Russian Graduate Department deserves recognition of worth
By biconews On 29 Feb, 2000 At 05:00 AM | Categorized As Archives | With 0 Comments

By Kimberly Fedchak

Dear Editor,

Recently, Bryn Mawr College has been taking a critical look at the ways in which it spends its resources. It is my sense that the administration seeks to make the college more competitive with its small, liberal arts counterparts by concentrating the investment of its resources in undergraduate education. To that end, a recommendation has been made that the graduate program in Russian and Second Language Acquisition be terminated.

While this decision would not affect me as a graduate student currently enrolled in the program, the recommendation does affect me as a member of the Bryn Mawr College community who is invested in the general well being of the institution. I am alarmed and saddened by the recommendation, not only because I care about the program itself, but also because I do not believe that the termination of the program is in the best interest of the undergraduate population or the institution as a whole.

Right now, the most important question seems to be: “Does Bryn Mawr College, as an undergraduate institution, have anything to lose by terminating the graduate program in Russian and Second Language Acquisition (SLA)?” I think the answer is that the college has a great deal to lose.

In my experience studying Russian abroad, I have had the opportunity to interact with Russian language students from excellent undergraduate institutions across the US, and it is clear to me that Bryn Mawr’s undergraduates are consistently among the most accomplished speakers in their classes abroad. I can say with confidence (and I have received my MA and am pursuing my Ph.D. in Russian and Second Language Acquisition at Bryn Mawr) that Mawrters graduate with very high Russian language proficiency compared to the levels of proficiency undergraduates attain at most four-year institutions. I believe that this is in no small part due to the fact that there is a critical mass of graduate students and faculty at Bryn Mawr whose passion and field of expertise is Russian and Second Language Acquisition.

Excellence in foreign language education at the undergraduate level is our goal. It is the focus of all of our coursework and research: it is the endeavor into which we pour all of our resources. How many other small, liberal arts colleges can boast a graduate program whose research efforts and resources are concentrated on foreign language instruction at the undergraduate level?

Every year, several of our graduate students present papers on Russian and Second Language Acquisition at major conferences such as those sponsored by the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and Eastern European Languages, the American Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages, the Modern Language Association and others. I have been fortunate enough to present the results of my original research (on the study of Russian at the undergraduate level) at five conferences during my six-year tenure at Bryn Mawr. Thus, I can attest to the fact that the presence of Bryn Mawr’s graduate students at these conferences only increases the college’s reputation as an institution that provides its undergraduates with a truly outstanding foreign language education.

I am afraid that the termination of the graduate program would not only affect the reputation of the college, but more significantly, it would destroy the critical mass of individuals engaged in the study of Second Language Acquisition and result in greatly diminished levels of energy and academic inquiry in a field that is critical to the health of the undergraduate program.

Undergraduate classes that are currently team-taught by professors and graduate students would no longer benefit from the participation of those graduate students, whose interest in SLA constantly encourages critical thinking about the efficacy of the curriculum and the design of the program. Undergraduates would no longer have the opportunity to interact daily on a personal level with those graduate students who are native speakers of Russian and with those who have spent considerable time abroad in language study programs identical or very similar to those that undergraduates embark upon. In fact, what might look to the administration like an effective cost-cutting move may do tremendous harm to the undergraduates, in whose name the decision to terminate the program is apparently being made.

I understand that the decision may seem easy to make, particularly because of the relatively low level of visibility of departmental representatives on the main campus. And in some ways, the administration’s critical examination of the graduate program is just the motivation that the department needs to consider how the graduate program can be of service to a greater proportion of the student body. However, I would suggest that the termination of the graduate program in Russian would be the wrong decision for Bryn Mawr on many levels. The college possesses in the SLA program a gem whose worth should be measured not only by the cost of supporting graduate education, but also by the unquantifiable and invaluable contribution it makes to undergraduate education at Bryn Mawr.


Kimberly Fedchak

Ph.D. Candidate in Russian and Second Language Acquisition

Bryn Mawr College

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