Letter to the Editor: Intercultural Communication

by CoryAnne Harrigan, Special to The Simpsonian

Editor’s note: According to college data, the German and French programs had one major apiece in Fall 2017.

The Simpsonian’s article about the perceived shortage of Intercultural Communication (IC) courses (December 8) demonstrates ignorance about the college’s academic programs. The particular point I want to address is the claim that French and German are no longer offered here “due to a decline in student interest.”

Full disclosure: my spouse was the Professor of German at Simpson before her position was eliminated, which took effect in May 2020. She was an award-winning teacher and was highly respected by her colleagues for her leadership and service. It is impossible for me to respond to the Simpsonian’s piece impartially. Nevertheless, I will focus primarily on the critical misunderstanding at the heart of the statement above.

The decision to eliminate academic programs at Simpson—and at any respectable institution of higher education—rests with the faculty and administration. The faculty handbook outlines the process. After an extensive program prioritization process, and in accordance with faculty policies and procedures, the administration formally notified the Educational Policy and Curriculum Committee in October 2018 that it intended to pursue the elimination of five majors/programs and two positions within other majors. Other programs and positions were also targeted. In total, 13 people (not 25, as the Simpsonian article reported) received notice that semester that their positions would be eliminated.

Several of these programs had strong enrollments and respectable numbers of majors, particularly taking faculty-to-student ratio into account. But the college was in the midst of a budget crisis, and some members of the administration and faculty thought elimination of programs and positions offered the only way out.

The process was painful and nearly tore the campus community apart. Students held a protest in Kent while a board of trustees meeting was in progress (see the Oct. 19, 2018 edition of the Simpsonian). Faculty members agonized as we weighed the survival of the college against the livelihoods of our colleagues. By the end of 2019, both the Vice President of Academic Affairs and the President had resigned.

Suggesting that declining interest was at the heart of the discontinuation of German and French is false and fails to acknowledge the complexities of how academic programs are created and eliminated. The Simpsonian needs to do due diligence with fact-checking and reporting rather than succumbing to the temptation of hastily publishing student grievances. I recommend Simpsonian staff members consult the faculty handbook in advance of publishing anything about the curriculum so they can speak from an informed position, which is essential to journalistic integrity.

They should also consult college staff rather than relying on hearsay. The number of seats available for students in IC courses is, indeed, much smaller than it was when the school had a larger WLCS department, but the Registrar has worked with the administration to address enrollment issues, particularly for those whose graduation is impending. Several of my own advisees have directly benefitted from Jody Ragan’s efforts to address their needs.

What upsets me most about this article’s claim is its erasure of recent history. Going back just a couple of years in the archives of the newspaper reveals the realities of the program eliminations from the students’ perspectives: they were highly invested in the process because they valued what these programs offered them. A flippant statement about declining student interest disregards what students themselves said and did to preserve the affected majors. The Simpsonian should hold itself accountable to its own reporting.