Modern Languages & Literatures Department addresses West Virginia University's Elimination of World Languages, Literatures & Linguistics Program.
William & Mary's Department of Modern Languages & Literatures' Statement on West Virginia University's Elimination of their World Languages, Literatures & Linguistics Program.
As Chair of the oldest Modern Languages & Literatures department in the United States, I write on behalf of my faculty and staff to express our collective dismay and distress following the September 15, 2023 decision at West Virginia University (WVA) to eliminate its entire World Languages, Literatures, & Linguistics programs (WLLL). Overall, the Board dropped twenty-eight of its majors (8%) and 143 faculty positions (5%), cuts that have been deemed draconian and catastrophic by leading voices and media outlets in U.S. higher education, including the Modern Language Association, American Council of Learned Societies, the American Federation of Teachers, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.
The faculty of W&M’s Modern Languages & Literatures department, as well as our fellow W&M colleagues in other fields in the humanities, are ever cognizant of, and often deeply troubled by, the ongoing debates—within the academy and beyond-- about the work we teacher-scholars do in the Humanities: What is its market value?; What is its relevance in 21st century neoliberal societies?; What is its legitimacy of place in the “real world”, beyond the scholar’s desk and the teacher’s classroom?. WVU’s ill-advised decisions in the name of economic expediency—despite the fact that both their World Languages and the English departments produce significant tuition revenue for WVA beyond their expenses—again brings to the fore what seems to be WVU’s short-sighted administrative responses to these questions, reactions predicated on fallacious arguments and facile “solutions” to problems seemingly incurred by financial mismanagement and poor strategic planning.
The leading federally funded center in the U.S. for research and teaching in the humanities, the National Endowment for the Humanities, published an eloquent defense, “The Humanities Belong to Everyone” https://www.neh.gov/divisions/fedstate/resource/the-humanities-belong-everyone authored by Federal/State Partnership Staff. I excerpt key portions:
The humanities…help us make sense of the world we live in…help us understand and explain to what or to whom we give authority […] The humanities preserve our valued traditions and transmit them from generation to generation…preserve and share our stories, [giving] us the means to recognize the common ground shared by all varieties of human thought and endeavor […] The humanities have practical applications for everyday life…help us answer big questions …clarify [our] roles as citizens in a democratic society, encourage our participation in our communities.
W&M’s Modern Languages & Literatures faculty in eight programs—Arabic, Chinese, French & Francophone Studies, German, Hispanic Studies, Italian, Japanese, and Russian—teach our students to make sense of the world we live in by learning the languages of fellow global citizens, recognizing that the English Only mindset belongs to a backwards, provincial, and insular community incapable of truly understanding complex challenges with which 21st century nations grapple.
Our commitment to learning and preserving the most treasured stories and narrative traditions of both ancient and contemporary societies from around the world, indeed enhances our students’ comprehension of the common ground shared by all varieties of human thought and endeavor. The avenues of our instruction often illuminate cultural and artistic representations of key periods of conflict and social unrest, showcasing collective resistance and resilience in the face of the abuses of state power. In our fields of international literary and cultural studies, our learners explore the common human impulses to create beauty, to give voice to dreams of social justice, and to imagine other worlds, thereby inviting our students to consider their own roles as citizens in a democratic society, [and[ encourage our participation in our communities.
As long as we as citizens share our place on Earth with multicultural, multilingual communities, the work that scholars and teachers of world languages, literatures, and linguistics do will always be essential and must remain protected. Our academic mission to enhance our students’ comprehension of other nations, to facilitate their awareness of other ways of seeing beyond U.S. borders, and to inform their knowledge about other points of view that circulate around the globe, is, indeed, priceless.
Chair, Modern Languages & Literatures