On Friday at 1:00 p.m. the Board of Trustees of University of Southern Maine will meet in Sullivan Gymnasium to discuss eliminating programs in Applied Medical Science and French. Meanwhile, Arne Duncan says, “It’s absolutely essential for the citizens of the United States to become fluent in other languages—and schools, colleges and universities must include producing bilingual students as a central part of their mission.”
The University Trustees should remember that if Maine is to compete in the globalized world her students need to be conversant in other languages. French is a vibrant language spoken by hundreds of millions of people worldwide and projected to grow in importance in the next five decades, possibly overtaking Spanish. Our nearest neighbor, Canada, is a bilingual French-English country, and a vital trading partner for the United States, and in particular Maine. According to Matthew Stone, writing August 2013 in the Bangor Daily News, “Canada continues to be the state’s dominant customer, purchasing $1.1 billion in Maine exports in 2011, up from $838.9 million in 2000.” Cutting French from the University of Southern Maine’s curriculum sends a message to Canada that our state is not interested in expanding trade with her. Further, cutting French sends a message to the university’s students that no one expects them to play a role in the global economy.
“Today, even if public schools wished to provide second language instruction, the dearth of qualified instructors often prevents school leaders from hiring teachers.” This remark was made by Arne Duncan, and is certainly true already in Maine. I have seen firsthand how difficult it is to find qualified, talented language teachers. If the university eliminates French programming, the talent pool for language instruction in Maine will shrink, effectively minimizing our K – 12 students’ chances of achieving language proficiency by high school graduation. Meanwhile, internationally, students are learning two and three languages as a matter of course in school.
Budget woes in the state are real, but we should not try to address them by impoverishing the education we provide our students. Maine college students deserve a chance to participate in the globalized world of the future, and top students understand that. If we cut language programming we nudge more top students to seek an education outside of the state, speeding the brain drain. I urge the Trustees to find another means of closing the university budget shortfall.