The Faculty of Arts has experienced some backlash from staff and students after removing Persian, Portuguese and Swahili as language options, due to a combination of budget cuts and low enrollment.
Garrett Epp, Interim Chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies, said the courses were removed after campus-wide cuts.
“We knew well in advance that we simply did not have the funding to teach what we wanted to teach,” he said. “It’s cut across the board.”
The three languages were each scheduled for four courses: 111 and 211 in fall as beginner and intermediate classes respectively, and their continuations 112 and 212 in the winter term.
Because of their small size, the courses were to be taught by contract instructors, instead of full-time returning faculty. The funds for classes taught by contract instructors comes from the Faculty of Arts, which Epp says still has to cut $1.5 million from its budget.
“(The faculty) tells us what we can and cannot do. They give us the budget,” he explained. “(We) decided to make those cuts earlier this time, so we know how much money we had and how much we didn’t, and we still can’t afford everything that we’re planning to offer this year. It’s fairly dire.
“Suddenly these students have nowhere to go. There’s no obvious substitute (for the class). Those students aren’t likely to just take Spanish instead, for example.”
Epp said that classes with less than 12 students were cut automatically, which also affected larger programs like Ukrainian which had some courses dropped and others maintained.
There are exceptions, however. Some classes are required by students to graduate, and the department must make sure those courses are available, even if there are less than 12 people enrolled. Epp said that a class size of 15-20 people is ideal for a language class, and they can’t resort to lecture-style courses of more than 100 students as other departments have done to save money.
“Languages are expensive,” he said. “We’re trying to find ways of having more sustainable and predictable course offerings, particularly in those less-taught languages.”
Ahmed Sabetghadam was planning to teach Persian this semester but was notified in June his classes were cut.
“The department made the decision without consulting me,” he said. “They just told me that the courses, all of them, were cancelled.”
Sabetghadam started teaching the language 12 years ago, when Persian was still in its infancy at the U of A.
“I wasn’t just an instructor; I really helped the department establish these courses at the start. Many people put so much energy into making it what it is.”
While the news was disappointing for him, Sabetghadam said he’s not financially worried, as he makes a living running Sabzy Persian Grill, the family business on Whyte Ave.
“I never, ever taught this course for the money. It was a passion,” he said. “If the enrolment is low, I am willing for my salary to be lowered for as many of the students are not enrolled. I could’ve even taught this at no cost at all — my gift to the University of Alberta.
“The way they did this cancellation was so unfair and very disrespectful to the integrity of the history of these courses,” Sabetghadam continued.
Sabetghadam said Epp offered to talk in October to work out a solution to have the courses back in the calendar for next year. The Collective Body for Arts Students is also currently meeting with faculty and department members to address student concerns, particularly from students who were looking to continue their language studies.
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