Students in the School of Foreign Service will be able to pursue language minors within Georgetown College beginning this fall, according to a Tuesday announcement from the SFS Dean’s Office.
The introduction of the new language programs, which will be open to all years starting with the Class of 2017, will mark the first time the SFS has permitted minors in any subject outside the SFS undergraduate core. Previously, students had to exclusively pursue majors in one of eight programs in addition to pursuing interdisciplinary certificates, the SFS equivalents to minors.
The Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service Curriculum Committee and the SFS Faculty Council do not foresee any plans to permit students to double major or declare nonlanguage minors in the future.
The new minors program will follow the structure established by the College that requires students to take six unique courses. Each language department will set the requirements for the minors and audit students to ensure they fulfill requirements.
The current SFS foreign language proficiency requirement will remain in place. Students fulfill the requirement by passing an oral proficiency examination, successfully completing an approved direct-matriculation study abroad program or fulfilling native speaker status.
The SFS Dean’s Office has been considering ways to restructure the SFS’ curriculum in the run-up to its centennial celebration. In addition to language minors, the SFS may explore adding additional science and technology classes to its core, among other proposed changes, but at this time no other plans have been cemented.
Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Affairs Daniel Byman said pursuing a language minor would allow SFS students to go beyond proficiency and learn finer points of a foreign language.
“Minors enable students to gain a credential they desire and help them advance even further in the study of a foreign language,” Byman wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Georgetown offers a wealth of language opportunities, and I hope SFS students will learn more about world literature, how to do serious writing in a foreign language and other valuable knowledge and skills.”
SFS Faculty Council and Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service Curriculum Committee Chair Jeffrey Anderson said students who achieve proficiency would easily be on their way to achieving a minor.
“Because a minor is more intensive than proficiency, students who pursue a minor would have the transcript notation for proficiency that is currently awarded and have the designation of a minor appear on their transcript,” Anderson said.
Anderson also said there is an element of fairness involved in allowing language minors.
“We looked at a large set of data and what struck me is that a large group of students, tens on tens, qualify for a minor already, every year in a graduating class. They qualify, but are unable to get one because of the way we structure things in the school,” Anderson said. “This was all about fairness for students who do the work. They deserve the credential their College compatriots are getting. It doesn’t make sense to deny them the opportunity to demonstrate a minor on their transcript.”
According to Anderson, faculty had reservations about permitting a blanket policy that would allow students to pursue minors in nontraaditional areas like mathematics and physics.
“That was deemed to be a bit too ambitious, and in a way the language minors was a palatable compromise because most everyone understands the importance of languages to the philosophy and spirit of the BSFS degree,” Anderson said. “We didn’t want to disadvantage students coming out of the SFS when it comes to the job search and their career aspirations.”
SFS Academic Council President Anna Hernick (SFS ’16), who worked with the council as well as the BSFS Curriculum Committee and the Dean’s Office to help craft new offerings in the SFS, said the new minors would complement the work students put into achieving proficiency.
“Students in the SFS have always been dedicated to foreign language study, and receiving a minor in a foreign language is an easily understood recognition of all the hard work required to pass the SFS oral proficiency exam,” Hernick said.
Hernick said she participated in academic restructuring talks after gauging student interest.
“After hearing students ask for minors across the curriculum, the SFS Academic Council conducted a survey to quantify student requests for minors in different subject areas. We identified foreign language as a field that both fits with the interdisciplinary nature of the SFS and is a huge interest area for students,” Hernick said.
Hernick, former Academic Council President Megan Murday (SFS ’15) and Academic Council member Roopa Mulpuri (SFS ’18) presented the results of their surveys to the BSFS Curriculum Committee and advocated for the language minor change.
The three also serve as voting members of the committee along with the field chairs of the eight majors in the SFS and two representatives of the Dean’s Office.
After a nearly unanimous vote in the BSFS Curriculum Committee in December, the proposal was passed on to the SFS Faculty Council where an overwhelming majority of tenure-track faculty approved the change in January.
Faculty who objected to the change raised concerns about students pursuing minor credentials, which might be less lucrative than a full BSFS degree.
“It’s a valid point, but I think the problem is that it is all anecdotal evidence. Some can talk about anecdotal evidence that minors don’t matter, others can bring evidence that they do matter, and my feeling was that we should err on the side of caution and the side of doing right by our students,” Anderson said.
SFS Dean Joel Hellman praised the SFS for its unique scope of its studies of different countries, regions and cultures.
“SFS students go on to work in a variety of different sectors all over the world, and whether it’s in business, diplomacy, development or technology, having strong language skills is key. We want SFS students to communicate with others, no matter where they are or what they’re doing,” Hellman wrote in a statement.
Spanish and Portuguese Department Chair Gwen Kirkpatrick said the minor program will incentivize students to pursue language studies more passionately.
“To move beyond basic proficiency in a language and to learn more history, culture, linguistics, etc. can only be good for students who want to be globally aware,” Kirkpatrick wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Arabic and Islamic studies Department Chair Felicitas Opwis added that SFS students already make up a large portion of Arabic language students.
“We at the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies are enthusiastically welcoming this new and long overdue opportunity for SFS students to minor in Arabic. The SFS students are already an important component of our Arabic students and now their commitment to Arabic is acknowledged by their ability to declare it as a minor,” Opwis wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Enrollment in language courses is not expected to change drastically and faculty and class sizes are also expected to remain the same, according to Opwis.
Grady Willard (SFS ’18) said he believes the Dean’s Office should go further than permitting language minors.
“I’m not sure why they decided to stop at language minors. Dean Hellman noted in his quote that SFS students go into business, technology, diplomacy and development, and we know they go into government and academia as well. There’s no reason why people shouldn’t be able to obtain a minor in computer science or a minor from the [McDonough School of Business] or something like that,” Willard said.
Mulpuri said language minors should be a first step in allowing SFS students more opportunities in other schools.
“Many students in the SFS would eventually like to see flexibility in being able to minor across schools,” Mulpuri said. “However, this announcement is an enormous first step in that direction. The ability to minor in foreign languages fits with the interdisciplinary mission of the SFS and gives us the opportunity to receive the same credential that students in other schools completing the same coursework would receive.”