The first installment of this series, printed in the November 2008 issue of A Modest Proposal, outlined several reasons the language program at UTD remains underdeveloped. It ended with a call for students to take action and secure a better language program. The UTD faculty, eager to hear from students and work with them to provide a more enriching educational experience, works hard to improve the university community. Only some effort from students will get the ball rolling, especially since much of what we identify as problems has likely been considered by administrators. Sometimes students bring up ideas the administration hasn’t considered or didn’t know about. Thanks to the endeavors of hardworking members of Student Government, all of these happened.
Two members of the Academic Affairs Committee of Student Government, Lewis Chang and Emily Lichtenheld, set out to improve the music program, specifically to obtain better practice rooms and pianos. In meetings with the committee, Dr. Dennis Kratz, dean of the Arts & Humanities, asked them to broaden their scope from practice rooms and music for general recognition of the need to improve Arts & Humanities offerings.
The committee had already heard general complaints from many non-A&H students who wanted to develop their talents or learn another language. The committee set up an online petition to advocate “stronger administrative emphasis on arts and humanities programs.” Mentioned more specifically were the foreign language and the music programs, with great importance placed on giving attention to and improving all of the Arts & Humanities. The petition (at www.petitiononline.com/UTDAH/petition.html) can still be signed, so add your voice if you support the mission.
After a few weeks and more than 400 signatures, the committee took the petition to Provost Dr. Hobson Wildenthal, according to Academic Affairs Committee Chair Dina Shahrokhi.
Dr. Wildenthal told the committee Arts & Humanities will receive a $2 million building for painting, drawing, and music. Plans for the building include practice rooms, locker space for large instruments, and a well-lit area with good easels.
Lichtenheld raised the point, as several students have complained, that other universities provide large instruments so students don’t have to lug them around. To address this, the university will have some large instruments on hand for students to use.
Dr. Wildenthal didn’t mention soundproofing for the practice rooms, so the committee made sure to emphasize the necessity and importance. After the committee informed him that soundproofed temporary practice rooms, such as those used at UT Austin, don’t look bad or “temporary,” the administration will look into them.
Since the university currently has only one good piano in the Johnson building (another is in the Galaxy Rooms, but out of tune), the committee presented Dr. Wildenthal with research on the cost of quality pianos (as little as around $5,000). Dr. Wildenthal said he would look into purchasing three or four pianos.
For the foreign language program, Shahrokhi advocated a fourth semester of language classes to count as Humanities credit. That has not been obtained, but the committee did work out another solution which will strengthen this program.
The committee asked Dr. Wildenthal to drop the minimum 10-students-per-class requirement. He promised that if a class doesn’t have 10 students but has a decent number (say five or six), he would pressure Arts & Humanities not to drop it. Perhaps Shahrokhi said it best, “Dr. Wildenthal wants to find a way to make it work. He doesn’t want to let money stop us — his vision for the university is not simply teaching Spanish I and II.”
Wildenthal also asked the committee to conduct a survey and find out which three or four languages interest the most UTD students. Once he has that information, Wildenthal will guarantee four semesters of classes for those languages. That question will be included in a student-body-wide survey with questions from every Student Government committee, which SG will release soon.
Dr. Wildenthal also said he would explore the possibility of setting up language tutorial sessions that would meet weekly. They would not count as class but would operate like a language club, except with a professor overseeing them.
These gains are tremendous boosts for the university. According to an AMP member, the Fall 2008 Intermediate German was dropped even though seven students had enrolled. In the future, that class would not be dropped. The survey is a tremendous opportunity to build the foreign language program. I encourage everyone not only to vote but also to be strategic: If you know that your top choice for a language is going strong right now, choose your second — we should try to reap as much benefit from this as we can.
This turn of events is a shining example not only of the exact kind of teamwork and initiative that UTD needs in order to move forward but also of the amazing things SG can do. Everyone should take some time to thank Student Government and Dr. Wildenthal for their hard work. More importantly, everyone should contact senators on Student Government and voice more concerns. If you see something missing from the university, do something about it. Make a petition, rally some people together, tell Student Government, run for Student Government. There are resources available, and the administration is willing to act. Let’s keep working together to tackle our problems.