Lost in translation: Campus language lecturers combat funding cuts, threats to diversity

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Ana-Belén Redondo-Campillos, a UC Berkeley lecturer of Spanish and Catalan, is worried the campus will cancel her classes.

The Arts and Humanities Division in the College of Letters and Science has received a budget reduction in April that will take effect beginning next academic year, according to Anthony Cascardi, the division’s dean. Cascardi wrote in an email that this budget cut will impact instructors that are neither tenured nor tenure-track professors — which disproportionately affects the foreign language departments.

In her four years as a foreign language lecturer, Redondo-Campillos said she’s seen the department undergo various bouts of defunding, but the nature and severity of the most recent budget cuts are different. In addition to a reduction in funding, costs previously covered by the campus administration — such as benefits and salary raises — will shift to the foreign language departments, according to Redondo-Campillos.

“We have to be extremely careful about how we in turn allocate resources so that we do not lose our position of excellence in foreign language instruction,” Cascardi wrote in an email, as previously reported by The Daily Californian. “As long as funding stabilizes, I am hopeful that we will be able to maintain foreign language instruction at a steady level.”

Sally Goldman, a senior campus Sanskrit lecturer, said the budget cuts hurts low paid lecturers and faculty — because the cuts shift costs back to the departments. This could make it more difficult to keep higher-paid lecturers, hurting the reputation of the departments, according to Goldman.

Redondo-Campillos said she is worried about the message administrators are sending to students and their communities that lecturers’ jobs aren’t valuable enough.

“(We) have a thriving community of students that are very happy to study languages,” Redondo-Campillos said. “We are very hopeful and very proud to be part of this language lecturers community.”

Old anxieties renewed

This is not the first time the foreign language departments have butt heads with campus administration.

While other campuses require language lecturers to teach five courses a year to be considered full-time faculty, UC Berkeley used to require six, according to Redondo-Campillos. She said that compared to language lecturers at other UC campuses, campus lecturers were being paid less for more work.

According to Redondo-Campillos, in spring 2016, campus language lecturers renegotiated their labor contract with the university, including provisions to bring the workload of campus lecturers into parity with that of other UC campuses. The campus then interpreted the contract and made determinations about workload on the basis of the contract and knowledge of classroom situations, according to Cascardi.

Paul Bissember, field representative for University Council-American Federation of Teachers, a labor union that represents various UC employees, said after agreeing to the contract, administrators asked to delay its implementation for one year in light of the budget crisis.

“How would backing out help the university?” Redondo-Campillos asked in reference to campus administrators’ request. “(Our) salary is just peanuts.”

Multiple language lecturers have alleged the campus is still failing to honor the original terms of the agreement. Bissember alleged the campus has so far only implemented a workload reduction for approximately 80 percent of classes.

The union has filed a grievance regarding the campus’s implementation of the contract’s workload clause, and the grievance remains under review, according to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore.

“The union disagrees with the Berkeley campus’s interpretation and implementation of a new clause in the union’s contract,” Gilmore said in an email.

The campus and union have differing understandings of which courses qualify for workload reduction, according to Gilmore. The campus’s position is that only language acquisition courses which teach reading, writing and speaking of a foreign language should be covered. The union maintains, however, that the workload reduction should extend to additional language department courses addressing cultural aspects of language acquisition, such as film, history and literature foreign-language courses.

Since the campus’s alleged breach of contract, Redondo-Campillos said lecturers have faced increasing difficulties getting classes and maintaining adequate student enrollment to keep classes afloat. She said she feels compelled to campaign for her courses, encouraging students to take her class so administrators don’t cut back her workload creating a businesslike atmosphere where students are thought of as clients, according to Redondo-Campillos.

Petitioning for language and diversity

News of the cuts in April prompted campus language department lecturers to author a public petition addressed to incoming campus Chancellor Carol Christ and UC President Janet Napolitano.

Among other provisions, the petition demands campus reinvestment in language departments, rejection of minimum student enrollment requirements and honoring of the aforementioned 2016 contract.

