Yale cuts Dutch language program

After reviving its Dutch program three years ago, Yale will drop the language from its course offerings at the end of this year.

The University has decided not to renew its three-year hiring contract for a Dutch language lector, according to current Dutch lector Bonny Wassing. He added that the decision was explained to him as a cost-cutting measure undertaken by the Provost’s Office.

To Wassing, the drawbacks of cutting the Dutch program outweigh the minor fiscal benefit of its removal.

“Of course I understand that people have to cut costs,” Wassing said. “But it’s just my salary they’re cutting.”

Yale’s program lasted three years, barely enough time to build up a reputation, Wassing said.

The program was also institutionally vulnerable, he said. It is folded into both the German Department and the European Studies Council but has no independent standing.

“I’m very sad that after building up the program for three years they’re letting all that hard work go,” said Laura Grimbergen ’15, who currently studies elementary Dutch.
But as Yale loses an on-campus language program, it stands to gain more through an online platform.

Students who wish to take Dutch may be able to enroll in Dutch courses from Columbia University as part of a Shared Course Initiative (SCI) for the study of less commonly taught languages, Wassing said.

SCI — currently in its second year — is a collaboration between Yale, Cornell and Columbia to share low-enrollment language courses through a sophisticated video-conferencing platform. According to Center for Language Study Director Nelleke Van Deusen-Scholl, the program may more than double its offerings next year.

Yale offered eight languages through SCI this year — Classical Tibetan, Ukrainian, Tamil and Romanian from Columbia; Bengali and Khmer from Cornell; and Yoruba isiZulu from Yale itself. Dutch was offered from Yale as well, but no Cornell students enrolled.

According to Van Deusen-Scholl, Yale may offer around ten more languages next year from Columbia and Cornell. These languages include Serbo-Croat, Burmese, Finnish, Kannada, Nepali, Pular, Sinhala, Thai, modern Tibetan, Urdu and Wolof.

In turn, Yale may start offering more of its own language programs — such as Vietnamese, Indonesian and Greek — to students at Cornell and Columbia.

“Right now, we’re still in the true spirit of collaboration,” said Minjin Hashbat, the SCI administrator at Yale.

Meanwhile, the decision to cancel Yale’s on-campus Dutch program baffles Wassing, who said his courses have seen ample enrollment from Yale students, with 11 students in both his fall semester introductory class and his current “Dutch for Reading” class.

Wassing said Dutch is a crucial research language for students across the disciplines, from art history, gender studies and water management to the history of Indonesia or of European political philosophy.

“In the whole web, we’re maybe not the spider, but we’re around the spider,” he said. “We’re not an obscure language.”

While Yale hopes to tap into Columbia’s Dutch offerings through SCI, Wassing said the plan may prove infeasible, as Columbia’s single Dutch language instructor may be unable to teach the high number of interested students from Columbia, Cornell and Yale.

The original revival of the Dutch program at Yale three years ago was assisted by a Title VI grant from the U.S. Department of Education. But while some low-enrollment languages at Yale, such as modern Greek, are sustained by donors, Dutch is not.

Wassing said the Dutch Language Union helps fund only two of around 14 Dutch language programs in the United States — the single-instructor program at Columbia and a sizable department at the University of California, Berkeley.

Dutch has 28 million speakers worldwide.

Comments