GW will move two of six sign language courses offered at the Foggy Bottom campus to the graduate campus in Arlington, Va., next semester, upsetting students who feel it will discourage enrollment in the courses.
One section of Sign Language I and the only Sign Language II course will move to the graduate campus. Two introductory ASL classes, along with Sign Language and Deafness III, will remain at Foggy Bottom.
Sixty students are currently enrolled in sign language courses, all of which are offered through the Graduate School of Education and Human Development. Nearly 90 percent are undergraduates, said Jay Shotel, Teacher Preparation and Special Education chair.
Several students are rallying support to keep the courses at Foggy Bottom, but officials say GSEHD loses money on the program because mostly undergraduate students take the courses.
“The school pays $50,000 a year for the courses,” Shotel said. “Because we are a graduate school, we are not allowed to earn any income from undergrads.”
He said the department has been trying to remedy the financial situation for two years.
“One of the things we suggested to the Columbian School is that they pay for the instructors. We would be willing to keep the program,” Shotel said.
The graduate school offered to assume responsibility for all administrative work, such as hiring graduate teaching assistants and photocopying class materials. The Columbian College did not accept this proposal, Shotel said.
Josh Lurie, a sophomore taking SLD II, said he and other students wrote letters to Columbian College Dean Jean Folkerts urging her to keep the courses at Foggy Bottom. The letters, accompanied by a petition, address fears among ASL students that moving the only second-level course to the Arlington campus will hurt the program. Students said most undergraduate and graduate students will be unwilling or unable to commute, Lurie said.
Students hope the sign language classes will satisfy general curriculum requirements in future.
“We’re concerned that the program is going to fizzle out,” Lurie said.
Lurie also said Columbian College should offer sign language as a foreign language, which would keep the courses open to undergraduates.
“I think some people don’t think of ASL as a bona fide language because they think of signed English,” said Geralyn Schulz, chair of the Department of Speech and Hearing Science in the Columbian College. “ASL has its own grammar, own rules for constructing sentences, stringing signs together and for signifying tense and person, word order.”
After a split on the eight-member committee to review the issue, a resolution went in front of the Faculty Senate Oct. 5. Members requested a report on the financial ramifications of adopting ASL as a general curriculum requirement.
A group of ASL students expressed concern over the issue to Student Association President Roger Kapoor in an informal meeting on Monday.
“There is a large student voice behind this cause,” Kapoor said. “Personally, I feel American Sign Language is an extremely important course, as we can see by how many students participate in the class every year.”
He also said the SA plans to meet with GW administrators to formulate “a plan of action.”
Lurie said GW’s proximity to Gallaudet University, a school for deaf and partially-deaf students, allows GW students to work with internationally-known deaf programs.
“Gallaudet is a deaf university, and D.C. is the center of deaf culture,” Lurie said. “American Sign Language class goes beyond just being in the classroom. Through the course we meet people in the deaf community.”