Last year, the College of William and Mary made the unwise decision to not renew the contracts of some vital professors in the modern languages and literatures department due to budget cuts. For those who are unaware, the language programs can be small (as small as four or five faculty members), so cutting even one professor can have a detrimental impact on that department.
Take the German studies program, for example. Beloved German professor Veronika Burney was one of the professors cut from modern languages and literatures. Professor Burney taught intro level and intermediate German classes. This year, those classes had to be picked up by other professors.
Currently, there is only one upper-level class taught in German. Any student that wants to take this course but has a conflict is left with no other options. This is the case for a friend of mine who is a German major. It’s very unfortunate that students are put in this situation. The lack of course offerings has been a problem since before the cut, but to me that should have suggested to the College that, if anything, they should be hiring one more German language professor, not letting one go.
Situations like these should never have come to fruition. Students rallied to try to save the jobs of language professors because they knew how valuable they were to the College and how good they were at their jobs. And what did the College do? Largely ignore them. The irony in this decision is quite obvious. The College prides itself on its academic rigor and brilliant faculty, so cutting key professors in small departments is a slap in the face to these components.
One of the first things you’ll notice when you visit the College’s website is the display of its ranking as a top 10 school in undergraduate teaching. Does the College not see language faculty as an important part of that? Languages are just as important as other disciplines. A college as good as this one should know that. The College grossly undervalued the importance of languages with their cuts last year and yet boasts on their website that the College values teaching.
It’s time that the College lives up to its claims. It’s time that the College reevaluates its decision making when it comes to faculty in language departments. The College should make clear that they value the work of these professors and what they do for students. Professors in small language departments should not be some of the first up on the chopping block whenever the school is looking to save some money. The small financial gains of cutting language professors is not worth it when they are sacrificing the quality of language degrees at the College.
Caitlin Noe ‘24 is a Government and Psychology double major. She is also a member of Amnesty International and Film Society. She participated in the DC Summer Institute American Politics program this summer. Email Caitlin at firstname.lastname@example.org.