Portuguese department short-staffed

With Brazil becoming a global economic power, more and more students are signing up for “Elementary Portuguese,” but Yale’s tiny Portuguese program does not have enough teachers to go around — or the means to hire new ones.

The Department of Spanish and Portuguese had to cancel its only L5 Portuguese course this semester so that the professor could teach another section of the over-enrolled Portuguese 110 class, forcing advanced students trying to fulfill their language requirement to make other arrangements or wait until next semester. The departure of a Portuguese lector last year has left the program with only three professors, and ongoing hiring freezes have prevented the department from hiring a replacement.

The Yale endowment is still slowly recovering from a nearly 25 percent plunge during the 2008 recession, and administrators have said they will hold the faculty at its current size of 709 members until University finances improve enough to support additional hires.

“The University has to keep the size of the faculty in line with available funds,” said Frances Rosenbluth, deputy provost for social sciences and faculty development. “New searches are authorized as resources become available.”

Still, the budget constraints have left the Portuguese program in a bind.

David Jackson, director of undergraduate studies of Portuguese, said the temporary absence of an L5 course will be an inconvenience rather than a problem for students because those who need an advanced class can sign up for an independent study, but added that the program’s small size has other drawbacks. Most Portuguese majors fulfill their requirements by supplementing the Portuguese course offerings with History and English courses related to Brazil. There have been only six Portuguese majors since 2000, Jackson said, and there are currently none declared at Yale.

Konrad Coutinho ’13, a staff reporter for the News and an economics major who is considering doubling with Portuguese, said it is hard to construct a rigorous course of study from the program’s limited offerings.

“The department right now is so small that it’s not particularly easy to major in Portuguese by itself,” he said. “There aren’t a lot of advanced classes. You’d need to do a lot of directed research and study abroad.”

This semester, the department had to decide how to allocate its small faculty between the 48 students who wanted to take L1 and the six students signed up for L5. Ultimately, professor Paulo Moreira cancelled “Advanced Practice in Portuguese” to teach a beginning section this semester.

Moreira will teach an L5 course, “Introduction to Brazilian Culture,” in the spring, while Jackson will cancel an upper-level course to teach L1.

“Normally there would be enough people to teach all these students who want beginning Portuguese,” Jackson said, explaining that Tania Martusceli, who left last year, used to teach six language sections.

All five students interviewed who have studied Portuguese at Yale said they love the department but are disappointed by its small size.

Travis Foxhall ’13 said the Portuguese program is a “hidden gem” that has always made a huge effort to adapt to its students’ needs.

“When L5 is offered, you’re able to take it multiple semesters,” he said. “Professor Moreira would change the syllabus as we went so everyone could get the most out of the class.”

Nevertheless, it is not unheard of for advanced students to exhaust the Portuguese department’s course offerings.

“I came back from a summer studying Portuguese in Brazil last fall as a junior, and there was only one advanced class being offered in Portuguese, and that was advanced grammar,” Michael Blume ’13 said. “I also went to Brazil this past summer. I now feel like I’m fluent in Portuguese and it’s frustrating to not have that many options.”

Coutinho said that, with Brazil on the rise, student interest in Portuguese will only increase.

“People are realizing that the language is incredibly useful and practical, and there’s this general enthusiasm about the future of Brazil,” he said.

The Portuguese department has seven offerings this semester not including students conducting directed reading: three sections of elementary Portuguese, one intermediate section, a film class, an art history class and a literature class taught in English.

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