French positions axed by faculty of arts

The faculty of arts has decided it will be cutting funding for the French Language Assistants Program — a program that has been run at Wilfrid Laurier University since 1948.

The program consists of two positions that are filled by native French speakers who teach the French program’s tutorials. This year, the assistants are Philippe Kromwell and Jennifer Nocandy, who are both from France.

The focus of their tutorials is on oral communication.

“We bring a large cultural background to students, a lot of cultural knowledge according to what they’re studying with their teacher,” Nocandy said. “Apart from that, we are also helping teachers for the oral exams. And we’re also available for students.”

The program is part of a larger Language Assistants exchange programme that is run by the Centre international d’études pédagogiques (CIEP). It aims to develop the French language worldwide by sending French students abroad to teach the language.

Rather than having assistants from abroad, the positions at Laurier will be filled by upper-year French students.

Kathleena Hynes, a third-year languages and literature student in Nocandy’s tutorial, noted that this will give third and fourth-year students the opportunity to get experience in the classroom.

“But when it comes down to getting students out of the robotic use of language and into a more comfortable, fluent use of the language, it just won’t work as well as having a student TA,” Hynes added.

Christina Duarte, a first-year bachelor of business administration student who is also in Nocandy’s tutorial, echoed Hynes’ thoughts, emphasizing the importance of getting instant feedback on their oral skills.

“Because [Jennifer] is so comfortable with it, it’s not like we’re going to have a question for her and she’ll have to look it up. She knows.”

Without the positions, Hynes and Duarte believe that the French program will lose some of its value.

“I think that you’ll still be learning a language and the grammar and the vocab, but I don’t think it will have the same value because the added bonus of having TA’s who know the language is that it’s an experience that you won’t get somewhere else,” Duarte said.

“The teachers teach the theory, but there’s no one to teach the practical side if we’re not here,” Kromwell said. “There will definitely be a part missing if the assistants just disappear.”

He experienced a similar situation last year while working as an assistant in England.

“But I was surprised that in a university like Laurier, that focuses so much on languages and has so many great teachers, they would do that,” he said. “And without telling us.”

Kromwell and Nocandy explained that they tried to negotiate with the dean of the faculty of arts, Mike Carroll, proposing that some of the benefits of the positions be reduced.

Currently, the assistants are provided with lodging for their eight month term, a salary of $1,000 a month and a $2,500 meal plan. They proposed that the lodging and meal plan be cut with a small pay increase. This would have reduced the cost of the program by 75 per cent.

But the proposal was rejected.

“It’s a purely budgetary decision,” Milo Sweedler, an associate professor of French at Laurier who is in charge of filling the assistants positions, explained. “I understand times are tough. It’s too bad the axe had to fall here, especially because the French program has been steadily growing.”

After Sweedler found out the cut was being made, he contacted Carroll to try and change his mind.

“He waffled a bit,” Sweedler said. “And then an additional budget cut came and with that additional budget cut he said ‘I’m sorry there’s no going back.’”

This additional cut is a two per cent cut that all faculties were asked to make due to a forecasted $12.3 million deficit for the 2014-2015 budget year. Jim Butler, vice president: finance and administration, brought the proposed two per cent cut with revised assumptions to the board of governors meeting on Thursday, where it was approved. It will now be moving forward to Senate in Feb.

When contacted for an interview, Carroll expressed that he didn’t wish to comment on this particular cut until the full extent of the budget reductions for next year are solidified.

Now, Kromwell and Nocandy are trying to spread the word to students about the cut.

“We’re complaining about the suppression not because we care about us, but that we care about this university so much,” Kromwell said.

“Maybe there is nothing we can do in the end. But at least we will have tried.”

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