U2000 speaks for diversity, requiring second language

by Douglas Rojas

Preparing students to perform efficiently in a diverse job market is one of the implicit goals of the University 2000 plan.
Administrators hope they can accomplish that by emphasizing the importance of proficiency in a second language.
Officials define diversity as more than increasing the number of faculty and students from minority and ethnic groups. It is also exposure and understanding of different cultures. Proficiency in a second language is just one way to facilitate this interaction.
“It is impossible and very narrow-minded for Americans to continue to believe that the rest of the world should learn English,” said Monica Eden, director of the College of Liberal Arts Language Testing Program. Americans, she said, should also make an effort to learn languages of the countries with which they may have business or other kinds of contact.
As a general University admission requirement, students have to study two years of a second language in high school. If they don’t meet this prerequisite, they have to take three quarters in college in order to fulfill this requirement.
“The fact is that the world is getting smaller,” said Professor Carol Klee, chairwoman of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. “It is important for students to have at least a minimum proficiency in a foreign language. Students not only develop language competence but also some degree of cross-cultural understanding,” said Klee.
Out of the 19 colleges at the University, CLA is the only college that enforces proficiency in a second language. Students who have to take a proficiency test have up to six quarters to prepare for it. Students in some departments can take the test earlier. Other colleges, such as the Carlson School of Management, encourage students to achieve proficiency in a second language and to study abroad. The school offers several degrees that have an international emphasis.
“There are very few disciplines in the future which would be able to avoid the concept of global economy,” Eden said. “All other colleges should be encouraged to give strong consideration to a foreign language requirement.”
Other colleges are indeed placing emphasis on cultural exposure.
In the Institute of Technology, “we stress the importance (of studying abroad),” said Peter Hudleston, IT associate dean. “We are making a push to do this.” He said that the school encourages new and current students to explore all the language and study-abroad options.
Within the concept of global economy, “students need to be aware of other cultures and languages,” Hudleston said.
However, because of the large amount of requirements placed on students in other colleges, demanding proficiency in a second language could place a burden on the curricula. For example, engineering students in IT have to take 192 credits in order to graduate.
In IT, most classes are taken in sequences and are not free electives. Therefore, adding a second-language requirement would make it difficult for students to maintain financial aid and to schedule classes, said Ann Pineles, assistant director of IT Lower Division Programs.
“No one disagrees with the value of a second language,” Pineles said. But making it a requirement would be hard for students in the college, she said.
Because more students require courses in specialized fields, the University is making programs available where students can take classes taught in a second language that relate to their fields. The Foreign Language Immersion Program has offered classes taught in Spanish, German and French in fields such as journalism, business and history.
In the Spanish department, for example, the planned change to the semester system will make it easier to design courses around specific fields, such as Spanish for social sciences and Spanish for business, Klee said.
“Changing to semesters would allow us to meet students needs and interests,” she said.
Furthermore, with regard to the growing population of foreign-born residents in the United States who lack good English skills, she said exposure to a second language would eventually ease the transition of foreigners into American society.
“Learning a second language potentially would make Americans more tolerant to immigrants who lack English skills,” Klee said.
Still, culture and diversity go hand-in-hand, Eden said. That’s why in the issue of global economy and exposure to cultures, Americans have to play an active role.
“As Americans we don’t want to isolate ourselves from the rest of the world and have some sort of strange assumption that the rest of the world is going to behave in a cultural manner the same way that we would,” said Eden.