German grad program may go the way of the Berlin Wall

BY NICOLE KARLIS | JUNE 19, 2009 7:21 AM

Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Chances are if you don’t understand the question, you won’t any time soon.

The UI’s foreign-language department has toyed with the idea of a two-year suspension of the German graduate programs. And even though the university hasn’t talked about cutting the undergraduate track, officials are concerned about the long-term affects of losing the higher level courses.

“In theory, study-abroad numbers in Germany may decline because if you have fewer [teaching assistants], that will lead to fewer German classes, which will lead to fewer study-abroad students,” said John Rogers, an adviser in the UI Office for Study Abroad.

The decline in interest for the German programs is not new, but the trend has caught other languages — including Spanish — as well. Overall, national enrollment of students decreased from 1994 to 2000, according the latest summary report from the Foreign Language Enrollments in Public Secondary School.

The University of Southern California was the first major institution to make the cut — the school has decided to nix the entire German department and combine it with another program. Other institutions followed. Tenure-track searches for German programs have reportedly been axed, and several undergraduate programs around the country — such as the ones at Florida State University and the University of Idaho — are considering the possibility.

Many are discouraged about the changes, including Helen Zimmer-Loew, the executive director of the American Association of Teachers of German.

“I was sad to hear about the graduate program in German at the University of Iowa being discontinued,” she wrote in an e-mail, noting that German is the third-most taught language in most states, behind Spanish and French.

Locally, the negative trends have not hit lower levels of German instruction, said Linsey Choun, who teaches German to seventh-graders at Southeast Junior High School.

“I have not seen any deficits in enrollment here since I started teaching nearly four years ago,” she said. “Our program is very strong.”

The 2000 foreign-language report did not have data available for Iowa’s language enrollment in the seventh and eighth grades.

Zimmer-Loew has some theories about the lack of interest. Perhaps some believe the language is difficult to learn or think changing demographics in the nation makes Spanish a more practical language to study, she wrote.

Meanwhile, it is unclear whether the UI will join the trend. The state Board of Regents did not make an anticipated decision about the university’s request to suspend the German graduate programs. The regents said they want faculty and student input on the matter.

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