BY Robert Kirsner
The upcoming elimination of the minor in the department of applied linguistics on language, interaction and culture is, to use a Buddhist term, yet another unskillful decision being made at UCLA on the basis of body mass alone ““ i.e., the amount of enrollments (bodies) courses happen to attract.
It so happens that UCLA has a number of world-famous scholars in the area of language, interaction and culture, and even has the Center for Language, Interaction and Culture directed by Elinor Ochs, a former MacArthur Fellow (recipient of the “genius” grant).
Certainly with a little ingenuity and perhaps a little less haste, the minor could have been saved. I would love to see a broad “linguistic consortium” developed at UCLA, in which even faculty in language departments could participate, and which could provide additional offerings in language, interaction and culture and other areas in linguistics currently underrepresented on campus.
For now we can only hope that future students might be able, during their years here, to construct the practical equivalent of such a minor, with some guidance from the anthropology, applied linguistics and sociology departments, so that the knowledge, at least, could be passed on to students not majoring in these departments.
On intellectual grounds, the only proper thing to do would have been not to eliminate the minor, but to hire more scholars in the departments which housed it, thereby stabilizing course offerings, so that the minor could continue to be available.
Given changing demographics in the state of California, which became evident in the Nov. 6 election, future students will certainly need knowledge of how language, culture, individuals and groups interact, which is what the minor was all about.
More broadly, if UCLA continues to let biomass overrule intellectual criteria and to eliminate smaller fields just because they are smaller fields (and attract few students), it will ““ in even the “short run” ““ do much more damage to itself as a university than would ever have been wreaked by the failure of Proposition 30 to pass.
Indeed, the university will cease to be one.
Kirsner is a professor of Dutch and Afrikaans in the UCLA Department of Germanic Languages.