Boston: Debate over ASL continues

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed May 2 13:19:48 UTC 2007

Hearing the Case for ASL Schools to review foreign-language policies

By: Angela Marie Latona
Posted: 5/1/07

Although the debate over the legitimacy of American Sign Language to be
considered as a foreign language has continued at Boston University for
years, its inclusion is now under review again by the College of
Communication and School of Management. SMG has been re-evaluating its
foreign-language policies after College of Arts and Sciences dean Jeffrey
Henderson accepted a new ASL proposal in March 2005 to allow students to
earn credit for taking ASL as a foreign language if they pass a
proficiency exam at the completion of four semesters of the language.

The proposal came from French and linguistics professor Carol Neidle, who
in April 2004 submitted the proposal to have ASL count for
foreign-language credit in CAS. The proposal was given to the Academic
Policy Committee, which decided ASL can count as a foreign language if
students pass the exam. SMG does not have a foreign-language requirement
except for students who major in international management, and it does not
currently count ASL as a foreign language. "Given that CAS has changed its
requirement and does allow ASL to fulfill the foreign language
requirement, SMG will need to bring this change forward to our
Undergraduate Program Development Committee," said SMG Undergraduate
Programs assistant dean Sandra Procopio in an email.

Procopio, a 1989 School of Education graduate, said the committee will
review the policy soon and "make its recommendation to the SMG faculty."
The COM administration will make its final decision on whether to include
ASL to fulfill the language requirement over the summer, said acting
assistant dean Micha Sabovik. The policy has been under review for a year.
The University Professors Program has a four-semester foreign-language
requirement that is not fulfilled by ASL. "We had followed the general BU
position [still in effect in 2004] that ASL is not a 'foreign' language as
regards [to] that language requirement, and the question has not come up
in UNI since that time," said UNI Program Coordinator Edna Newmark in an

When UNI Director Bruce Redford's term ends June 30, the new director, yet
to be named, will be in charge of deciding whether or not ASL should
fulfill the language requirement, but only "if [the question] should arise
again," Newmark said. For years, the College of Liberal Arts -- now CAS --
had been under heavy scrutiny from students and faculty about former CLA
dean Dennis Berkey's decision to exclude ASL from the foreign-language
requirement course offerings. "The landscape has certainly evolved since
those early debates, and I am not up-to-date with the current issues at
BU," said Berkey in an email. "Since I am now 'ancient history' at BU . .
. I'm not sure it would be helpful to the current discussion to hear from
me," continued Berkey, who is president of Worcester Polytechnic

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