Suspension of SFU Spanish program met with outrage from students, TSSU

The program has not been terminated but is currently under suspension, only intro Spanish courses available for enrolment


SFU student Karlie Tessmer was excited about joining SFU to study a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a certificate in Spanish. However, following her enrolment in an introductory Spanish class this semester, she soon realized her certificate would not be possible — at least for now.

“I’m in the introductory Spanish class right now. About a few weeks into the class [was] when we found out you could no longer enrol in the certificate program,” says Tessmer.

Upon discovering that Tessmer could no longer enrol in Spanish courses in upcoming semesters, she rallied more students together through social media. The Facebook page “Save the SFU Spanish Language Program” states “Spanish is the second-most spoken language in the world, and as such, it is imperative that we have the opportunity to learn the necessary skills to speak this language.” It also features a petition to save the program, which has received 80 signatures so far.

The Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU) chief steward, Derek Sahota, explained in an emailed statement to The Peak that the union “was profoundly disappointed to hear that the SFU administration has chosen to effectively close the Spanish Language Program without proper consultation or review with affected instructors and students.”

Research has demonstrated the critical importance of language in increasing critical thinking skills, increasing adaptability and delaying the effects of aging. Providing students with opportunities to further language skills results in those benefits and also meets SFU’s mission of engaging the world. While the SFU administration has given us excuses on that there are new research priorities, we hope the SFU administration will recommit itself to language training, including Spanish, as a critical component of a university education,” Sahota added.

The Peak reached out to SFU vice-president academic and provost Peter Keller to find out the reasoning behind the suspension of the Spanish program. In a statement, Keller explained that the program suspension was approved on January 9, 2017 by the Senate, where “this program, like other language programs offered by or through the Language Training Institute, is under review for curriculum coherence, student demand, and the sustainability of allocation of instructional resources in light of low and declining enrollments. The program has not been terminated.”

“I have spoken to some students who are in upper-level course[s] who have now stopped taking upper-level courses because they have limited when they are available.” – Karlie Tessmer, SFU Student

While students currently enrolled in the certificate may be worried about not being able to complete the program, Keller added, “The review seeks to ensure access to language programs and models of delivery that have a broad appeal to our students. Existing students registered to take the Spanish Language Certificate are guaranteed completion, and the 100-level Spanish classes are continuing for general enrollment.”

Indeed, SFU student Claire Christie described to The Peak that she would have not been able to go on exchange to the Pontificia Universidad Calica de Chile: “You must have a B2 Spanish level and can prove you have completed four semesters of Spanish at your home university. It is not necessary to have completed the certificate for exchange purposes, [but] without those courses, I would not have passed the language requirement for exchange.”

She further stressed the importance of having some Spanish knowledge for others who may attend exchanges in other Spanish-speaking countries. “Other universities, such as a few in Mexico, do have courses [that are] taught in English, so there is no language requirement. However, I have talked to students who would not have felt comfortable going to Mexico had they not had the opportunity to learn some Spanish in advance.”

While it is clear that the program has not been terminated, both Tessmer and Christie have observed the slowing down of the university’s commitment to the program. Tessmer explained her feeling in regards to enrolling in upper-division Spanish courses. “I have spoken to some students who are in upper-level course[s] who have now stopped taking upper-level courses because they have limited when they are available. [They did this] to, in my mind’s eye, limit the amount of enrollment,” she said.

“It is very clear that during the past couple of years they made the program so inaccessible to force the numbers down, so it would appear that the program had less interest than it does because they do not want to keep putting money into it,” said Tessmer.

However, Keller assures that “the faculty of arts and social sciences remains fully committed to language instruction as a key part of an undergraduate education at SFU. The faculty offers courses in many languages including French, Mandarin, Japanese, Punjabi, Farsi (Persian), Arabic, Greek, German, Italian, and Latin, as well as Spanish.” Still, Tessmer is disappointed that she cannot continue with further Spanish courses after taking the intro course this semester.

She added, “I’m a mature student, and coming back to school for me, I chose SFU for a couple of different reasons. One of them is because of the opportunities that they have for traveling and doing study abroad, and the other one is the fact that they have the Spanish certificate.”