By Anjelica Zalin
Spanish is one of the many departments suffering at UCI because of the budget crisis. As in many programs at UCI, professors’ workloads have increased considerably, graduate students have suffered, and there is an overall lack of funding for necessary components in the department.
Interviewed for this article was the Chair of the Spanish Department, Horacio Legras, who is an associate Professor for the Spanish and Portuguese Department in the School of Humanities. Also interviewed was Professor Glenn Levine, who is the Language Program Director and Associate Professor for German, as well as the Director for the Humanities Language Learning Program, and the Faculty Director for the Center for International Education. Legras and Levine were among several people I interviewed on UCI's language departments as whole.
Further, I observed a class that nearly exceeds the cap for students in language class, which was originally 15 people but is now 25 (class size is a casualty of budget cuts). This class was a Spanish 1A class, which had about 25 people in it. Students who arrived late had to sit in seats further from the table around which students gathered, because of the limited space, making it less convenient to write and set books down. I also found that there was less student-to-teacher interaction because of the large size of the class. In contrast, I also sat in on a Spanish 2AB section with just 11 people enrolled. The discussion was more fluid because the students were able to sit in a small circle, making it easy to converse with one another. The students also seemed like they knew each other extremely well, making conversation both in English and Spanish, natural. There was also good teacher-to-student interaction because of the manageable size.
The following FAQ explores some of the Spanish Department's responses to the budget cuts in detail.
Q. How large is the Spanish department in terms professors and majors?
A. As a department that used to have about 14 professors, the Spanish department now has only about 7, a number that has fluctuated this year due to changes within the department. It has approximately 120 majors and 28 graduate students with 98 language classes and 32 upper division undergraduate language classes. This coincides with the University of California Statistical Summary of Students and Staff, which states that there are 150 majors in the Foreign Languages and Literature discipline, at UC Irvine, out of 22,076 undergrads in the Fall of 2008, making up about 1% of the distribution. Provided that the numbers have not changed drastically over the past year, this would mean the Spanish majors make up a large portion of this number.
According to the Office of Institutional Research at UCI, there are 87 undergraduate students and 42 graduate students in the Spanish department for the 2009 Fall Quarter, bringing the total to 129. Also according the OIR, there are 2,287 undergraduate humanities majors for the 2009-2010 school year. According to the course catalogue for 2009-2010 year, one of the requirements for the School of Humanities is 2 years of language completion, other than English, unless otherwise satisfied by AP scores in high school or if a student tests out of a UCI language placement exam. This means that a large portion of humanities students are enrolled in language classes including Spanish, which means many students are exposed to the Spanish department. In fact, UCI has a general education requirement which requires a language other than English to be taken if certain requirements have not been met prior to college, such as AP scores, subject tests, or UCI testing. Professor Legras also said that there are approximately 380 students per quarter enrolled in a Spanish class. Including the summer session, there are about 1,200 students that take some kind of Spanish class at UCI each year. This is a large number of students who have some kind of contact within the Spanish department.
Q. How has the Spanish department had to adapt to the budget crisis?
A. Not only have the professors dwindled to only half of what they used to be in the last five years, but the “hiring freeze” as described by Professors Levine and Legras, has prevented the language departments from alleviating the work load from the already over worked staff members. In addition to this, there was a cap on the language classes for 18 people per class. In the last four months the cap has increased to 20, then to 22 and is now finally at 25, which is nearly a 50% increase. Professor Legras has stated that these numbers are too large for a language class and would be far more difficult for the TA’s to teach as effectively.
In budgetary terms, Professor Legras stated that the state of California has cut the budget by approximately 35%. The school of humanities is based on 98% funding, meaning that like some other schools, there are no private grants. The school of humanities is suffering potentially more than others at UCI because the budget is 35% cut of 98% funding, making the recent budget crisis a huge impact on the humanities. Professor Legras mentioned however, that without furloughs, the situation could be far worse.
Q. How has the workload increased for the professors and other members of the Spanish Department?
A. Having only 7 professors in the Spanish department currently, they are spread very thin and have all had to take on numerous other duties. One aspect in the Spanish department that has increased the workload immensely for professors is the time demanding system of promotions within the department. There are different levels of promotion which are assistant, associate, and full which all require committees to review them. This year there are five promotion cases with only four professors reviewing them as some are unable to participate in the committees, such as Professor Legras who is the Chair. The department now has to push back two of the promotion cases to the Winter and committees which originally always contained three people, have now been reduced to just two, making the work load increasingly difficult and time consuming for the remaining professors.
