Ratcliffe: You can’t have it both ways

Language-Letter“Study in a Faculty with one of the lowest student-to-faculty ratios in Canada. This means more personalized attention from our world-class professors and researchers,” the Faculty of Arts and Humanities advertises to incoming students.

Western President Amit Chakma regularly declares Western “celebrates diversity and recognizes the importance of approaching education from a global perspective (and) aims to provide a strong international experience for the benefit of all our students. Our goal is to develop global citizens and leaders who embrace the challenge and responsibility to make the world a better place.” Such aims sound wonderful, if only they were implemented and fully funded.

The Department of Modern Languages and Literatures will not be able to meet these goals. It must cut 20 full-year language courses in the fall of 2017 – probably more in 2018. Limited duties faculty teach these courses.

These faculty provide personalized attention to students, organize intercultural and international experiential courses, make multilingual and multicultural community outreach contacts in London, prepare students to succeed in national language competitions and set up exchange programs in Germany, Italy and Cuba. Yet they have been told they will no longer have a job at Western. These dramatic cutbacks will eventually affect all faculty and students.

Many from this diverse group of excellent teachers appear on the University Students’ Council Honour Rolls and have received teaching excellence awards for part-time faculty. They are also researchers. Most hold doctoral degrees. Some have received curriculum development awards, attend international conferences and publish scholarly work – usually without access to research funds. They are indeed “world-class professors and researchers.” They also provide service to the university community, often without remuneration. The reason for their job losses is because of arbitrary budget decisions made by vice-presidents, deans and chairs.

Despite hundreds of millions of dollars of surplus savings, Western’s budgetary business model only rewards productivity in the form of high faculty-student ratios. Language classes cannot be taught to a hundred or more students at a time. Modern Languages and Literatures offers courses in Arabic, Farsi, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. Perversely, the department is being punished for providing the “lowest student-to-faculty ratios in Canada” Arts and Humanities uses to lure students. Funding cannot be a one-size-fits-all; pedagogy must precede policy.

The “global perspective” and “strong international experience” that Western is so proud of – and are important elements of all language and culture courses – will be sacrificed. Global citizens who will make the world a better place – be they engineers, doctors, scientists, jurists or business leaders – cannot do so unless they speak the languages and understand the cultures and traditions of others. Internationalization is more than recruiting international students to campus.

When will the contradictions end?

Marjorie Ratcliffe, professor of Spanish Literature

Department of Modern Languages and Literatures