Adjunct cut leaves Japanese program understaffed

Photo+by+Juliana+Ludema.

Photo by Juliana Ludema.

The recent cut of Japanese adjunct professor Yoshiko Tsuda leaves one professor to teach all four levels of Japanese language, a situation the Germanic and Asian Studies department fears may threaten the major. The administration, however, maintains that the cut was a reasoned, and potentially temporary, decision.

According to Elizabeth Vander Lei, the academic dean for the arts, languages and education, the administration hires adjuncts based on factors ranging from student interest to class size, often on a per-semester basis.

“It’s not uncommon to hire an adjunct faculty member and have a need for somebody one term and not have a need the next,” she explained.

However, the cut of Tsuda for the spring 2017 semester shocked the Germanic and Asian Languages department, not only because Tsuda has taught at Calvin for 15 years, but because of the administration’s decision to label Tsuda’s spring Japanese 302 class a “tutorial” due to low enrollment and allow only full-time professors to teach the course.

Larry Herzberg, professor of Chinese at Calvin for 33 years, explained adjunct instructors with Master’s degrees are paid around $6,000 per semester per full class they teach.

Once he learned of the cut, Herzberg suggested the administration allow Tsuda to stay and teach the five students in Japanese 302 at a prorated rate — half the pay she received for teaching the seven 301 students the previous semester.

This wouldn’t “break the bank,” Herzberg argued, but it would “maintain the strength of the program.”

The administration, however, rejected his suggestion. Herzberg and the department’s confusion at this decision stemmed in part from how, in the past, according to Herzberg, four students were enough to offer a class, and “if the enrollment dropped below that, the adjunct was paid on a per-student basis.”

Now, however, the administration handles low-enrolled courses differently from situation to situation, giving no specific number of students courses must reach to avoid becoming tutorials.

As a result, the remaining full-time Japanese faculty member, Kaori Schau, is teaching 29 credits in total this year, five more than what the faculty handbook considers an appropriate full-time load.

Because these 300-level classes are tutorials, explained Corey Roberts, chair of the Germanic and Asian Languages department, they don’t count toward her course load.

“She’s not going to get paid extra for it,” he said. “She just has extra work. Which is a challenge.” If these were normal classes, however, according to the faculty handbook, she would earn extra compensation.

“What constitutes a faculty’s course load is something that I work out with departments,” Vander Lei said. “And I consult with the provost. That’s just Calvin figuring out how we get faculty to a reasonable and fair full-time load.”

Herzberg and Schau, however, have argued the cut of Tsuda puts Schau under undue strain:

“The preparation and class time for teaching a course with only five students is the same as if there were 25 students in the course,” said Herzberg. “Less grading, of course, but the same amount of preparation time.”

For Schau, teaching the program largely on her own is not only difficult, but, she said, detrimental to her students. Unlike other language departments, students don’t have many opportunities to converse with other Japanese speakers, except for the Japanese intern hired each year. As this article went to print, the administration notified Roberts that funding for this intern will completely be eliminated in the fall.

Schau explained teaching and preparing for four classes, serving on faculty senate and working to publish leaves her both little flexibility to work with her students’ schedules and very little time to market the major to potential students.

“Academic departments face diverse challenges,” said Vander Lei, explaining how, while some departments strain to serve all their students, others yearn for higher enrollment. “Those are both difficult situations to be in,” she said. “They are different challenges that require our attention.”

Herzberg said he and the other language faculty understand “the administration’s need to cut costs and we’re sympathetic with their plight.”

However, he maintained that “it seems preferable to hire an adjunct for [Japanese 302] than to overwork a full-time professor like Professor Schau and ask her to teach four different Japanese language courses in a single semester.”

Herzberg was careful to avoid comparing the program’s heartbreak to that of the “many departments in the humanities who recently lost full-time professors who had also served the college for many years and which even had their major program eliminated.“ Yet, he said, “our program is important, too.”

But Vander Lei also gave hope for the future:

“[The Japanese program] may need an adjunct in the fall and then we would address that in the spring or summer. Determining need for adjuncts is a semester-by-semester decision.”

It’s almost certain the department will need help staffing Japanese courses next year, according to Roberts. However, he explained, cutting Tsuda from staff this semester will make it difficult to invite her back and even more difficult to find a new adjunct instructor who not only speaks native Japanese, but also understands how to combine faith with teaching, as Tsuda did well.

“We understand the enrollments are not ideal,” he said, but he explained he and his department had hoped to “build a bridge from this semester to next year that allowed us to keep Tsuda on staff but also wasn’t too costly for the college.”

Despite his concerns, Roberts acknowledged the administration could have simply cancelled Japanese 302 due to this semester’s unusually low enrollment, effectively making completion of the major impossible for those students. But he argued this dichotomy was not exactly fair. “We could have come up with another option,” he said.

According to senior Japanese major Molly Scherneck, “Tsuda-Sensei really has a good knack for balancing praise and pushing you to do better.” She described the dynamic Schau and Tsuda created as good-cop, bad-cop. “You needed one to balance the other.”

Scherneck also praised the relational aspect of Tsuda’s teaching. “She’d have you come in her office, she’d have you sit down, she’d ask about your life. She’d tell you, ‘I pray for you kids every morning.’ She made sure we knew that she loved us and God loved us. She really looked out for all of her students and I think that’s something that’s going to be missing now.”

In the last few years, enrollment in Japanese and Chinese has decreased, not only at Calvin, but, according to Herzberg, across the country. While seven students took Japanese 301 last semester — just shy of the nine-student average from the last seven semesters–this spring’s 302 class has just five. However, since it’s common for Japanese majors to study abroad, this number doesn’t indicate how many students will return and enroll in next year’s courses.

Seven years ago, Japanese enrollments peaked at eighty students. Now, there are 35 majors and minors. To Herzberg, the lack of interest in learning the language of one of the world’s most important economies is disappointing.

People often think Japanese or Chinese is too hard and impractical, but Herzberg argued there are jobs for language majors across diverse disciplines, especially if students pair it with another major. Speaking at least one language beyond English, according to Herzberg, will facilitate Christians living out their call to be “ambassadors of peace, goodwill, and understanding” throughout the world.

Vander Lei acknowledged that student interest goes in cycles. “We want to maintain majors, we don’t want to just go around chasing student interest because culture will change, history will change. There will be a resurgence of interest.”

Trying to encourage students to join a department, however, is not the goal of the administration, she explained. “We’re here to serve students, who you are as a child of God, who God created you to be. Our question is how we can best facilitate that.”

To Herzberg and Schau, the dedication of current majors and minors and the unique aspects of the program make the major worth keeping. Calvin is one of the few Christian colleges offering a Japanese major. “That’s why I don’t want to lose the major,” said Schau, “otherwise our enrollment will go down even more if we can only offer a minor.”

“We’re one of the reasons why a lot of students chose Calvin,” said Herzberg. “They want a Christian college with a certain major like engineering, but they also want Japanese or Chinese.”

“We’re a small department,” said Scherneck. “That’s what makes it great. If you only have five students in a class you can get so much more practice than if you have 25 students in a class, and I think that’s important for language.”

Herzberg has been attempting to reach out to students and show them the value of majoring in an Asian language, but hasn’t seen much change. “I’m kind of at a loss,” he said “I think it’s because it’s a nation wide problem.”

To inspire potential and current Japanese and Chinese students, he and the department are releasing a booklet featuring the stories and career paths of over forty Chinese and Japanese Calvin alumni.