For the second year in a row, the Spanish and Portuguese Department will welcome zero new graduate students, as all six candidates to whom the department extended offers have declined to join the program next fall.
In light of the news, no graduate courses will be offered in the coming academic year, temporary external Director of Graduate Studies Edward Kamens ’74 GRD ’82 told department faculty in a Sunday night email. Each ladder faculty member now “needs to reconsider” his or her teaching plans, Kamens wrote, as professors will only teach undergraduate courses in the coming year. Spanish and Portuguese graduate students only take courses in their first two years.
The department has found itself entangled in controversy over the past year, after accusations surfaced in March 2015 of abuse of power and sexual harassment by some senior faculty members. An administrative review of the department last year found a climate of “fear and intimidation” but did not propose disciplinary action against any faculty members, leading some professors and graduate students to criticize the response as insufficient.
The department’s failure to attract graduate student candidates over the past two years comes largely due to these controversies, which have been well-publicized. There were only 19 applications to the graduate program this year — less than half the usual number — and faculty members have also said that the pool of candidates was of lower quality than in previous years. Graduate students and faculty members interviewed said that while the enrollment result is unsurprising, it highlights the disastrous state of the department and the uncertainty of its future.
“[The lack of incoming graduate students] is a disaster and would bring the long and distinguished graduate program to an end unless something is done to reverse the trend,” Portuguese Director of Undergraduate Studies Kenneth Jackson said. “I will have to think what might be done to restore the graduate program.”
According to Spanish professor Anibal González-Pérez GRD ’82, the department initially extended five offers of acceptance. Kamens told the News that six offers were eventually made.
“There was a waitlist, but it also did not produce an acceptance of the offer, and the process is now closed,” Kamens said. He declined to specify how many applicants were on the waitlist.
The typical graduate program class size for the Spanish and Portuguese Department is five students, but the recent years of controversy have contributed to an unusually small graduate program. Not only did zero students enroll last year, but two of five second-year students have also left Yale in the past year. The three remaining second-year graduate students will be finished with their coursework after this year, González-Pérez said.
All professors and administrators interviewed expressed disappointment at the result, but did not offer specifics on how to reverse what may become a worrying trend in graduate student enrollment.
“This is a disaster foretold, and it underscores the urgent need for change in the department,” González-Pérez said.
Jackson said some major changes may be necessary, but that they will not be easy or immediate.
Kamens — an East Asian Languages and Literatures professor who was appointed to replace former DGS Noël Valis this term following the climate review — told the News that he and members of the department would continue to work and reverse this situation in future years, but declined to comment further.
Department chair Rolena Adorno repeatedly ignored requests for comment.
A Spanish graduate student, who requested to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the topic, said the department’s latest setback should serve as a catalyst for real change. The student said Adorno and Valis should take responsibility for the department’s “demise.”
“They have taken the department from being ranked number one in the nation to being a scholar’s last resort,” the student said. “My greatest fear is that the current graduate students will be the ones play the price for the sins of the professors and administrators.”
The National Research Council named the Spanish and Portuguese Department’s doctoral program first in the nation in 2010.