Lack of instructors leads to canceled Spanish classes

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The Spanish program has had to cancel at least six courses this semester due to low numbers of adjunct faculty members, the program's director said.

At least six Spanish course sections have been canceled this semester due to a lack of instructors, the program’s director said.

Maria de la Fuente, the director of the Spanish language program, said the program has been unable to recruit or maintain adjunct faculty members to teach the courses because of low pay and a lack of job security. For a popular language program that fulfills requirements for many students, she said this could mean growing class sizes or forcing students to wait semesters between taking Spanish courses.

“Spanish is growing exponentially across the country, from elementary school to college: There are many good jobs for Spanish instructors out there,” she said. “In Spanish, this means that our offer of courses is extremely limited and not representative of where it should be.”

The Spanish program has canceled six classes for this semester since April, several of which were fully enrolled. Faculty moved students into other courses last minute, de la Fuente said in an email.

De la Fuente said the lack of instructors stems from GW’s reliance on part-time instructors to teach Spanish courses — but it’s difficult to find people willing to work for GW’s pay rates.

“It is important to understand that GWU adjuncts — those teaching many language classes in other languages and Spanish too — are paid $3,600 per course, per semester,” she said. “My cleaning lady makes more than that.”

Adjunct faculty at GW have been paid as little as $2,900 to as much $7,000 per semester-long course, according to self-reported data collected by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

De la Fuente said that to remedy the problem, the program needs at least five full-time faculty lines, but administrators in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences said they could only fund one full-time faculty position this year and will add another next year.

“It is a drop in a bucket, but beggars can’t be choosers,” she said.

Paul Wahlbeck, the vice dean for programs and research in CCAS, said in an email that the Spanish program continues to offer courses to meet requirements but did “slightly reduce” the number of times courses are being offered this semester. He added that every school evaluates the number of faculty and course enrollment to determine how many sections they will offer.

Wahlbeck declined to provide the rate of turnover for adjunct faculty in the language department, how much money adjunct faculty make, if adjunct faculty receive benefits, what kind of support is given to the language department when adjunct faculty leave and how many Spanish classes were cancelled this semester.

Ariadna Pichs, a teaching instructor in the Spanish language program, said students should not have been impacted by course cancellations this semester because instructors spent the last two weeks of the summer relocating students from the cancelled classes into other classes that fit their schedules.

“We give the students the best,” Pichs said. “Students don’t even know how much work we put into it. Of course we tell them the situations behind it — we don’t have enough instructors, we have to relocate you, we are doing our best. Or you don’t take Spanish and you wait for the next semester.”

She said even when quality part-time faculty are hired, current faculty and administrators spend time continually training the new members – especially with the high rate of turnover in part-time positions.

“It’s just repeatedly doing the same thing with different instructors, and it’s not healthy for the program,” Pichs said. “So if we have more full-time faculty then we can improve, and that would be really good and positive.”

Richard Robin, the chair of the department of Romance, German and Slavic languages and literatures that houses the Spanish program, said he had to volunteer to teach a Spanish class this year to accommodate the demand — especially from students in the Elliott School of International Affairs who are required to prove third-year proficiencies in a foreign language. That requirement can translate to up to three years in language courses.

“We have to satisfy all of these ESIA students who have requirements of three years each, and we just don’t have the capacity to do that easily,” Robin said. “We barely managed this year. We only could because I stepped in and said I would teach second year Spanish, but I don’t see a way out of this problem unless we get more full-timers.”

CCAS officials have told the department that more full-time professor positions will “trickle down” over the next few years as resources become available, but that likely won’t be enough to solve the problem, Robin said.

He added that as of now, there are not enough professors or classes to keep enrollment in individual classes low, which he said hinders the interactive nature of language classes.

“We need a gallon of water and we’re getting a quart of water,” Robin said. “We cannot emphasize how short staffed we are.”

Robin added that last year the department received two “emergency” full-time positions, but he felt like he had to give them to the French program, which currently has no full-time faculty members, with the exception of its director.

D. Bradford Marshall, the director of the French program, said that although a lack of faculty is a problem, they have not had to cancel French classes this semester. With all classes being taught by part-time faculty members — with the exceptions of the classes he teaches — there is a high probability of turnover, Marshall said.

“Every year for four years in a row, we had an instructor, who in the middle of a semester got a full-time job with benefits and quite understandably left,” Marshall said. “And so we scrambled to get replacements or we have to ask for overloads so that one of our part-timers can teach more.”

Over his seven years as the director of the program, Marshall has hired more than 50 instructors, he said.

He added that most part-time faculty teach at other universities, meaning they have very little time to devote to students outside of the courses themselves.

“So they are barely available to meet with students,” he said. “They can just fit their office hours in.”

Catherine Moran contributed reporting.

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