Despite national trends moving away from language instruction, UCLA announced Monday it established the Department of European Languages and Transcultural Studies, which will combine several of its departments and focus on cultures and languages across Europe.
“This merger allows us to train an interdisciplinary lens on the rich and varied cultures of Europe while preserving the first-rate language instruction for which UCLA is known,” said David Schaberg, senior dean of the UCLA College and dean of humanities. “If we truly want our students to be active participants in an intellectual, multilingual and globalized world, we must be prepared to make bold changes such as this.”
The new department combines UCLA’s departments of Germanic languages, French and Francophone studies and Italian and Scandinavian, according to the university. The new department, which was unanimously approved by campus leaders and faculty in the merged departments, will emphasize shared European roots and have an expanded focus on the perspectives of filmmakers, writers and theorists from all over the world.
UCLA said the approach will add contextualization of the European experience and legacy in the world and allow for a more rigorous and comprehensive understanding of history.
Dominic Thomas, of UCLA’s French and Francophone Studies, was appointed chair of the new department.
“UCLA students have the opportunity to achieve a well-rounded education and to pursue advanced research in a challenging intellectual environment with superior research facilities. Our goal is to explore how different fields not only overlap with one another in intellectually exciting ways but also transcend geography and history,” Thomas said.
“In addition to a solid grounding in at least one language, students will develop some knowledge of each of the areas that constitute our discipline and how these are in conversation with the broader study of the past and present, in addition to how they have flourished in the humanities over the centuries,” he said.
Thomas noted that students who learn cultural literacy, analytical and writing a skills, as well as language prowess, may be encouraged to conduct research on human rights, diversity and religious tolerance. Students also will be given an edge in graduate school and to enter careers in international law, business, education, the arts, media and journalism, he said.
According to the Los Angeles Times, during the 2019-20 academic year at UCLA, the five most popular language classes were in Spanish, French, Japanese, Chinese and Korean, the latter being the fastest growing language at the university.
UCLA offers students courses in 37 languages, and they have major departments for Asian languages and cultures and Near Eastern languages and cultures, the university reported.
Traditional language departments at universities in the U.S. have been faced with faculty retirements, shrinking budgets and drops in enrollment, UCLA said. Between 2013 and 2016, U.S. universities cut 651 foreign language departments, including 129 French programs, 118 Spanish departments, 86 German departments and 56 Italian departments.