Opinion: Loss of language is a shame

I understand the difficulty and weight of the decisions made that were communicated to students on Friday (September 25) via email, and I understand the necessity behind those decisions. Nevertheless, I hope that my small piece of the story can at least be heard and taken into consideration.

Calvin’s German program was the primary reason I chose to study here. Perhaps there are few people who know right off the bat what they want to study, but for me, it was German. I found the study abroad options connected with the program especially attractive. The Calvin German Interim abroad, for example, goes back more than 40 years. At a time when hardly anyone was attempting study abroad programs, Calvin German professors were organizing stays with host families and city visits—  even in communist East Germany. The elimination of the German major would necessarily put this historically rich tradition in peril, both due to faculty limitations and the expected decrease in student enrollment in a minor-only program.

Language study facilitates depth of study with its engagement in study abroad, in literature and in culture. To learn another language is to open up — to open up your mind to the intricacies of another grammar and thought structure, to open up your eyes to new possibilities in careers and experiences, to open up your ears to new sounds and stories. To study another language is to love your neighbor, to enter into her native tongue and seek to understand her on her own terms. If Calvin is to continue to educate students how to be better servants of Christ, contemporary foreign languages must remain a priority.

My frustration is not, however, just about the threat to my major. The cuts, if carried out as recommended, would severely hollow out the promises of liberal arts that Calvin so proudly holds forth to new students. Where does a student turn when they realize that engineering, nursing or speech pathology isn’t for them, when the specialized program with loud promises of a secure future turns out to be the wrong fit? What keeps students like that at Calvin? It is meaningful liberal arts offerings.

We ask you to prayerfully reconsider these cuts. If they must be made, we deserve to know of Calvin’s plans to reinvest in the affected programs in the future. To that end, “reinvention” must not sacrifice depth of content on the altar of easily marketable “innovations” and “interdisciplinary collaboratives.”

When I was a freshman, engineering students outright mocked me for choosing to study German. I petition you, as I did them, not to make a mockery of this and other courses of study — not just for my sake or the sake of my colleagues, but for the sake of Calvin as an institution. As the world around us grows ever more interconnected, the tightening of our budget should not necessitate the narrowing of our own microcosm here at Calvin.

Thank you.