Budget cuts affect Russian language program

 The SMU Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences is suspending the Russian Language Program beginning in Fall 2014. In addition, SMU Study Abroad is cancelling the summer 2013 SMU-in-Moscow program.

Flyers still hang in Clements claiming that they can offer scholarships for SMU-in-Moscow, but Nancy Simmons, Interim Director of Education Abroad, said otherwise.

“Due to an insufficient number of students applying to the SMU-in-Moscow program and also due to a lack of scholarships and limited financial aid assistance, the decision was made to cancel the program for summer 2013. Unfortunately this program was cancelled for summer 2012 due to low enrollment as well,” Simmons said.

Dedman College is dealing with the same financial pressures.

“I was forced to make the tough decision to suspend new enrollments in Russian language,” Dean of Dedman College William Tsutsui said in an email to the Daily Campus.

“Just to be clear,” wrote Tsutsui, “all students currently taking Russian who need an additional year to meet the language requirement or the requirements for the minor in Russian Area Studies will be able to do so-we will provide the necessary classes.”

“It’s really sad,” Tatiana Zimakova, chair of Russian area studies said. “The [Russian language] program was established here in the 1950s.”

According to the Tsutsui, the decision is also a response to financial pressures and small numbers in enrollment within the past few years.

“Regrettably, enrollments have not responded [to] positively and Russian is now our smallest language offering,” Tsutsui said.

Although the numbers are small, the impact on campus is great according to Zimakova.

“Look at the students who are interested,” Zimakova said, “I am so proud of my current and former students. My former students are working right now in U.S. government and others in national security.”

Former student of Zimakova James Hoeffner wrote a letter to the dean in February expressing his, “dismay and utter shock of the university’s decision.”

Hoeffner is an SMU 2011 graduate who received a B.B.A. in finance and a B.A. in international studies, with a double minor in French and Russian.

He served as president of the Russian Club for three years while at SMU. He is currently earning his J.D. at American University Washington College of Law.

Tsutsui said small numbers played a heavy role in the decision but Hoeffner believes “the smaller the better.”

“Russian is exceedingly more difficult to learn than the Romance languages, as English derives many of its words from Latin,” wrote Hoeffner in the letter to Tsutsui.

“Russian requires more discipline and time in order to become proficient in the language,” Hoeffner said and added that small teacher-student ratios in classrooms are more beneficial.

Hoeffner also argued that there is a lucrative link between Texas and Russia that is a vital link for students to understand.

“Russia is the third largest exporter of natural resources in the world, and commerce between Texas and Russia has increased dramatically within the past five years alone,” Hoeffner said.

“As the Cox School of Business is one of the leading business schools in Texas and the entire country, SMU has a unique opportunity to actively encourage this demand in order to make its students better positioned to serve the needs of a global marketplace,” Hoeffner said.

SMU first-year Zachary Cowan, a Russian area studies major, is the current president of the SMU Russian club.

He also believes Russian plays a vital role in economics and politics around the globe.

“It baffles me that it’s even being considered to be cut because of Russia’s huge influence of world affairs,” Cowan said. “It’s one of the biggest countries in the world, it’s the nation that produces the most oil, but above all it’s an issue of human rights.”

Approximately 30 students, faculty and alumni wrote to Tsustsui after the news of the suspension of the Russian Language program.

Tsutsui responded in a mass email, “The general interest in Russia and Russian language has been declining in the United States since the end of the Cold War.”

But Cowan says its for these same reasons that it is important to study Russian now more than ever.

“As tensions are rising again to near Cold War levels between the United States and Russia, it’s more important now than ever before to be able to connect with Russia,” Cowan said.

Zimakova believes the business relationship between Russian and the U.S. is strained because of basic communication.

“Because many Americans do not understand Russian culture, do not know language, their business doesn’t work,” Zimakova said.

But for Cohen, SMU students interested in Russian are losing more than a program.

“We really are just such a tight knit community,” Cohen said. “And Tatiana [Zimakova] has been such a great mentor, not just for me, but for everyone. I come into her office all the time, whether it’s to talk or to discuss research projects or really anything regarding Russia.”

Dedman College declined to comment on the specific amount of money SMU will save by cutting the program.

“We are still working hard to secure external funding and the adjustment of endowment agreements to allow us to continue to offer Russian language in the future,” Tsutsui said. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.