Search within:

Rapid Expansion ... and Painful Contraction

From The Department of Modern Languages: A Bicentennial History 1804-2004

Rapid Expansion  . . . 

From 1912 until 1960 the distinction between the "German Department" and the "Department of Romance Languages" was generally maintained. According to the catalogue of 1960-62, however, German and Romance Languages find themselves once again housed under the rubric "Modern Languages," at first with chairs for each of the two sections, but subsequently with a single departmental chair. This change coincides with the beginning of a tremendous growth of the department as well as the university. For example, in the 1964-66 catalogue, under the heading "The Challenge of Rapid Growth," we read that "in September 1963, 10,200 students enrolled on the Athens campus and 5,000 ... on the seven branches. The 1973 student population of the University may reach 26,000." This optimism (or hubris, depending on one's point of view) will soon be proven false, with serious consequences for the university, its programs and the faculty.

Before that unfortunate development, however, the Department of Modern Languages participates fully in the expansion. For example, between 1960 and 1973 over 100 new full- and part-time faculty join the department for varying lengths of time. 12 In 1967-68, we are able to establish yearlong study abroad programs in Austria, France and Spain in cooperation with Bowling Green State University, and shorter programs in Mexico. The 1964-66 catalogue also boasts that "to facilitate understanding and fluency in modern languages, five language houses have been created by student groups on campus—a French House, a Spanish House, two (!) [astonishment added] German Houses and a Russian House." With the prospect of ever increasing enrollments the department also begins making plans for a Ph.D. program in French, German and Spanish.

. . .  and Painful Contraction

Then comes the day (or, more accurately, the years) of reckoning. For a number of political and economic reasons, the student population, which had reached some 18,000, begins what the spin-doctors of the time called a period of "negative growth." Within three years enrollment drops by about a third, and once again the Department of Modern Languages follows the trend. From 41 full- and part-time faculty in 1972-73, the number shrinks to 23 in 1977-78.

Between 1973 and 1985 only one new faculty member is added. This is a difficult time for the department, since basically all the new, untenured faculty have to be let go, which means that when hiring begins again in the eighties and nineties the department lacks a "middle" generation of faculty.

Another casualty of the enrollment decline is the yearlong study abroad programs, which are phased out by 1975. Happily, they are soon replaced by Spring and/or Winter Quarter programs in Austria, France and Mexico, so that students still have an opportunity to experience the target culture and language, albeit for a much shorter period. The doctoral program proposed in the giddy days of unlimited growth has come to naught, but the department does manage to maintain the French, German, and Spanish master’s programs, although by the late seventies the German faculty has faced the consequences of declining demand and cancelled that program.

Every Cloud has a Silver Lining!

For the next 15 years or so there is basically no faculty growth. However, despite the dismal enrollment and funding situation the university community is urged by the president not to "hunker down and retreat into a protective shell." Heeding this call even in the face of the severe financial and personnel constraints, the remaining language faculty continue to develop outreach programs and interdisciplinary curriculum initiatives. In 1974 the department begins holding a popular annual language fair for high school students. In the eighties, with the help of a federal grant, French and Spanish courses are developed for Journalism students at the Intermediate and Advanced levels. In 1983 the Ohio Valley Foreign Language Alliance is founded to provide a venue for college and K-12 language teachers to pursue professional development opportunities.

12 To put that number in perspective, it is approximately 40 percent of all full- and part-time faculty who have ever taught in the department.