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March Madness

UCLA applied linguistics prepares for disestablishment

By Camille Von Kaenel

April 3, 2014 1:03 a.m.

Faculty and students in the applied linguistics field are making final adjustments to prepare for the end of their department, after decades of seeing the number of full-time faculty members diminish.

This quarter, the UCLA Academic Senate, the faculty body governing curriculum changes, plans to vote on a proposal to discontinue or transfer the department’s academic programs and disestablish the department, said Jan Reiff, the chair of the Academic Senate and a history professor.

Though the vote has yet to happen, faculty and students in the department said they have been expecting the department to close for a long time.

The number of faculty members with full-time appointments in the department reached a historic low this year. There would only be two professors with full-time appointments in the department next year, though around 10 more professors from other departments also teach in applied linguistics.

Under the proposal, the masters, candidate of philosophy and doctorate degrees in applied linguistics and graduate certificate in teaching English as a second or foreign language would cease to exist, and the applied linguistics major would be transferred to the Department of Linguistics in a revised form.

The applied linguistics major is set to undergo a redesign when it is transferred to the linguistics department, but the 42 current undergraduate students will be allowed to continue their studies according to the current set of requirements.

UCLA will allow and support current students, both undergraduates and graduates, to continue their academic tracks until they achieve their degrees, said Russell Schuh, the chair of the applied linguistics department and a linguistics professor.

The proposal also suggests discontinuing the language teaching minor and the bachelors degree in African languages, which have seen little to no enrollment in recent years.

Faculty and students have known about the staffing problems faced by their department for decades and discussed other options for the department, such as becoming an interdepartmental program, for several years. The lack of new faculty members, however, made meeting the administrative needs of any sort of program increasingly difficult.

“We are past the mourning phase,” said Bahiyyih Hardacre, an applied linguistics graduate student. “We just want to finish and move on.

All graduate and undergraduate programs in the department stopped accepting new applicants in fall 2013 as part of the proposal for the closure of the department.

Faculty in applied linguistics who died, retired or left the university were simply not replaced by successive deans of the UCLA Humanities Division, said Olga Yokoyama, one of the two remaining professors with full-time appointments in applied linguistics. She served as internal chair of the department from 2008 through January 2011.

The department was ranked as one of the top linguistics programs in the nation by the National Research Council in 2011, which placed the department among the three most reputable departments in the humanities division.

“I think the department did fine or better compared to many other programs,” Yokoyama said. “I don’t understand why it was never given (full-time equivalents) as it continued to shrink.”

No one interviewed for this story knew precisely why faculty members were not replaced after the early 1990s, when the department made its last hire. The administrators in charge of hiring in the 1990s have left the university, and several long-time applied linguistics professors declined to comment for this article.

In a 2011 submission to the Daily Bruin, graduate student Jori Lindley said the department was discriminated against and placed on a “no-growth list.”

By the time David Schaberg, a professor in Asian languages and cultures, became Dean of Humanities in 2012, the low number of full-time faculty was already critical – with just six core faculty members, he said.

Budget cuts after the 2008 financial crisis made allotments for teaching appointments even rarer and Schaberg estimates that he replaces only about a third of the faculty members who retire each year from the whole Humanities Division.

“To rebuild a department would have required probably four hires, which is around the number of hires I make for the whole division in the year,” Schaberg said. “It would have come down to sacrificing other departments, and that was a choice I couldn’t make.”

Schaberg said he is now concentrating on making sure the department undergoes a smooth transition.

In the Department of Linguistics, the revised applied linguistics major would cover the existing areas in addition to a core program in linguistics, said Jessika Herrera, the student adviser to applied linguistics and linguistics students.

Schuh became chair of the applied linguistics department in the summer of 2013 to oversee its disestablishment. He will serve as the director for graduate studies until all students have finished their programs.

One of the most difficult challenges he expects to face is ensuring that all graduate students have enough faculty members to chair their dissertation committees. At least one committee member must come from the applied linguistics department, Schuh said.

Undergraduate and graduate coursework will be taught by past applied linguistics professors no matter their current appointments, professors emeriti, lecturers and affiliated professors.

“I think it’s going to work out,” Schuh said. “We have a lot of resources on campus. It’s going to take some reshuffling.”

This summer, the scheduled applied linguistics courses will continue as planned.

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Camille Von Kaenel
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