“This shrinking of the language programs threatens to destroy Cal’s long tradition of supporting diversity, equity and inclusion — values closely related to the core mission of our University as a public institution,” campus language lecturers wrote in the petition. “These cuts deprive our students of the opportunity to prepare themselves for the globalized world.”

Goldman said new course enrollment requirements that determine lecturers’ pay and workload are based on a “fallacious assumption” that all language lecturers do is grade papers.

“The cut is directly affecting lecturers because they (language departments) have no means to cover all the expenses,” Redondo-Campillos said.

Funding: Where is it coming from, where is it going?

The Berkeley Language Center, or BLC, a unit within the Arts and Humanities Division, works to provide services to support language teaching to students and faculty. Richard Kern, director of BLC, said his experiences with the administration have been largely supportive, especially of less commonly taught languages.

“I think that this is one of the key universities in the country offering a large number of languages and really excellent teaching in language,” Kern said. “The biggest issue is unpredictable funding … (and) year-by-year budget cycle.”

The BLC has been asked to make a contribution of $26,000 to the next academic year, according to Kern. As a result, the BLC is suspending the academic outreach coordinator position for a year in order to avoid making cuts that could affect students or lecturers to whom the center has already offered fellowships.

Kern added that the current budget cut situation extends beyond the BLC — every department on campus is being asked to pitch in to reduce the campus’s financial deficit.

Goldman noted, however, that unlike donors for other departments like business and law, very few people are “willing and able to give million-dollar grants to small language programs.”

Amelia Barili, a campus Spanish language and literature lecturer, said she believed the issue of addressing the budget deficit should be solved where it was created — the overgrown administration and athletics department. Barili added that the campus serves as an example for the state and nation, and cutting funding would be akin to “putting a wrench” in the core mission of the campus.

“Why should faculty and students be footing the bill when they had nothing to contribute to that deficit, and education is the central purpose of the university?” Barili asked. “If Berkeley is going to be affected … then what will happen to other campuses? We are the example for the state and nation.”

Doubts and contention

Since the circulation of the petition, the efficacy of campus language courses has become a topic of contention.

Campus public policy professor Michael O’Hare wrote in a blog post following the petition that he questioned the value of taking a language course in a classroom, calling it “impossibly slow.” He instead advised in the post to read books or talk to native speakers in order to learn languages.

Barili challenged the notion that learning a language from an audio tape or dictionary is more effective than learning in a classroom.

“You cannot learn a language just from grammar intake,” Barili said. “(You) need a human person … lecturers are professionals.”

Additionally, Goldman said she feels the campus does not value language lecturers, alleging that the campus often leaves them out of the loop when making decisions that affect lecturers.

Cascardi responded to the sentiment that language lecturers feel devalued by the campus.

Lecturers are of tremendous value. Every department in the Arts and Humanities Division understands how critical they are,Cascardi said. “Lack of value (or) appreciation is part of (the) pain that comes from difficult financial situations of (the) campus.”

Linda Rugg, associate dean of the Arts and Humanities Division in the College of Letters and Science, said the division wants to try to preserve campus language programs with diminishing resources but, she added, thinks that the difficulties with funding are going to continue.

“(We) have to think imaginatively about how we might be able to reorganize (and) use resources,” Rugg said. “We do anticipate that going forward, we will have budget constraints and rising costs.”

Nina Djukic, a campus student who recently authored an op-ed published in the Daily Cal regarding campus language departments, wrote that the language lecturer petition “will only stave off the inevitable if the undervaluing of our language departments persists.”

“Language is a worldview … it is also a profound marker of identity and of signaling where we come from,” Djukic wrote. “Our language departments deserve our support; both moral and financial. Let’s share the wealth. Literally.”

Contact Ani Vahradyan at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @anivahrad.

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  • Left Unsaid

    Diversity is threatened? Shut down the U until its saved.

  • theres so many languages that people demand be funded but none of the students actually want to learn. such a waste of money

  • flashsteve

    I have a more basic question: what is the appropriate role of an academic institution in teaching foreign languages? Could we have the same, or better, results with self-study, travel abroad or non-institutional instruction? Universities cannot do everything.