Budget cuts threaten inclusivity training programs

by Nancy Ngo

Students and instructors often have a variety of learning and teaching methods, but the extent to which efforts to develop a multicultural curriculum inclusive of these interests will continue is in doubt.
John Malmberg, director of the Department of Extension Classes, said the resources at the University devoted to encouraging understanding of other cultures and accommodation of different learning styles is declining.
Malmberg said that though the University has been receptive to developing a multicultural curriculum in the past, the cuts are a “direct reflection of all the problems of funding at the University–and we’re no exception.”
For example, about 20 languages are taught each year through extension classes, but some of them are due to be eliminated because of expected budget cuts.
The languages to be cut will be determined on the basis of enrollment, Malmberg said, adding that the cutbacks will reduce the breadth of the curriculum.
The University is less committed to fostering a multicultural education than it is to other priorities, said Lisa Albrecht, Associate Professor in General College and teacher in the Department of Women’s Studies.
Albrecht is the former co-coordinator of the Bush Faculty Development Program: Excellence and Diversity in Teaching, a program mainly serving tenure-track faculty who have little or no formal teaching education.
The program is intended to create inclusive classrooms by evaluating student learning styles and various teaching strategies.
Albrecht said she still sees a lot of resistance to new ways of teaching. “Sometimes it is not seen that excellence in teaching and diversity are synonymous.”
Bush Faculty Development Program Coordinator Toni McNaron said the University’s curriculum does not have a sufficient multicultural emphasis and, as at other institutions, has been slow to change.
She added that the student population is changing and becoming more diverse with regard to sexual orientation, culture, age, socio-economic background, and national origin.
Many faculty members know they cannot be effective teachers without taking into account the changing student population, said McNaron.
“If it is acknowledged that students in class learn differently, then the challenge is how professors try to include materials that reflect a broader spectrum” for students, McNaron said.
Assessing the way students learn is a requirement for international instructors at the University.
“Most (instructors) come from countries with straight lecture styles and no interaction. This doesn’t fit into the participative American way of learning,” said Bronwen Lu, an instructor for the University’s teaching assistants’ English program.
The program tests international teaching assistants in their language skills. International teaching assistants are judged against criteria including English language comprehension and pronunciation before they can teach in the classrooms.
Bronwen said the program is not trying to “Americanize” participants but rather to ensure that students’ needs are met.
Another program which addresses diverse student learning styles is the Foreign Language Immersion Program.
The program creates an atmosphere where interaction between teachers and their students is conducted entirely in Spanish, French or German.
Coordinator Silvia Lopez said the program is especially useful for students who cannot go abroad to use their second-language skills. Students returning from abroad or planning to study abroad also find the courses useful.
According to Lopez, instructors are generally native speakers or highly fluent non-native speakers of a language. Most have advanced degrees in their languages.
The use of listening, speaking, reading and writing skills in a second language makes the learning experience different, Lopez said.
“The perspectives students get from studying documents in a (foreign) language makes them understand a culture differently.”
Proficiency is not just knowledge of a language, but a relationship with a country, said Lopez.
The program is being run on a pilot basis through the College of Liberal Arts after a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities ended this summer.