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A Word from Fred Toner

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

By Fred Toner, former chair

I would like to begin by expressing my gratitude to Barry Thomas for the fine work he has done in authoring this bicentennial history. The finished product represents many hours of research, and Barry has been extraordinarily successful in unearthing details that help illuminate the human side of our academic history. It is gratifying to "meet" the colleagues who preceded us and who shared our mission of opening the students' eyes to a larger world. I take pride in being part of this tradition.

While Barry has eloquently traced the history, I would like to focus my remarks on the present and the future of the Department of Modern Languages. As a quick inspection of our departmental web site will attest, we have a young and vibrant new faculty. We continue to make a significant contribution to the profession, and the number of articles and books authored by our faculty keeps increasing every year. Without exaggeration I can say that our faculty are recognized nationally and internationally for the quality of their scholarship.

We are also known in the university community for the excellence of our teaching, a reputation that is justified by the number of major teaching awards received by our instructors. In the last three years, faculty members from the Department of Modern Languages have won three Jeanette Grasselli Brown awards and one Presidential Teaching Award. Our students are distinguishing themselves, as well. In the last two years, five of our students have won Fulbright grants and two have won National Security Exchange Program scholarships. For these awards, our students compete with the best students in the nation. We are justifiably proud of their accomplishments.

As we step into the third century, there is every reason for optimism. We are housed in the renovated Gordy Hall, which offers an attractive and inviting learning space and state-of-the-art technology.

The Language Resource Center offers a wealth of tools to facilitate the task of teacher and student. Several new initiatives to stimulate student engagement are already producing results. Our new Learning Portfolio Project gives talented language students the opportunity to work with faculty mentors on individual research projects from the beginning of their college careers. We have begun to discuss the possibility of reestablishing the language houses that, as Barry's history explains, played an important role on campus in the past. As another renewed legacy from the past, there are plans being made for summer language camps that would offer high school teachers advanced training in language acquisition theory and a forum in which to perfect their language skills. We continue to expand the opportunities for internships for our students in environments where they can use and improve their language skills. The study abroad programs that our department sponsors in Austria, Ecuador, France, Mexico, Russia, and Spain continue to offer students a quality educational and often life-changing-experience. New summer programs are being discussed for Italy, Quebec, and Spain.

In many ways, our students and instructors have advantages over those who studied and taught in the Department of Modern Languages in the first two centuries. I marvel at the magic of technology as I enter my office in the morning, read Le Monde online and click on a video of the day's news at a French television channel's website. It is so much easier now, than it was when I began my career, to make contact with the cultures of the languages we study. We can expect even greater ease in interacting with other cultures as technology develops. Even so, technology is only a tool and will never replace the person-to-person contact, the human side of academia that is essential to understanding a culture and learning a language. Our department continues to be known precisely for this personal contact and the active engagement of students and faculty in a worthy intellectual pursuit. In this pursuit we link arms with those who preceded us.

If you are in Athens, please stop by our department and introduce yourselves. You are invited to meet our faculty and students, to sit in on our classes, and to tour our facility. If you are not able to visit in person, we would be delighted to hear from you. We enthusiastically invite you to join us in what promises to be an exciting and successful third century!