The language offices are currently housed in Oliphant Hall. photo by Justin Klopfer

Language programs during and after True Commitment

Several language majors and minors are no longer offered at TU, though hopes remain high for rebuilding.

The original True Commitment plan eliminated about half of the language programs at TU. B.A.s for Chinese and Russian studies were to be cut, as well as minors in Russian, Latin, Ancient Greek and linguistics. Together, these cuts removed five of the nine degrees offered by the department of Language and Literature. The plan also eliminated the department itself as a distinct unit, grouping it into a new Division of Humanities. All language programs would also begin to rely on study abroad terms for students to gain upper-level credits.

Russian studies, still missing its major and minor programs, has also held on through the last three years. No programs are currently offered, though some students among the senior class are still finishing out degrees offered before eliminations, and these classes are still available for any interested students.

TU does still offer a minor in Chinese, requiring 12 credit hours at a 3000 or 4000 level. During the current academic year, students gained these credits through China-related courses in topics like history and economics. These higher level classes were taught in English as cross-listed courses.

Dr. Thomas Buoye, a TU professor and scholar of Chinese legal history, began his time at TU with a visit to China in 1992. He hoped to create an academic relationship fruitful for the university and Chinese studies. To Buoye’s disappointment, the relationship never fully materialized, partly due to “half-hearted efforts” from TU. Years later, True Commitment’s changes included an effective evisceration of Chinese studies. The restructuring plan as a whole “undermined confidence” in the administration at the time, according to Buoye. He emphasizes that Chinese studies needs a full-time professor solely committed to language instruction and another to cultural learning for the program to thrive. A more robust study abroad program could also bolster this instruction and enrich the program.

TU President Brad Carson, who began his position in June of 2020, has shown significant interest in serious academic study of China. In 2019, he created a 14-part podcast called “Jaw-Jaw,” consisting of insightful interviews with top China experts. One of Carson’s most vocal priorities has been TU’s Cyber programs, a field Carson has acknowledged is highly synergistic with both Chinese and Russian studies. Interim provost Jennifer Airey shares this sentiment, calling Russian and Chinese studies “incredibly important for understanding and navigating the contemporary landscape” and saying TU is “committed to providing students opportunities to engage with these vital areas of study.”

Dr. Karen Peterson, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, joined TU in 2021 after more than a decade in a similar role at Middle Tennessee State University. She sees True Commitment as a “terrible error” that will require time and effort to rectify. TU still represents a “tremendous opportunity” for both its students and faculty, and it was this opportunity that encouraged her to join TU knowing its recent history. She is immensely thankful to all the faculty and students that have held on through the turmoil.

Serious study of Russia and China is still strong among both faculty and students at TU. A higher-level Chinese language course will begin to be taught again in the fall. Faculty gaps created in the wake of True Commitment are in the process of being filled. Existing faculty have remained dedicated to these programs through the storm of the past years. The College of Arts and Sciences, where language programs are housed, currently has more new students for the fall semester than any other college.

Note: This article has been slightly altered from the printed version with a correction in Dr. Buoye’s interview.

Post Author: Justin Klopfer