UI asks regents to end German Ph.D. program

BY ARIANA WITT | MARCH 23, 2011 7:20 AM

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The University of Iowa Ph.D. program in German could be the unlucky number 13.

Today, officials seek to terminate the UI Ph.D. program in the German department, pending the state Board of Regents' approval at its meeting in Ames.

The program has not graduated any students since May 2003. Four students are enrolled in the program, said John Keller, the dean of the Graduate College.

"In order to maintain any doctoral program, you need to see interest in that program," he said. "And we haven't seen that in the last four or five years."

But Paul Schons, a professor of German at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., said the possible closing is unfortunate because interest in German is on the rise following a downturn that lasted around five years.

"In Minnesota, we're finding that German studies are increasing at the Universities of Minnesota and Wisconsin, mostly because these areas have large programs with a large German immigration population," said Schons, who has taught the language for 44 years.

Many who pursue graduate degrees in language most commonly go on to work in higher education, U.S. diplomatic services or international communications, he said.

The regents voted to suspend admissions to the German Ph.D. program as well as the M.A. program in September 2009 because of low enrollment and a loss of faculty.

Carl Follmer, a second-year graduate student in German, said he had considered going for a doctorate in the area but changed his degree path to comparative literature when enrollment was suspended.

"I think for centuries, one of the pillars of liberal-arts education has been foreign languages, so to cut out such an important aspect as a doctoral program is really a shame," he said.

Following the February 2010 Task Force on Graduate Education, which named the program as one requiring further review, UI officials decided terminating the program would be the best option.

Though UI officials are hoping to end the German Ph.D. program at today's meeting, they also hope to reopen enrollment to the master of arts program to potential graduate students.

The department is under the umbrella of the newly formed UI Division of World Languages, Literatures and Cultures, which bodes well for the future of the M.A. program, said Professor Roland Racevskis, the head of the German Department.

"The division is making new configurations possible and boosts interdisciplinary interactions for students," he said.

Graduate officials are discussing changes to the program, and preparing it for students who would be eligible to enroll in the fall pending the regent's vote, he said.

"We're doing everything we can to support the students in the program and making sure the program is completed with great standards," Racevskis said.

Keller said the Graduate College is hoping to attract at least six graduate students in the program.

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