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In Support of the Tenure-Excluded Faculty at the College of William and Mary

The following letter was sent to the leadership of the College of William and Mary. 

Dear Provost Agouris,
Dean Donoghue Velleca,
Vice Provost Stock,
Dean Longo,
Dean Donohue,
Dean Zeman,
Dean Torczon,

We were appalled to learn that Dean Maria Donoghue Veneca has informed at least twelve non-tenured faculty members from the Government, Modern Languages, Theatre, and other departments that the school is unwilling to commit to offering a contract for the next academic year. These departments, and the subjects they teach, are a core part of a strong liberal arts education; their faculty are key to the strong reputation William & Mary enjoys as an institution of excellence in undergraduate teaching.

We stand in solidarity with the many members of the William & Mary student body, faculty, staff, alumni, and others who have called on the administration to issue contracts for these valued members of the William & Mary faculty. Delaying contracts increases the already serious employment and life insecurity for these workers, prohibits them from preparing adequately for their future employment, and harms instruction at the college by either eliminating courses or restricting the ability to prepare for courses. Moreover, these departments employ faculty who rely on visas to continue their work – and these visas are endangered by delayed contracts. 

It is no coincidence that many of the programs targeted are programs in the Humanities, while others are key to preparing students for a future as global citizens. Again and again the pandemic has been used as an excuse to gut the very core of liberal arts education by reducing or eliminating programs in the Humanities. These programs prepare students for the kind of critical and creative thinking, oral and writing communication, and problem-solving skills necessary to address the biggest problems facing the world today, including the transnational emergence of new white supremacist movements, ongoing racism and other effects of imperialism and colonialism, and climate change. Training in history, literatures, arts, languages, philosophy, religious studies, and more all provide students necessary skills to grapple with today’s “big questions.” 

Yet, these programs have been targeted for defunding, partly because of long-existing, false myths that students who study these areas will not be employed or will not earn adequately in the future, and partly because of profound public misunderstandings about what Humanities courses do. Above all, work in the Humanities asks students to grapple with their understanding of human events and processes; understand how to find and interpret the evidence necessary to inform that understanding; learn how to relate to, live with, and engage with other people; and to grapple with and continually rethink the values and ethics that inform our actions.

Programs that teach languages and cultures have been particularly targeted. Key findings of the 2019 Making Languages our Business report by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), which surveyed 1,200 U.S. employers, note that:

  • 9 out of 10 U.S. employers rely on employees with language skills other than English.
  • 56% say their demand for languages other than English will increase in the next 5 years.
  • 47% state a need for language skills exclusively for the domestic market.
  • 1 in 3 language-dependent U.S. employers report a language skills gap.
  • 1 in 4 U.S. employers lost business due to a lack of language skills. 
  • German is the 5th, Russian is the 6th, Arabic is the 7th and Italian is the 8th most in-demand language.

We would like to further point out that the teaching and learning of language cannot be separated from culture. Thus, language departments and their curricular offerings are integral to institutional commitments to increase diversity and foster global competence. Your own mission statement attests to this fact, as it claims the following core outcomes of a Humanities education as institutional values: “cultivate compassionate global citizens” ; “embrace diverse peoples and perspectives” ; “foster deep human connection” ; “engage with individuals and communities both near and far” ; “engage diverse perspectives” (William & Mary Vision, Mission, Values).

Experiencing different cultures through language provides needed tools for understanding, navigating and participating in “communities near and far” (by preparing our students for interaction with people of diverse cultural backgrounds). As recent studies, including those by the Modern Languages Association reveal, the study of new languages further enables critical reflection of one’s own culture(s): “While [students] gain an appreciation for the world outside [their] own, contact with other cultures will give [them] new perspectives on [their] own language, culture, and society” (MLA “Language Study in the Age of Globalization).

To consider not renewing the contracts of our dedicated colleagues – whose curricular and co-curricular offerings are central to your institution’s mission, fulfill a number of university requirements and are deemed essential by former and current students – based on a perceived lack of curricular need is incomprehensible and directly contradicts your institution’s stated vision and values. 

We urge you to secure the future of your institution’s reputation as well as the real efficacy of William & Mary as a top place for undergraduate education. We further urge you to offer longer-term contracts and more secure positions to these faculty in the future. Only by better working to secure the conditions of working and learning in our educational institutions can we also prepare our students to address the immense challenges that they face both in their local communities and as global citizens.

American Association of Teachers of German (AATG)
Austrian Studies Organization (ASA)
Black German Heritage and Research Association (BGHRA)
Canadian Association of University Teachers of German (CAUTG)
Coalition of Women in German (WiG)
Diversity, Decolonization, & the German Curriculum Collective (DDGC)
German Studies Association (GSA)

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