The humanities department is taking another hit at Allegheny College with the loss of the German Major after the Spring 2018 semester.
In order to be mindful of the curricular areas of interest among current and prospective students, according to Provost and Dean of the College Ron Cole’s Allegheny College Faculty Staffing Plan, the German Major will no longer be offered. It will still be offered as a minor.
“The basic fact is our numbers have shrunk dramatically and for the past 10 years German in the U.S. has been going down in numbers,” Professor of German Peter Ensberg said. “Until two years ago, the German department at Allegheny had completely avoided that trend, and we had between 50 to 60 students each semester.”
Following the rise of students interested in German at Allegheny, the college decided to hire Assistant Professor of German Julia Ludewig because it was clearly not a one person department, according to Ensberg.
By Fall of 2017, the number of students interested in German dropped significantly from 60 students to about 20.
“We’ve had between two to five majors every year, but now our last majors are graduating and there won’t be majors any more after May of this year,” Ensberg said.
Losing the major is part of the present Allegheny situation, which is a difficult one, according to Ensberg. The current demographics and strategies used by admissions are geared towards making numbers and getting a large pool of students, they are not geared towards attracting students who are interested in international affairs he said. For Ensberg, this creates an environment that makes it difficult to imagine the numbers will improve dramatically in the future.
Not just at Allegheny, but nationwide there has been a trend in the decline of foreign languages, according to Ludewig. Languages such as Spanish and French have seen a decline, but to both professors they believe German has been hit the worst.
“The more students and their parents are looking at career options after college, as long as this trend continues or intensifies, it’s going to be increasingly harder for us to survive or make the living we used to make,” Ensberg said.
Recently, Allegheny introduced a business major with a domestic focus. Business is an international enterprise, but the new major at Allegheny is not. This has made it even more difficult for the German language and others to appear more attractive, according to Ensberg.
“This is the image we are giving, you can study business without ever going beyond the American market,” Ludewig said. “[At Allegheny] the will is there in theory to reach out, but we don’t see the structures in place to actually make the endeavors international or even global.”
Over the past 10 to 15 years, Allegheny has always made promises when it comes to internationalism, and at one point, a dean of the college called herself a dean of internationalization, according to Ensberg. These conversations were never translated into action, and the number of students going abroad has decreased he said. In this context, it makes it very difficult for any language or disciplines at Allegheny to become internationally oriented.
Ludewig said she sees the loss of internationalization and languages as a disappointment because these are two key components that will set students apart after they graduate. Going abroad and spending time in a different culture is important, according to Ludewig.
“Paradoxically speaking as we become more global, English seems to be the language of international business, which is true, but it also leaves out all of the cultural aspects that are necessary to establish a presence internationally,” Ludewig said. “English opens up doors internationally, but what I really see is a contraction back because of the current political climate, a re-focus onto domestic issues.”
Molly O’Donnell, ’18, is one of the few remaining German majors left at Allegheny college as well as a Spanish double major with a Middle East and North African studies minor who has lived and seen the importance of languages.
“I chose Allegheny because of the German major,” O’Donnell said. “A lot of the other schools offered the same things as Allegheny, but I would have been a French and Spanish double major with a German minor, but I was persistent and I wanted to be a German major.”
O’Donnell studied abroad in Germany as a senior in high school and has always been incredibly interested in foreign languages. As an undergraduate, O’Donnell spent two semesters in Cologne, Germany as well as a semester in Buenos Aires, Argentina to help fulfil her Spanish and German major requirements.
“Studying abroad has changed my life greatly and I can see myself living in Germany or living abroad,” O’Donnell said. “It’s made my love for traveling, for living in a different culture, for learning new languages, its increased the wants and desires so much and I think it’s really sad to see the German major go.”
Following its dismissal of the major, the college will still bring in a teaching assistant from Cologne, Germany next year, according to the current German Teaching Assistant, Alexandra Tauer.
“It’s sad to hear,” Tauer said. “For the next TA there will be less German students which means there will be less live labs to teach and that’s our job.”
Tauer has enjoyed her time as a TA because of the connections she has built with the German professors and the students she is able to teach. With the loss of the major, Tauer has heard concerns from students about the possibility of eventually losing or cutting down the exchange program to Cologne. Some are even nervous they will have to change their academic plan, according to Tauer.
Allegheny will also be losing Professor Ensberg, who has decided to take the early retirement incentive, which is a buyout of employees at retirement age to encourage them to retire, according to Cole.
“I had originally planned to retire four years from now and was even supposed to go on sabbatical next year, but with the retirement plan I’ll still be paid for two years and I’ll still be a supporting role in the German department,” Ensberg said. “The German department would have cut someone from their position and if I stayed well you can guess what would happen.”
Being in her second year at Allegheny, Ludewig will now take the head position of the German department following Ensberg retirement.
“As much as our heart is bleeding, our minds have to say this is a decision that we cannot really fight,” Ensberg said.