New foreign language policy at YSU

The Department of English and World Languages is located on the second floor of Debartolo Hall. Photo by Molly Burke / The Jambar

By Molly Burke

Youngstown State University’s Academic Senate approved a new foreign language policy at a meeting Nov. 1.

The Academic Standards Committee proposed a policy that would leave foreign language requirements up to individual degree programs for Bachelor of Arts majors. The policy was approved with a vote of 44-9, with 4 senators abstaining. It will take effect in fall 2024.

Chair of the Academic Standards Committee, Dawna Cerny, said the committee conducted research and found there was no existing policy on foreign language requirements for BA degrees prior to Nov. 1.

“This has been more than a year in sort of trying to work out — and with a lot of people digging into documents across the state, across YSU — to try to narrow down, where does the policy lie?” Cerny said. “We realized … the university needs a policy on this so we have at least guidelines or guard rails that we can work through.” 

Cerny said decades of changes to YSU’s foreign language requirements created confusion on what the policy was, demonstrating a need for clarification. 

“As YSU changed institutional formats over several decades, the policy for students became exceptionally muddied and confused,” Cerny said.

The new policy was introduced after Mary Beth Earnheardt, chair of the Department of Communication, approached the committee to remove foreign language requirements for communications students following the department’s move from Cliffe College of Creative Arts to Williamson College of Business Administration. 

Cerny said Earnheardt’s interest led the committee to create a campus-wide policy that is flexible for changes to colleges, departments and programs when they are merged together or moved to other locations. 

“We wanted to ensure that we didn’t have to go back to the drawing board every time there was a change that was being made by the administration,” Cerny said.

The policy included a clause stating, “YSU [should] maintain a healthy and resilient foreign language program … students electing to study a specific foreign language are able to meet their needs unimpeded.” 

Earnheardt is the academic senator for the Department of Communication, and she spoke in favor of the policy at the Academic Senate meeting. Earnheardt said she voted for the policy because it allows faculty within each program to make informed decisions on the education of students. 

“The people who really understand the discipline, who understand trends within the discipline, who understand expectations of accreditors … the faculty that work in your program are the ones in the position to best determine how to guide your educational journey,” Earnheardt said. 

Earnheardt said removing the foreign language requirement for the Department of Communication was important because of the limited variety of foreign languages offered by the Department of English and World Languages.

“[The department] offers [American Sign Language], Spanish and Italian,” Earnheardt said. “Our students who were coming in who had not taken [ASL], Italian or Spanish had a lot of apprehension about needing to change their language. So our only fix for them was to send them outside the university to take a language … which felt unfair.” 

At the meeting, the policy was met with criticism by YSU faculty members, including Italian professor Jennifer Behney, who gave a presentation on the importance of world languages for BA degrees. 

Behney said the new policy places YSU at a disadvantage to other Ohio public universities that require foreign languages by college.

“Students in Ohio at a public university who are in a college of arts and sciences should be taking at least two semesters of a world language … that’s in line with what other universities in Ohio are saying,” Behney said. “[The policy] really puts YSU at a disadvantage.”

According to Earnheardt, some programs may opt to require classes that supplement the cultural aspect of foreign language classes. Students in the Department of Communication will be required to take intercultural communication.