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The Blue & Gray Press | August 17, 2019

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Committee formed to review university’s language requirement

Committee formed to review university’s language requirement


Earlier this year, President Rick Hurley and Provost Jonathan Levin asked the University Faculty Council to establish a committee to review the University of Mary Washington’s language requirement as part of the ongoing Strategic Resource Allocation Project.

Currently, the language requirement calls for students to demonstrate intermediate competency in a second language via the completion of a 202 or higher-level foreign language course, a passing score on the university’s language competency exam or satisfactory marks on approved standardized tests.

The creation of the ad hoc committee was prompted by a study conducted by the Academic Task Force during the 2013-2014 academic year. Formed in February 2013, the 15-member task force was co-chaired by Allyson Poska, professor of history, and Chuck Whipkey, department chair and professor of earth and environmental sciences.

According to the final report released in November 2014, the Academic Task Force noted that maintaining the language requirement represents the single largest adjunct expense at the university, costing over $300,000 in the last year.

The report also referred to the university’s previous general education requirements, which allowed students to place out of the language requirement if they completed four years of one language in high school.

“Based on a preliminary inquiry, a reasonably large number of UMW students matriculate with four years of language completed in high school,” the report read. “Allowing more flexibility in the administration of our language requirement could have several benefits, including reduction in the College of Arts and Sciences’ adjunct spending. These savings would accrue to the CAS adjunct budget and could be reallocated internally to meet strategic priorities in CAS.”

Senior English major Virginia Cox, who studied French at UMW to complete the language requirement, is happy with the university’s intermediate competency standard.

“I have a sister who goes to Emory and Henry, and they only have to complete two semesters of a language,” said Cox. “I think four semesters are good.”

UMW’s current foreign language requirement is similar to those maintained at the University of Virginia and George Mason University. Other schools, such as Emory and Henry College, Virginia Commonwealth University and James Madison University have less rigorous requirements.

Prior to 2008, VCU required four semesters or intermediate competency. The school now requires students to either complete three years or more of a foreign language in high school or complete two semesters of foreign language study. JMU’s requirement currently varies by major and by coursework completed in high school.

Geology professor Jodie Hayob, the current head of the University Faculty Council, is overseeing the creation of the committee to look into UMW’s language requirement.

“The duties of the committee are to investigate the fulfillment of the foreign language requirement, not the requirement itself,” said Hayob. “The intermediate competency requirement is expected to remain.”

Some believe that the emphasis on the importance of secondary language skills is intrinsic to a liberal arts curriculum.

“Foreign language is important for any liberal arts education, and we are a liberal arts school,” said senior biology major Cayden Brehaut, who completed the foreign language requirement in his first year at UMW. “I think languages fortify any major.”

The committee will be composed of six faculty members from different departments, including the college of business, the college of education, the modern languages and literatures department, the general education committee and the classics, philosophy and religion department.

According to Hayob, the UFC is not leading the ad hoc committee, and the exact membership of that committee is yet to be determined.