My name is Elisabeth Weber. I am speaking as chair of a department in which we teach German, Russian and Hebrew languages and literatures, and as chair of the program of Comparative Literature.
The German philosopher Franz Rosenzweig once said: as many languages someone speaks, as many times he or she is a human being.
According to an analysis by UCSC Professor Bob Meister on where student tuition money actually goes, it is not towards instruction, but instead towards insuring UC bonds. The UCOP and the Regents therefore seem to understand only one language: the language of Wall Street.
The cuts to the foreign language and literature programs have been brutal throughout UCSB and other campuses. This in spite of the fact that, to name just two examples, UCSB’s German and Russian language programs’ high enrollments are the envy of much wealthier universities.
We keep hearing that the UC is the world’s premier public university, but if the past and current budgetary priorities continue, UC students will soon no longer speak the languages of the world. During a time of increasing globalization, UC is drastically reducing its foreign language instruction.
In the foreign language and literature departments, and of course in Comparative Literature, we not only teach our students to be conversant in other languages. We also teach them to see and feel through the eyes and experiences of people laughing, crying, loving, revolting in remote regions of the world, in short, to discover other peoples’ sensibilities.
Don’t misunderstand me: I am not appealing to your humanist souls. I am actually addressing your Wall Street minds: One makes better deals with people whose language and sensibilities one understands. President Obama realizes that: He greeted the Arab speaking peoples in their language. But a greeting isn’t enough. This country is engaged in two wars with peoples whose languages and cultural sensibilities only very few Americans understand.
The UC should show the way of, indeed, the future. The fact that the UC Commission on the future has only one professor of foreign languages and literatures on board doesn’t bode well for that future.
The future is a global one in which our students and their children can only succeed if their minds and senses have been opened to the cultural sensibilities of other peoples. In that regard, the decimation of the UC foreign language and literature programs is unconscionable.