Georgetown: Disappointing in any language

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Fri Sep 7 13:24:51 UTC 2007

September 6, 2007

Disappointing in any language

As much as we Collegians, MSBers and NHS kids hate to admit it,
Georgetown is best known, across the country and around the world, for
being the home of the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. And
deservedly so: Foreign Policy recently ranked Georgetown as the
fourth-best undergraduate program and the top graduate program for
international relations, and the school counts Bill Clinton, George
Tenet, and Jordan's King Abdullah among its alumni. But the recent
changes to the school's language proficiency requirement threaten to
produce less-prepared graduates and eventually damage the SFS'
top-notch reputation.

Over the summer, the SFS announced several changes to the foreign
language proficiency requirement for its undergraduate degree. Instead
of the old ranking system, proficiency will simply be noted as pass or
fail on students' transcripts, and students can now demonstrate
proficiency in four different ways: by taking the traditional exam,
minus the ranking; by being a native speaker; by taking the exam at
the end of a Georgetown-approved, intensive summer program; or by
completing a semester of direct matriculation at a foreign university
as part of a Georgetown-approved study abroad program.

In the e-mail to SFS students, Dean Elizabeth Andretta wrote that "the
language proficiency requirement, and the Map of the Modern World
requirement, are signature pieces of the BSFS curriculum … changes in
the mechanisms for establishing language proficiency are in no way
intended to diminish the rigor of this requirement."

Despite Andretta's claim, though, it's impossible to see how the
proficiency requirement can maintain its current rigor with the new
standards. The old exam forced SFS students to undergo intense
studying and practice in order to earn an "excellent" or a "good,"
knowing that the notation would appear on their transcripts; it's
unlikely that a pass/fail exam will elicit quite the same work ethic.
The new "pass" designation lumps together students who just fulfilled
the minimum requirements with those who can read, write, and speak
almost fluently.

"I appreciate it because it groups me with people who might speak
better than I do, but objectively it's not as good a reflection of
proficiency as the last system," Chris Murphy (SFS `09) said. Even a
semester abroad, despite the direct matriculation, doesn't prove
proficiency: between tutors, special considerations for foreigners,
and the prevailing attitude that study abroad is the easiest semester
at Georgetown, even less-skilled students will often be able to squeak

As one of the top foreign service programs in the world, Georgetown's
SFS has little to gain and a lot to lose by lowering its standards for
foreign language proficiency. The proficiency requirement sets the SFS
apart from the myriad of international relations degrees across the
country, for both prospective students and employers. The School of
Foreign Service should reconsider its decision to weaken one of its
defining characteristics.

N.b.: Listing on the lgpolicy-list is merely intended as a service to
its members
and implies neither approval, confirmation nor agreement by the owner
or sponsor of
the list as to the veracity of a message's contents. Members who
disagree with a
message are encouraged to post a rebuttal. (H. Schiffman, Moderator)

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list