News: Language Losses

Languages Staff in the Arts Faculty at the University of Auckland are reeling after the news that the proposal by the University to cut eleven full time staff positions has been approved. The proposal, initially set in May was approved two weeks ago by the Vice Chancellor. This proposal included cuts to several departments, in particular two academics in the French department, two in Italian – halving the faculty from four to two staff members-  and cutting the only Russian academic at the University, Dr. Mark Swift. These cuts follow significant opposition from students, supported by the Tertiary Education Union. French Club, an on-campus club for French students opposed the cuts, in particular, the executive committee posted a statement on the UoA French Club Facebook page slamming the use of “cherry-picked mathematical data” to justify the cuts. Furthermore, the club questioned the appropriateness of the academic cuts in the context of Stuart McCutcheon’s $710,000 salary, a salary that makes him the highest paid chief executive of all New Zealand Tertiary Institutions.

The University of Auckland’s School of Cultures, Languages and Linguistics is rated within the top 100 schools internationally. There is now concern that this ranking may drop due to the loss of staff. Furthermore, there is concern that the remaining staff within these faculties may have to assume extra lecturing responsibilities, further diminishing the quality of student interactions with these lecturers and decreasing the cultural papers available.

French Club president, Jacob Siermans, commented that the loss of the two academics in the French department, Kevin Mendousse and Simon Kitson, would result in the loss of two very unique academics who specialties were unmatched by other academics in the French department. In particular, Kevin Mendousse has a doctorate in French Language, his skill earning him the nickname ‘Mr. Grammar’ from students.

Following the proposal, the French club initiated a postcard writing campaign, sponsored by the New Zealand Tertiary Union. Siermans indicates that approximately 230 students wrote postcards in support of the Languages staff. Siermans hand-delivered these postcards to the Vice Chancellors office however was told that he was unavailable. As of this interview, 10 days later, he has not received any response.

Languages have suffered from diminishing student numbers in previous years. New initiatives have been introduced such as the language requirement for the new Bachelor of Global Studies as well as the new language module within the Bachelor of Arts. However, no formal sponsorship or outreach programme exists for the University to encourage high school students to study French. Siermans said that himself and Professor Mendousse have visited High Schools to promote French at the University, something they did of their own accord. Although the numbers of students have boosted as a result of this, the cuts are still taking place nonetheless.

Siermans noted that the six to twelve month trial period to monitor student numbers was not long enough, asking whether the University has not given enough time to consider the staff cuts proposal.

Whilst the staff cuts are designed to decrease the costs of the languages department in order to keep them available, these cuts do not promote growth for Languages. With a now likely decrease in the quality of study available, it is unlikely that students will choose to study a Language at a once Top 100 School, now, half of what it used to be.