Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Despite uncertainty, German department remains at Whitman, but with changes

Students wanting to major in German can breathe a sign of relief: Whitman’s German studies major is sticking around for the time being after its up-in-the-air status earlier this semester.

Susan Babilon, senior adjunct assistant professor of German, said that the foreign languages and literatures department has not replaced a tenure-line German professor who left in 2008, and the department was told earlier this semester that the German studies major would soon be phased out.

Faculty support ultimately led to the major staying.

“About a week after the announcement of the phasing out of the major, the major was actually not cut due to an administrative technicality,” Babilon said. “At a faculty meeting the college faculty also expressed its overwhelming support of maintaining the major. Since that time the affiliated German studies faculty — who are faculty who teach classes in English on a German topic — and I have been working hard to strengthen and maintain the major, despite cuts in staffing next year.”

Provost and Dean of Faculty Timothy Kaufman-Osborn said that while Whitman will continue to offer German language classes, the college is exploring ways to restructure the major.

“Because of student enrollment pressures in other academic programs, we have found it necessary to consider shifting some instructional resources to areas of greater student demand,” he said in an e-mail. “In the meantime, as I understand it, a group of faculty are exploring creative ways to reconfigure the German studies program, perhaps along the lines of the current Asian studies program. I look forward to seeing the results of those efforts.”

There was one German studies major in 2010, a decline from four in 2007.

Though the 2011-12 Course Catalog shows both Babilon and the department’s visiting assistant professor Amy Blau returning next year, fewer classes — especially German-language literature classes — will be offered.

“While the affiliated faculty will be making accommodations for German studies students in their cross-listed German studies courses next year by allowing interested advanced German students to complete some of their reading and writing assignments in German, there will actually be fewer courses taught in the German language next year,” Babilon said.

"Das Deutsche Haus", the German House. Photo Credit: Julia Bowman

Sophomore Bo Erickson was disappointed by the lack of German-language offerings.

“There were all these cool classes in film and literature [listed in the catalog] which are not being offered,” she said. “I was really excited about a philosophy course under the German department that was canceled.”

Sophomore Kelley Hall, RA of the Das Deutsche Haus, the German Interest House, noted that some courses such as the 100, 200 and 300 level German-language courses will definitely be offered next year, but that many electives listed in the catalog will not.

German: Kelley Hall, RA of the German House, is one of the students who will be affected by recent changes in the department. Photo Credit: Julia Bowman

“It will be interesting to see what happens in years to come with the department. Right now there are many courses, in art history for example, which can count towards a German major.”

Hall started taking German at Whitman this year and works with Babilon in discussing the role of Das Haus on campus.

“The professors obviously brought up the changes going on with the German department in class, but students haven’t really been involved in the overall decision process,” Hall said. “I find it concerning that majors like education are being dropped, and of course I am opposed to losing the German major.”

Hall will be studying in Berlin this summer and will continue taking German in the fall but is disappointed that “half the upper level German classes aren’t offered next year.”

Erickson, who is currently in German 206, said that the uncertainty about the department’s future was evident in class.

“When they thought the department was shutting down, people were prevented from declaring [a German major] for a week, but then [the administration] said that it was no longer a concern and that students could be free to declare again,” she said. “During that week some students we’re pretty torn up about the whole situation.”

Part of the problem may be the lack of literature offerings before attaining an advanced level of language. Erickson said that students starting in lower level German courses must take 2 1/2 years of strictly language courses before delving into literature courses.

“I just wish there were more intermediate opportunities to   study German culture in depth,” she said.

The literature aspect is important for Hall, who said that German-language works are influential in many disciplines.

“I don’t think a lot of people realize how many of the original texts in math, science   and literature are written in German,” she said. “It is a really powerful language.”

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