By Adesholla Bishop
“In today’s globalised world, language skills are essential. It is for this reason that you are expected to reach a certain level of competence in a language … during your studies at AUC,” reads the description of the language requirement on the AUC website. The six languages AUC offers – Dutch, French, German, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, and Arabic – have become integral to AUC’s provision of a Liberal Arts and Sciences education in the years since the university’s establishment.
Yet, The Herring has learned from various sources that the future role of languages within the AUC curriculum is uncertain. Several faculty members disclose that there are ongoing discussions about removing these courses from students’ graduation requirements, an anticipated change that would make the languages optional rather than mandatory courses.
Dr. Michiel van Drunen, Director of Education at AUC, confirms that there may be incoming changes to the language courses, but is unable to specify the extent of these changes. “We are indeed looking into the language course offerings within AUC Next,” he says, continuing that “it is a bit early to discuss this … because we are still in an exploratory phase.”
AUC Next, to which van Drunen refers, is “the name for the process of developing a new five-year strategic vision for AUC,” explains Head of Studies Academic Core Dr. Marianne Riphagen. Involved in this process are the AUC Management Team as well as the three participatory governance bodies of the Board of Studies, the Student Council, and the Works Council. Other AUC faculty and students have also had the opportunity to contribute to AUC Next in various Community Sessions earlier this academic year.
A document shared in November 2020 introduces and details the original vision of AUC Next, describing it as “a fresh look at our [AUC’s] curriculum” and a successor to AUC21, the five-year plan for AUC that was developed in 2016. Language courses appear to be being discussed as part of AUC Next’s goal to “further simplify degree requirements and associated procedures.”
Riphagen says that “conversations about a change to the language requirement have occurred within AUC Next meetings from early on in the strategic vision development.” News of these conversations began spreading earlier this year, resulting in a petition entitled “Protect the languages at AUC” being shared among the university’s students, faculty, alumni, and parents.
Many concerns about changes to the language requirement relate not only to the loss of language competency that this change could bring but also to the impacts it will have on intercultural understanding since, as Riphagen states, “language is culture.”
Dr. Dawn Skorczewski, lecturer and coordinator of languages at AUC emphasises that diversity is central to the ongoing discussions about language courses: “How is AUC imagining our students, how is it imagining our faculty, and how is it imagining who we are all becoming together as students, as faculty, and as administrators?”
Belén Arias García, a Spanish lecturer and assistant coordinator of languages at AUC, shares a similar sentiment: “AUC language courses are not about language skills only; they are about intercultural competence and understanding yourself through others, respecting others, and building up empathy for other cultures, other beliefs, other values.”
In a group interview, Skorczewski and Arias García, joined by Arabic lecturer and incoming coordinator of languages Mona Hegazy, express particular frustrations with the justification of the anticipated change to the language requirement. “The problem is that their [AUC Next’s] answers are that students already know languages or that they want more specialisation, but they don’t give you real reasons,” Hegazy says. “There are answers, but no reasons.”
Skorczewski explains that “the language courses receive some of the very best evaluations in the university,” but Hegazy adds that “students are usually positive about doing the languages after they do them.” These lecturers worry that students will opt not to take language courses if the requirement is removed, potentially leading to low enrollment rates and, eventually, the cancellation of several language courses.
In an effort to maintain the language requirement, Arias García and Hegazy compiled an Education Development Initiative (EDI) with two other lecturers associated with AUC and the University of Amsterdam. Arias García explains that the EDI reinforces “the idea of learning a language through culture, and it designs a whole portfolio or catalogue for teachers with cultural activities” in its provision of both research into the value of and a theoretical framework for achieving intercultural competence through languages.
This EDI was shared with AUC Next, but neither Arias García nor Hegazy believes it has influenced the ongoing decisions regarding language requirements. “For me, it feels a little bit like a lost cause, like this decision has been made – not by us, definitely not by the students,” Arias García says. She adds, “There is uncertainty about what is going to happen with the languages, and we need a deeper discussion of how to shape the curriculum at AUC.”
Explicit details regarding the anticipated changes to AUC’s language requirements, as well as when any changes will go into effect, are still outstanding. An official announcement of these details is expected to follow the finalisation of AUC Next in the upcoming academic year.