A new department, tentatively named the Department of World Languages and Cultures, will take effect starting next fall. The department will result from a merger of the German, Norwegian, Chinese and French programs.
“It creates a clear, unified voice for modern languages on campus,” said Mary Rice, current chair of the Spanish department and future chair of the new department.
The merger will simplify administrative duties for faculty members and could streamline some processes for students, such as transferring credits. Students likely will not see many changes within the classroom but could see an increased number of programs and events on campus.
As one department, these programs will be able to pool resources and focus on out-of-class cultural education, according to Tao Ming, chair of the Chinese department.
The merger could also allow Concordia to hire professors in the future that could teach multiple languages. This kind of addition might be logistically difficult with the current department system, according to Rice.
While the faculty members involved in this merger are optimistic about its success, some had initial doubts about the feasibility of running a single department composed of different language programs. Possible issues include the loss of department autonomy, communication issues and different program sizes. While Spanish consistently has large class sizes, other languages, like French and German, are less in demand.
Jonathan Clark, chair of the German department, believes that this merger will be a way for the college to model cultural understanding.
“We’re going into it with a spirit of cooperation,” he said.
Clark emphasized that the languages come from different cultural backgrounds, which can lead to conflict, such as disagreements about teaching styles.
Despite differences, the resounding message of Rice, Ming and Clark was that the languages’ drive to engage students in intercultural discussion would bring the different departments together.
“We have the opportunity to have a strong voice as to the value of learning about different languages and cultures,” Clark said. “We can articulate our common vision of the importance of an international education for students.”
While some of the languages have strong enrollment numbers, such as Spanish and the growing Chinese department, many of these students are not taking these classes for the love of the language.
“We all fight the dominant culture here at Concordia that students just want to complete their core requirements,” Rice said.
The departments hope to reach out to students through campus events and opportunities for international travel, but also by using advocacy within the classroom. They view this merger of departments as a way to bolster all of the languages, rather than only focusing on promoting their own.
While each department has a unique set of needs from the administration, Rice, Clark, and Ming all focused on what they believe to be best for students: an education focused not only on linguistics, but on culture, as well.
Rice says that all of the language classes teach more than just the language. “Students learn to see the world from the perspective of someone else,” Rice said. “Something as simple as sentence structure shows that not everyone thinks the same way.”