In Feb. 2023, the College of William and Mary announced the discontinuance of its German major. Acting Dean of Faculty for Arts and Sciences Suzanne Raitt cited the program’s inability to meet productivity targets set by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia as a reason for the major’s ending.
“Discontinuing the major has been under discussion for years and in moving forward, we are being responsive to national and global changes in student demand, as well the increased need to meet external requirements set by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia,” Raitt wrote in an email to College faculty in February.
Following the move, Raitt assuaged concerns about further action on other majors.
“There are no plans to discontinue any other majors,” Raitt wrote. “The AMST program also has Master’s and PhD students, and the undergraduate major supports the graduate programs. Student demand is the primary driver of decisions both to discontinue degree programs, and to create new ones. Over the past few years we have created new majors in Linguistics, Japanese Studies, Integrative Conservation and Data Science.”
According to data from SCHEV, the statewide coordinating agency for higher education which evaluates academic programs through their enrollment and degree production, seven undergraduate academic programs offered at the College do not satisfy productivity targets set by the council. Those programs are American Studies, Chinese Language and Culture, Religion, Elementary Education, French and Francophone Studies, German and Theatre and Speech.
According to the Code of Virginia, SCHEV has to file a report to the governor of Virginia and the General Assembly notifying them of the discontinuance of an academic program.
“No such discontinuance shall become effective until 30 days after the adjournment of the session of the General Assembly next following the filing of such report,” the Code reads.
Raitt described the state of the major discontinuation in March.
“The process of discontinuing the German major is underway, but it takes some time for it to be completed, as you saw. Right now the major is still active,” she said.
While students who have already declared would be able to still graduate with a German degree, German Studies Program Director and associate professor Jennifer Taylor said students are no longer able to declare a major in German.
“When we discussed canceling the program, I was not aware that they were going to close down the process of applying to be a German major immediately, but they did,” Taylor said. “Students are not at this point, if they thought they were gonna get a German major, if they had enough courses, they can’t now do that. But everybody who is already in the pipeline has been kept in the pipeline and will be allowed to get their degree in German.”
Taylor said that while the administration cited the program’s failure to meet SCHEV’s targets as a reason for discontinuance, no one provided her with paperwork or information regarding the previously-cited section of the Code of Virginia.
“They told [the German Studies faculty] when they canceled the German major last month, that it was because of not meeting SCHEV compliance,” she said. “I never saw any paperwork. The deans and people in the dean’s office said it was very unclear. It’s just very unclear. But we never saw any paperwork. So I believe the deans when they say that we’re out of compliance, but I don’t know what that means.”
Board of Visitors member Kendrick Ashton ’98, who serves on the Committee on Academic Affairs, said that declining demand for the German major was the driving force behind the decision.
“To support a major has, you know, certain requirements. And I think we’ve seen consistent trends in a number of areas that suggest to us that, you know, you need to perhaps offer some of those courses, but not necessarily for a major,” Ashton said.
While financial reasons factor into every decision the College makes, Ashton said budgeting was not the main issue this time around.
The decision comes amidst financial challenges for the College. April 11, in a Student Assembly Senate meeting, Interim Chief Operating Officer Jackie Ferree mentioned a potential increase of tuition in relation to the need to comply with an inflationary environment and budget proposals from the General Assembly mandating salary increases for public employees.
“We’ve seen the CPI growth of about 17.5% over those five years. And as we move into FY24, the state budget right now is calling for a 7% increase in wages, which, for us, the portion that is unfunded is close to 10 million dollars,” Ferree said.
The Virginia Commonwealth University administration presented similar plans to its Board of Visitors in March, citing similar reasons.
Ashton responded to questions regarding the reinstatement of the German major if it gained more popularity in the future.
“Oh, I think so,” Ashton said.
In response, Raitt laid out a potential start to the scenario.
“If significant numbers of students declare a self-designed German major, and we are confident that trend will continue, it is possible that the major could be reinstated,” Raitt said. “However, given the numbers over the past 30 years, I have to say that scenario seems unlikely. But I would never say never.”
President of the Graduate Student Association of the Arts and Sciences Justin Cammarota, a fourth year physics graduate student who studied German at Lebanon Valley College, disapproved of the administration’s reason for discontinuing the German major.
“I feel those are just dumb reasons in general, because enrollment numbers — the fact that the languages, it enriches every liberal arts school — enriching the general academic and social well-being of a student is more important than simple numbers in a classroom,” Cammarota said. “Because if you don’t have the numbers this year doesn’t mean that there won’t be a future wave who are interested.”
According to data from SCHEV, the German Language and Literature major at the University of Virginia also fails to meet productivity. However, UVA has not announced any plans to discontinue its German major.
Despite the stark difference in enrollment size of each institution, SCHEV evaluates the programs by the same productivity targets.
Student Assembly Chief of Staff and senior representative to SCHEV Owen Williams ’23 said that while he was not involved in the discussion leading to the German major’s ending, it is a possibility that the College could discontinue other majors. However, Williams is certain that the College would attempt to make those programs satisfy SCHEV targets.
“[It] is important that William and Mary be in compliance with their policies and regulations to maintain our accreditation,” Williams said. “So yes, it is a possibility, although I have confidence that the University would take all possible steps to ensure a program reaches SCHEV standards and SCHEV would provide flexibility there as well before discontinuance were to happen.”