cut back or altogether discontinued its curriculum in several languages , citing low enrollment rates and financial constraints. Currently,, the CLE oversees the University’s courses in Hebrew, Hindi, Japanese, Korean and Russian; it canceled programs in Farsi and Kiswahili last year.

These efforts have coincided with the tenure of Yuki Johnson as Director of the CLE, a position she has held since 2009.

“The enrollment was low and could not sustain the courses so they were cut.  That’s simply the reason,” Johnson said. “The decision was made by the Dean’s Office.  It was unfortunate but if we don’t have enough students we can’t have the courses.”

Katherine Newman, Dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, also weighed in on the administrative decision to trim certain language programs, citing low enrollments as the primary reason.  She explained that in these cases it was not financially viable to continue offering the courses.

“Some [languages] fall into what language teaching professionals call ‘less taught,’ because typically the enrollments are modest,” Newman wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “In our case, some fell below the threshold that makes it affordable for us to offer them. When possible, we direct students to other area universities that may be able to accommodate them. The Center for Language Education has had to make some difficult decisions to insure that we use the resources we have wisely. I review all of these decisions with the language teaching professionals on our campus and fully support their judgment.  We spend hours evaluating the options every year. It is important for the Dean’s office to insure that the funds we have to support the educational mission are carefully allocated and in this instance, the decision was necessary.”

Students enrolled in these languages have largely responded with concern.

“I think it is considerably limiting and quite detrimental to the overall standard of the education at Hopkins,” junior Kithmina Hewage, an International Studies major studying Hindi, said. “Hopkins prides itself on providing a wide variety of options for students, and I’m not entirely sure why the [CLE] has to take an exception to that. This is even more concerning given that languages such as Hindi that are becoming prominent languages spoken around the world are being taken away.”

As an International Studies major, Hewage now finds himself facing academic obstacles.

The interdisciplinary major requires the study of both a language through the advanced level as an area of academic concentration “according to the student’s evolving interest in international studies,” the department’s website reads. If the concentration foci a geographical region, the student’s language of choice must pertain thereto.

The shrinking language curriculum, thus, has derivative consequences: for example, International Studies students like Hewage who hope to focus on India--home to twenty percent of the world’s population -- cannot, as the pertinent language requirement is simply unattainable.

“It puts me in a very difficult situation. This is very disappointing, particularly because advanced Hindi was provided when I arrived at Hopkins,” Hewage said. “Moreover, given that many students have taken a Romance Language in high school, they are somewhat ahead of international students like me, who have no prior experience in such languages. And now, these other options are being reduced periodically.”

The scholastic hurdles posed by the reduced language curriculum have not been lost in translation.

“Professor Johnson is aware of the fact that some of the students do have to take the advanced Hindi course for their major or area of concentration,” Professor Uma Saini, Senior Lecturer of Hindi, wrote in an email to The News-Letter.

However, students who have actively fought the reductions claim that a lack of communication with the CLE has not been the greatest hurdle.

Junior Hilary Matfess is an International Studies major who last February was accepted to the selective five-year Bachelor’s/Master’s degree program with Hopkins’s Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). To complete her language requirement -- and further facilitate her ambitions to study and work in Africa -- she enrolled in Hopkins’s Kiswahili program, which was cut last year.

“I had to receive special permission to graduate having taken only two years of a language. To get my second year of a language, I had to appeal to Dr. Johnson for an independent study. The process of getting Dr. Johnson’s approval was excessively cumbersome. I have never interacted with a director that seemed so intent on reducing student involvement in their program,” Matfess said.

She and other students also attempted to have the have the Kiswahili program brought back, to no avail.

“Along with two other students, I appealed to an assistant dean to consider re-instating the program,” Matfess said. “We were unsuccessful, though the assistant dean was much more approachable and understanding than Dr. Johnson.”

Hewage, meanwhile, argued that the CLE’s justification for eliminating certain programs might be noble in intention, but ultimately not grounded in reality.

“If it’s a lack of demand for the language, I must note that there are at least six other students who want to take Advanced Hindi along with me. And these are numbers that are higher than those in some advanced Romance language courses,” he said.

Removing Advanced Hindi from the language curriculum leaves Hopkins as the only college ranked in the top fifteen (based on U.S News & Report’s 2013 rankings of American universities) without upper-level courses in the language.

Peer institutions, meanwhile, have kept their language programs secure, with a similar magnitude of student interest therein. At present, seven Hopkins students in Intermediate Hindi hope to continue their studies next year. Duke University, meanwhile, currently has eight students in its third-year Hindi course; Northwestern University has six.

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