SFU announces language learning programs closure amid budget cuts

Union, instructors, and alumni weigh in on the impact of the closure and layoffs

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SFU AQ
PHOTO: Kriti Monga / The Peak

By: Yashita Dhillon, News Writer

SFU recently decided to close down the Interpretation and Translation programs by the end of May 2024 and the English Language and Culture program by the end of August. They cited recent budget cuts, but many are left questioning this decision and its impact on the community.

The Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU) stated the programs’ closure was decided “with no consultation with the union, and means nearly 20 continuing instructors and an additional 20 long-standing temporary instructors will lose their jobs.” 16 more long-standing continuing studies program educators were also let go. 

The Interpretation and Translation programs included specialized training for medical, legal, and translation interpretation to prepare students to become professional interpreters and translators in these fields. It includes several programs “that train linguistically and culturally fluent professionals to facilitate effective cross-cultural communication.”

The English Language and Culture program was designed to help students improve their English skills. Both programs are part of the continuing studies department, which offers a total of 23 programs. The English Language and Culture and Interpretation and Translation programs are the only ones with unionized instructors and are the only programs being shut down. SFU’s recent cut-backs have caused around 85 positions and over 100 workers to be laid off, CBC reported, ranging from class instructors to IT support to campus bookstore employees. 

The May 14  announcement to shut down these programs came as a shock to instructors and students. “We didn’t have any details forthcoming,” said Scott Yano, ELC instructor at SFU and  TSSU steward, in an interview with The Peak. 

SFU states budget cuts are a result of low international student enrollment and these programs are a support for international students. The union, faculty, and alumni are contesting this rationale.

 “It’s been a 30-year project, and everybody is disappointed and sad to see it end.” —  Scott yano, ELC instructor at SFU and a Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU) steward

“SFU assured its instructors and students that the academic mission of the university would not be affected by the budget cuts. They said instructors would not be impacted. They lied,” Kayla Hilstob, TSSU chief steward, told CityNews Vancouver, noting university executives receiving “large annual wage increases of up to 6.75%.” 

“We provide a cultural background for people to enter into the university,” said Yano. The English Language and Culture program teaches “English conversation in groups, friendly interaction with classmates and teachers and real English found in everyday situations.” The aim is to prepare students for life in Canada and potentially work in Canadian business or diplomacy.

“It’s been a 30-year project, and everybody is disappointed and sad to see it end,” Yano said, noting his work as an English Language and Culture professor since 2004. “It’s been our working life’s work, and many of us are at the end of our working life. We devoted a lot to SFU and to its success and we hope that the administration of the university realizes that.” 

Silvia Xalabarde, president of Society of Translators and Interpreters of BC told The Peak these closures have raised questions about SFU’s commitment to being inclusive and its impact on the community. “The consequences of this for many people are going to be that they’re not going to have the language support that they need in order for their voices to be heard, in order to participate fully in society,” said Xalabarde.

The union assures they are “working with the instructors and affected stakeholders to question and to try to reverse this shocking decision” and will “negotiate a fair compensation scheme that respects these instructors’ many years of service.” 

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