[lg policy] Declining enrollment leads the Middlebury Institute to soften its language requirements

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Thu Jun 6 10:34:04 EDT 2019


Declining enrollment leads the Middlebury Institute to soften its language
requirements.

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[image: Tounge Tied]

“For the success of students, it is extremely important that the main
mission of MIIS be the teaching of cultures and languages where students
may be involved in future endeavors,” says retired professor Vicki Porras.
Nic Coury

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For the past four months, executive staff and senior faculty at the
Middlebury Institute for International Studies have favored a phrase in
talking about controversial changes coming to the school. “It’s a fait
accompli,” they repeat.

A fancy way to say something is a done deal, the phrase was first borrowed
from the French in 1845 and only came into more regular usage over the past
eighty years, as shown by Google Books Ngram Viewer
<https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=%22fait+accompli%22&year_start=1800&year_end=2018&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2C%22%20fait%20accompli%20%22%3B%2Cc0#t1%3B%2C%22%20fait%20accompli%20%22%3B%2Cc0>.
It's ironic, then, that these changes involve overturning the graduate
school’s marquee academic requirements around foreign language study.

In February, about a week into the spring semester, the administration
released a document to faculty entitled “Language Policy Framework.” It
said that starting with the class entering in the fall of 2020, the school
would no longer require foreign language proficiency for admission. The new
policy would also end foreign language study as part of the mandatory
curriculum for all students.

The reason given for the change was that declining enrollment led to “an
intractable deficit situation.”

“We are ‘boxing out’ large segments of our potential student market by
appealing solely to students who have or desire to attain high-level
language proficiency during their graduate studies,” the policy
announcement said.

Each individual degree program would be allowed to uphold the traditional
language requirements, and the opportunity to study language would be
guaranteed to every student. Supporters say the change will allow better
use of dwindling resources and an increased focus on advanced language
instruction.

A day after the announcement, the administration at MIIS rolled out another
policy, this time around “workforce planning.” Before implementing layoffs,
the institute would offer voluntary separation packages with the goal of
reducing its spending on faculty and staff salaries by $2.5 million. The
combined salary cuts at MIIS and its parent entity, Middlebury College,
would total $8 million. The announcement came less than a year after outcry
about the level compensation for top executives. At the time, the college’s
student newspaper ran headlines like “Executive Pay at Middlebury Is Out of
Control” and “Faculty Demand Answers on Executive Pay.”

Morale plummeted. MIIS’ chief diversity officer, Pushpa Iyer, gave voice to
the feeling on campus in her newsletter, titled “The Black Mirror.” (The
title was not meant as a reference to the dystopian science fiction series,
a MIIS spokesperson says.)

“I am struggling to write a note that encapsulates the general mood on
campus,” Iyer wrote in March. “I am not sure it is even possible to do
justice in a few words to almost a year of uncertainty, turmoil, and
collective grief.”

Almost no MIIS faculty agreed to speak to the Weekly on the record, but
Vicki Porras, who taught business and environmental studies in Spanish at
MIIS for 15 years and retired in 2014, says, “All of my former colleagues
have been devastated by job insecurity.”

She is also concerned the new policy will erode the identity of the school.
“Monterey is the language capital of the world. Many students came here for
that.”

Indeed, former Congressman Sam Farr, who once studied at MIIS, wrote in
the MontereyHerald in 2017 that the language requirement was one of the
factors that led to a 1995 proclamation by former Gov. Pete Wilson
designating Monterey as the Language Capital of the World.

Learning of the change, Farr says, however, that the new language
requirement policy is an appropriate way for the school to broaden its
appeal. “You have to adapt to the times,” he says. “I doubt [the change]
will hurt MIIS.”

Enrollment at MIIS dropped from 683 full-time students in the 2016-17
academic year to 583 this year, a roughly 15-percent decline. The good news
is that the downward trend appears to have stopped. Dean Jeff
Dayton-Johnson says the school is forecasting higher enrollment this year
than last year: “I am guardedly optimistic.”

Dayton-Johnson, who is responsible for the decision to change the language
requirement, says the new policy is a “big change for us.” He acknowledges
the reputational risk but says that MIIS remains committed to language
instruction: “We still want to be the destination for language nerds.”

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 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com
http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/~haroldfs/

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