Beginning in the Advent 2018 semester, Sewanee will no longer offer Japanese courses. The decision was made as a response to the University missing its target goal for Class of 2021 enrollment by more than 40 students, leading to a multi-million dollar deficit in the budget.
Discussions began in May 2017 regarding how to handle the budget concerns, and on December 23, Dean of the College Terry Papillon sent a memo to the faculty that Japanese courses would no longer be taught after this semester. The decision arose after determining which adjunct, meaning non-tenure track, faculty could be reduced while impacting the least amount of faculty; Japanese courses are taught by one adjunct faculty member, Professor Laura Nüffer.
“I am disappointed by the decision to no longer offer Japanese, particularly because there are many dedicated and talented students currently studying Japanese at Sewanee,” Nüffer told The Purple. “Japan is the world’s third-largest economy, a global center of business and technology, and a worldwide trendsetter in popular culture and entertainment; studying Japanese language and culture opens career paths and offers fuller citizenship in an increasingly international world.”
She added, “However, I understand that resources are finite and difficult choices have to be made. I hope that Sewanee will be able to offer Japanese again in the future.”
Rumors circulated among both students and faculty that Arabic classes would also be cut, but Papillon assured The Purple that Arabic classes will continue.
“I think perhaps where the confusion came was that I had been seeking to expand Arabic—I wanted to expand it to a full faculty member and actually devote a tenure line to it, and that’s still my intention actually,” he said. “I can see where someone might hear me say, ‘We’re not going to do the tenure line search,’ [and] that can cross as, ‘We have to cut Arabic.’ But our intention is to still do the three courses we’ve been doing for years in Arabic.”
The University reduced adjunct faculty significantly last year, as previously covered in The Purple. “We’re trying to increase salaries for the faculty, adding a budget line for maintenance…and I also was in a project we call ‘right-sizing’ the faculty. We probably had more adjunct faculty than we should have had,” Papillon explained. “It’s easy to hire a lot of faculty when you don’t pay them very much, so when we tried to increase salaries, that puts more pressure on it as well.”
When the University missed its enrollment goal by more than 40 students, the budget was further strained. According to Papillon, while they anticipated moving towards 1,750 students, current enrollment sits at approximately 1,670. “We were facing a multi-million dollar deficit because of that,” he commented. “That’s not a trivial amount of money.”
He explained the smaller freshman class as the result of a national trend in which fewer high school seniors are graduating each year. This year’s enrollment also included significantly fewer international students than planned, many choosing to study in Canada due to fears regarding their immigrations statuses.
Papillon said the smaller enrollment was unexpected, and the administration quickly realized that they needed to make cuts for the next school year starting in Advent 2018.
The University did not consider reducing tenured faculty and therefore only had flexibility regarding adjunct faculty. “We’ve had a fair amount of adjunct faculty in Psychology and Economics because they’ve been growing so much lately. One of the options was just to really cut back on Psych and Econ, and it was pretty clear that that would lead to a very large number of students inconvenienced,” he explained.
“I finally decided that the better approach was to spread the cuts out…but I could only go where there were adjunct faculty, and Japanese happened to be one of the places that had an adjunct faculty member in it right now,” he said. “We’re going to have some maybe belt-tightening in some programs, but Japanese is the only thing that we still stop offering next year.”
He later added, “It’s an unpleasant thing, but in the end it seems to me the best way forward in a difficult time, in just dealing with having fewer students than we planned.”
Papillon plans to speak to the small number of students currently taking Japanese 104 this semester in order to review their options for fulfilling the language requirement. Options could include studying abroad in Japan, partnering with other schools and sharing classes through technology, or allowing students to take two culture classes instead of one to fulfill the requirement, which Papillon thinks most likely. The requirement will not be waived entirely, he said.
He hopes to talk to them individually, “giving them some choices so that they have some ownership and input in the decisions,” he explained. “I don’t want those students to have undue anxiety about what the future of that is for them.”
Regarding the Asian Studies major of which Japanese formed a part, Papillon commented, “We still have Chinese for the Asian Studies major. We want to keep a presence in Asia.”
Papillon did not rule out the possibility that Japanese could be offered in the future, but not in the next two to three years, he said. However, he described himself as “pretty confident” that the adjunct faculty would not be reduced anymore in the near future after this coming fall.
“I think having as many language options as possible is a desirable thing, we just have to do it in a way that’s responsible for Sewanee and the size school we are,” Papillon explained.
Madison Covington (C’19), currently studying in Kyoto, Japan, was shocked to learn that Japanese would no longer be offered. “I was already disappointed in Sewanee’s inclusion of Asian studies, but this is really sad. People tend to think that Eastern languages and cultures are lesser than that of Western, and that learning languages like French, Spanish, etc. have more benefits when going out in the world,” she commented.
Covington continued, “I went to Sewanee because they offered Japanese language courses which was what made me seal the deal, and burden me further with tuition costs, but now I am questioning if it was all worth it. I could say ‘yes’ because I am exactly where I want to be, studying in Kyoto, meeting great teachers and friends who are willingly trying to help me advance in my language building. However, I feel sorry for incoming students who had the same aspirations as me but may never get the chance to be where I am today.”