Campus language departments create petition to combat budget cuts

Calvin Tang/Staff

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Facing funding cuts, campus language lecturers introduced an online petition last week to combat potential threats to the livelihood of their departments.

The petition titled “Stop Shrinking Our Language Departments” is addressed to incoming chancellor Carol Christ and UC President Janet Napolitano and emphasizes the uniqueness and diversity of the 67 world languages offered on campus. As of press time, the petition requires 1,500 signatures and has 1,145, according to the website.

The UC Berkeley Division of Arts & Humanities, which includes foreign language departments, received a budget reduction from central campus that will take effect next academic year, according to the division’s dean, Anthony Cascardi. The cuts significantly affect funding for foreign language instructors, a large number of whom do not have tenure.

The language departments are “being threatened on two fronts,” according to the petition. In addition to language budgets being reduced, campus administration is shifting the responsibility for costs from benefits and salary raises to campus language departments.

Budget allocations for faculty who are not tenured or who are not on the tenure track are made according to formulas at the central campus level, and they extend beyond the language departments, according to Cascardi. Additionally, Cascardi said inadequate state funding, coupled with a six-year tuition freeze that has since been lifted, has created financial consequences.

“The campus is teaching a larger number of students while it also bridges a serious structural gap in its finances,” Cascardi said in the email. “We have to be extremely careful about how we … allocate resources so that we do not lose our position of excellence in foreign language instruction.”

Victoria Robertson, a lecturer in the Spanish and Portuguese department, called cuts that shift budgetary burdens to departments a “departmental tax.” As one of the writers and signers of the petition, Robertson said she hopes that some of the campus’s budget reallocations will be rethought.

Shifts in funding affect the language departments’ ability to support UC Berkeley’s tradition of supporting diversity, equity and inclusion, according to the petition. In the petition, language lecturers demand that the university reinvest in language departments, reject the proposed minimum student enrollment requirements to determine workload and honor the terms of a 2016 contract to pay both full- and part-time language professors in parity with other campuses.

“I hope that the petition will be used to help make a case that these language classes are important to students,” said language student Gilad Barach in an email. “As students, we act as shareholders in the University, our tuition gives us the right to speak about where we want our funds going.”

Ana-Belén Redondo-Campillos, a lecturer of Spanish and Catalan language who supported the petition, said she believes determining the value of language courses with numbers is dangerous, adding that she worries about the message cuts could send to students and their communities.

Cascardi said in his email that he remains hopeful that the department can maintain current foreign language offerings in spite of funding reductions.

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