By McKenna Mitchell
Junior Erin Woggon was never able to speak to her German grandparents before they died. She knew very little German, such as asking what someone’s favorite subject in school is, and was only able to have a conversation with them if with the help of her parents.
Despite being a German dual citizen, Woggon said her family only spoke English in the home while growing up in the United States. While this helped her learn English for school, it formed a language barrier between her and her father’s German family. She was never able to overcome this barrier before both of her grandparents died while she was in high school.
After her loss, Woggon entered college with a goal in mind.
“My life goal, my one goal in life, has been to become fluent in German,” Woggon said.
Woggon was in her third year in the German program when the Comprehensive Academic Program Evaluation committee began their process and recommended to suspend the German major and minor.
Within the Department of Modern Languages, the French major and minor and the Spanish minor are recommended for suspension by the CAPE committee as well. CAPE spokesperson Kirk Atkinson said in an email that all students currently enrolled in these programs will be able to complete them, although no new students can be added to these programs.
These modern language programs are a part of the 101 programs at WKU recommended for suspension. CAPE began their process in August 2018, according to the WKU CAPE Timeline. They recommended certain programs either grow, maintain, transform or suspend.
The Board of Regents approved these recommendations on April 12 but will make their full approval in May.
In an email to all students on March 12, 2019, the former provost Terry Ballman said the CAPE process is a part of “WKU’s 10-year strategic plan” to keep WKU “strong and sustainable.”
The head of the Department of Modern Languages, Laura McGee, said in an email that the department is optimistic that WKU will continue to have “an appealing range of offerings in language and culture for students from a wide variety of disciplines.”
“Global competency is important to employers, and learning a language provides key insights into how people think and what they value,” McGee said. “We want to make sure our students are well prepared for successful careers after they leave WKU.”
Woggon, a German and International Affairs double-major, was upset by the recommendations. Woggon said her German 330/430 class discussed the changes with their professor, McGee.
“Everyone got emotional, really emotional,” Woggon said.
Woggon said if WKU had not had a German program, she would not have enrolled.
“I think cutting languages pushes students who are interested in that away, and I think high achieving students often are interested in learning languages,” Woggon said.
Woggon requested an office hour with WKU President Timothy Caboni to discuss the CAPE suspensions but could not attend the hour she was offered because she had class.
According to Inside Higher Ed, there has been a 9.2 percent drop in enrollment in modern languages in colleges and universities across the United States from 2013 to 2016.
Before the recommendations to suspend programs, WKU and the University of Kentucky were the only two of the top four largest public schools in Kentucky to offer a four-year degree in German. The University of Louisville offers a minor in German while Eastern Kentucky University offers a certificate in German.
As for the other programs currently recommended for suspension at WKU, UK offers a major and minor in French and Francophone studies, and a major and minor in Spanish. U of L offers a major and minor in French and Spanish. EKU offers a major and minor in Spanish and a certificate in French.
Following the CAPE recommendations, UK will be the largest public university in Kentucky to offer the most four-year degree options in the state for students interested in French, German and Spanish.
According to the WKU Factbook 2018, enrollment in the Department of Modern Languages increased between 2013 and 2016. In 2013, 160 students were enrolled. Enrollment then increased to its highest point in 2016 with 257 students enrolled. In 2017, enrollment dropped to 238 students.
Of the 238 students enrolled in fall 2017, 22 were French majors, 11 were German majors, and 111 were Spanish majors, according to the Board of Regents agenda on April 12, 2019.
Total enrollment at WKU is down as well, with a difference of 4 percent since fall of 2017, according to the Fall 2018 enrollment report.
Freshman Claire Linder, a previous French minor student, is a mathematical economics major. She said her goal is to work for the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund or the World Health Organization. She originally wanted to learn French help her achieve her career goals.
Linder said her fall French 101 class left her feeling as if she hadn’t learned much. For the spring semester, Linder took French but dropped her French minor. She said she is frustrated the program is being suspended.
Sophomore Rachel Greis, a Spanish and Psychology double-major, said she began learning Spanish in high school and enjoyed it. For her first year of college, Greis was Spanish minor, but then changed her minor to a major in the fall of 2018.
Greis said she likes the Spanish program for its sense of community.
“We all kind of know each other; it’s kind of like a community kind of thing,” Greis said. “Everybody pretty much knows the professors by this point which is cool so the class feels a lot more like closely knit and it’s also a lot easier to feel like you can speak and not be embarrassed.”
While the Spanish minor has been recommended for suspension, the Spanish major is recommended to undergo a “transformation,” which means that students are still able to enroll as a Spanish major.
Before the CAPE process began, changes had already been made to the language requirements for WKU students. In 2017, a resolution was passed by the University Senate to count two years of completed high school language classes as the student’s modern language credit at WKU.
Woggon said she disagrees strongly with the change to the requirement and said students should take modern language classes in college.
“I think in every single workplace having a language only adds to your strength,” she said.
While Linder said learning a language is beneficial, she said students should be able to choose whether or not they want to take a modern language class since they pay to take college classes.
“Obviously a language is good, and it sets you apart from people I think, but at the same time I think it should be your own decision,” Linder said.
Atkinson said changes to the Department of Modern Languages began when the language requirement was changed.
“As I understand the situation in Modern Languages, changes were already in effect primarily due to the temporary waiver on foreign language requirements,” Atkinson said in an email.
Despite her disappointment towards the CAPE recommendations and the change in language requirements, Woggon is still planning to further her language learning. After Woggon’s graduation in 2020, she is planning to leave the United States and live in Berlin, Germany.
One part of her move that excites her is living in a country where speaking multiple languages is normalized and encouraged. Woggon said once she is satisfied with her level of proficiency in German, she will begin learning another language.
“I just am so passionate about language learning and I think that in a society and world that is becoming increasingly more globalized every single day, English is not going to be the most dominant language,” Woggon said.