This piece, "The Real Reasons to Support Language Study," published July 27, 2009 in The Chronicle of Higher Education, is particularly relevant given the recent announcement by UCLA to issue lay-off letters to its state-funded, "post-six" lecturers. (These are lecturers who have taught for more than six years and thus require one year's notice for termination). Most of the affected lecturers are, not surprisingly, in the humanities and social sciences.
In language departments, such as the one that houses me, languages are predominantly taught by lecturers. Language department ladder-faculty are not usually trained in language pedagogy, but rather in literary, historical, and cultural analysis. If the order to lay off lecturers stands, then we will be looking at language classes staffed mainly by less experienced lecturers (who would be cheaper for the university) and by graduate students (probably native speakers from outside of the department). This could well entail a lowering of quality for the undergraduates who would be paying higher tuitions—and getting less in return.
Language study is important not only because it gives American students access to foreign cultures, in the actual languages of the foreign culture, but also because it provides students with an expansive perspective on their local American identity. Most academics would reject the parochial view that knowing English is sufficient in this emerging global culture and economy, yet what UCLA is threatening to do is to gut the best means by which students can attain both an understanding of the international community and an international understanding of American culture.
cross-posted at http://utotherescue.blogspot.com/.