Another example of the financial burden and increasing workloads, Professor Legras informed me of, was the position of the Language Coordinator. This job entailed an exceedingly long amount of desk work each day, plus overseeing 98 classes, 32 TA’s, every syllabus for a class, the performance of each TA within the class, and the placement for each student in the Spanish department. Recently the language coordinator became very ill and needed to leave the position. When a replacement was requested, there was talk of adding it to the duties of other professors or just simply not having a language coordinator. Professor Legras said, “If we don’t have a language coordinator, there is no Spanish program.” They have since hired a lecturer earning only the pay of a TA to take on this job, for 12 months a year including the summer classes. Professor Legras has stated how happy the department is with her work and their goal now is to increase her salary.
In addition to this, many professors in the language departments in general have many duties besides their teaching. Professor Levine stated that Professors three main goals are teaching, researching, and writing. With extra duties implemented by the budget crisis, there is less time to do research. Professor Levine holds many positions in addition to teaching at UCI, which seems to be a theme in the language departments. He not only teaches German, but he is the faculty director for UCI Center of International Education and founded the Humanities Language Learning Program at UCI. With all of these different ventures, there is little time left after teaching. As Professor Levine explained to me, there is something called a “course release” given to a professor after a certain amount of time, where a teacher is hired part time to teach one course in his stead. However, due to lack of funding and the “hiring freeze”, all requests for course release have been denied, increasing the work load greatly for professors that are already extremely busy. While, Professor Levine could choose to take the course release if he wished, this would leave even more work for his remaining colleagues in the department.
Q. How has the budget crisis affected the language departments’ ability to bring in guest professors?
A. Up until last year, Professor Legras informed me that each year a distinguished professor was invited to UCI to teach for 10 weeks, with a budget of $48,000. However, this is no longer happening. Professor Legras spoke of what a positive thing this used to be as it benefitted the Spanish department and UCI as a whole to have, usually, an international professor spend time at the campus. Professor Legras spoke of how wonderful it was for the undergraduate and graduate students to interact with such a renowned professor.
Professor Levine has found the German department in a similar situation regarding the lack of funding needed to bring in a distinguished professor as a guest for a quarter. A German scholar typically from out of the country was brought in to teach for a quarter. Professor Levine spoke of how it augmented the German department and regretted that this was one of the first things to be cut after the budget crisis occurred. He also explained that any guest lecturers that were brought in were generally from fairly close by, which he explained the German department is appreciative to have, but can no longer afford to bring in international guests.
Q. How have Graduate students been affected by the budget crisis within the language departments?
A. The situation with graduate students is a very serious problem at this point, mainly because there are less people applying because there is not enough money to offer to the grad students. There used to be a six year guarantee for financial support for a grad student which has recently been cut down to about three and half years. Not only is the financial situation an issue, but with the decrease in students attending the University, there is a risk that there will not be enough classes available for the grad students to teach. Professor Legras said ideally, a grad student should be able to teach one course at UCI, but due to budgetary constraints, many are required to take a leave of absence and must teach several classes at a junior college. However, grad students are an extremely important part of each department at UCI and Professor Legras explained that there is a possibility of UCI getting penalized with a $10,000 fine, coming from the central administration, for each grad student that is not recruited for the quota needed. While this has yet to happen, it is possibility because of the pressure imposed upon the Spanish department to admit more grad students. As Professor Levine who is experiencing similar problems in the German department put it, “A department does not function without grad students.”
Q. Has the budget crisis affected the time it will take an undergraduate student to graduate?
A. In the past few years, Professor Legras informed me that the Spanish major was made more flexible so as to allow students to be able to graduate in a timely manner. There are fewer mandatory classes and the ones that are mandatory are typically seen at the beginning of the major. However, with some less course offerings, there is a possibility of doing independent study if it is crucial for a student to graduate in four years.
Q. How is the morale in the department?
A. Professor Legras explained that there was an annual Latin American film festival that used to have a budget of about $4,000-$7,000. Prominent directors were brought in, quality film was ordered, and it was always an interesting cultural component of the Spanish department. However, the budget is now only $400, which is only about one tenth of what it used to be. Instead of canceling the festival, they had decided to make do with what they have and have made proper adjustments. Instead of nice film, they are using DVD’s and they have asked directors to view their movies, many who have agreed to do so free of charge. As Professor Legras stated to me, “If we just stay inside and let ourselves be consumed by frustration, it would be much worse.”