University Policy Threatening Future of MESALC Departments Discussed at StudCo Meeting: “The Hypocrisy of This is Unreal”

Over 50 students attended tonight’s Student Council meeting on a recently enacted policy regarding classes with low enrollment. Any class with fewer than 8 enrolled students will require justification of its existence from the professor to Dean Ian Baucom. If Baucom doesn’t find the justification convincing enough, the class will be cancelled two days prior to the beginning of the semester. Student members of the Board of Visitors (BOV) said the policy’s primary goal is “to improve the educational quality that this college is able to offer,” insisting that there was “no intention to shut down certain departments.”

However, due to the vague language used within the policy, students and faculty are concerned over the future of classes, particularly in the Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures (MESALC) department. A number of students who attended tonight’s meeting expressed grievances over the policy, and warned of future collapse within departments.

Omeed Faegh, a first-year, emphasized the value of taking courses in the MESALC department during a time of ignorance with regard to Middle Eastern and South Asian culture.

“It’s more important now than ever to keep the department healthy and alive,” he said, and explained that because of the unclear policy terms, professors within MESALC feel anxious about the fate of their classes.

“The [policy] would cripple the already struggling department,” he pressed.

Transfer student Katherine Weyback said that, for her, part of the appeal of UVa was the wide range of language programs offered.

“Now the languages that I specifically transferred here to study are under threat of being completely eradicated – namely Hindi…Urdu, Persian, Tibetan, Sanskrit…and it’s not just the Middle Eastern language department that’s under threat here, it’s also Greek, Latin, Portuguese – all the classes that generally garner a handful of students,” she said.

She also expressed feelings of frustration over the ineffective communication by the administration.

“Nobody knows about this – the only information we’ve gotten so far is trickling down from professors and even they seem to be getting a different answer from the Deans every hour,” she complained.

“Our status as supposedly one of the premier institutions of higher education in the US compels us to inspire interest in fields crucial to global involvement and not suppress it. This is extremely upsetting to me as a student especially amidst all the recent turmoil in Charlottesville, amidst all the cookie cutter emails from the University about our ‘values of diversity.’ The hypocrisy of this is…unreal.”

Wes Gobar, a fourth-year, fears that the policy could give the administration too much influence over University curriculum.

“I’m really concerned that this policy will open the door to greater administrative control over what constitutes sufficient pedagogical value. Every administrator from Teresa Sullivan to Dean Groves will tell you that this university is dedicated to diversity, but we cannot claim to be dedicated [to] diversity if we put in place these kind of policies that endanger our most diverse professors and departments.”

Attiya Latif, a fourth-year, mentioned how intrinsically rewarding classes in MESALC are for her and encouraged Student Council to not only resist the policy, but to also look into how MESALC can be better supported.

“We need a department like this. We need nuance in a time when nuance isn’t given to us in a lot of our…politics classes where topics about the Middle East are boiled down to really easy-to-swallow narratives that don’t necessarily tell the truth.”

The removal of this policy will require a significant and united effort on all fronts.


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