GW is supposed to foster an environment where curious minds quench their thirst for knowledge. The freedom to learn what one wants is a key component of the American higher education system.
GW’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development offers two classes teaching students American Sign Language. Of the University’s undergraduate and graduate population, 60 students are currently enrolled in the six sign language classes offered by GSEHD. These classes are offered at the graduate level, yet 90 percent of those enrolled are undergraduates.
The University and GSEHD has decided to move two of the six sections next semester to GW’s graduate campus in Arlington, Va. – one section of American Sign Language 1 and the only second-level course. Although this will not eliminate the program from the Foggy Bottom campus altogether, it may preclude many undergraduates from advancing and taking the more advanced sections.
Jay Shotel, chairman of the department of teacher preparation and special education within GSEHD, says because GSEHD is a graduate school, it cannot earn income from undergraduates. He is aware of the problem and says efforts have been made for the last two years to accommodate the overwhelmingly large number of undergraduates enrolled in the courses.
When students learn sign language, they have added a skill to a growing list of other talents during their tenure at GW. Every effort must be made to accommodate the student demands to achieve fluency in this often neglected field.
Gallaudet University will offer the courses undergraduates can take through the consortium, but the likelihood of students traveling to another university to take the classes is slim at best.
There is clearly demand by undergraduates to learn sign language beyond an introductory level. The University should devote the necessary resources to meet this demand where they live, whether through graduate courses or new undergraduate sections.
The irony presented by a University unable to satisfy its student’s quest for knowledge is far from subtle and requires a long-term solution. In the meantime, displacing hungry minds makes little sense.