By Kaye Burnet | News Editor
Some students in Duquesne’s Department of Modern Languages and Literatures believe administrators are turning a deaf ear to their grievances about professors and programs, according to interviews conducted by The Duke throughout the spring semester.
Junior international relations major Lillian Younkin said she and other students are disappointed in the overall quality of the department.
“There are people who are dropping their language major or minor, or taking classes at [the University of Pittsburgh] so they don’t have to take them here,” Younkin said.
There are approximately 15 to 20 students pursuing majors in the department, according to chair Edith Krause, as well as 70 to 80 minors. There are 11 full-time and 13 part-time professors. According to James Swindal, dean of the McAnulty College of Liberal Arts, which houses the language department, this high professor-to-major ratio is due to the number of liberal arts students who are required to take four semesters of a language.
“We teach many sections because a core competency at the 202 level is required for all [McAnulty] College students, and the bulk of them choose Spanish,” Swindal wrote in an email to The Duke.
In addition to offering beginner and intermediate courses to liberal arts students, the language department offers a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and a Modern Languages B.A., which combines the study of French, German, Italian and Spanish.
However, Younkin believes that there is good reason to doubt the quality of the education students receive. Younkin and sophomore Marshall Macheledt both said they had experiences with one professor that seemed unable to speak the language he taught.
“He couldn’t order off a menu in Spanish,” Macheledt said. “The waiter had to ask someone to help him translate.”
Current junior Nick Valvano chose to study Arabic to complement his international relations major, and just completed his final course.
“I’m in the 202 class right now, and I should be able to actually speak some of the language,” Valvano said. “I can only introduce myself. I can’t form sentences.”
Valvano said he received good grades and has filled out his Student Evaluation Surveys for his Arabic classes every semester, but the quality of instruction did not improve. He said he took his concerns to Krause, but nothing has changed.
“When we tried to raise some issues with the department, the professor found out and told our class ‘I don’t appreciate being yelled at,’” Valvano said.
According to Krause, the best method students can take to resolve complaints is to meet with her.
“When a student has an issue with a class he or she is taking, I help the student resolve the issue, and usually successfully so,” Krause said. “I inform the student about the resources we have available.”
The department offers free tutoring and “the professors are always available to help,” she explained.
Krause declined to comment on any student complaints about specific professors.
Younkin and Valvano both raised concerns that professors in the 101 and 102 level courses seem to pass students who perform poorly, which means those students are present in the intermediate courses.
Additionally, the students said many liberal arts students who are not interested in learning a language are required to take up to four semesters of classes, which lessens the experience for committed students.
“You have students who don’t want to take these classes mixed in with those who do, and professors seem to just pass students so they don’t have to deal with them again,” Youkin said.
Krause pointed out that students can pass courses with a grade as low as a ‘D’ and said she supports the McAnulty College of Liberal Arts’ language requirement.
“I think the focus of the liberal arts college is to create well-rounded students, and includes the study of foreign languages,” Krause said. “In our multicultural world, language is necessary. Through studying language, you learn skills that are transferable to other areas.”