story | Jasmine Gan, Contributing Reporter
photo | Odelia Teo
Yale-NUS College has suspended plans to move Ancient Greek language modules from face-to-face to online instruction, following student and faculty dissatisfaction.
Students penned an open letter to Yale-NUS College administration to petition against moving Ancient Greek language modules from face-to-face instruction to online instruction. The letter was coordinated by Tay Jun Hao ’19 and signed by 20 students. It argued that the online format of the Directed Language Study (DLS) modules would provide “inadequate support for an ancient language” like Ancient Greek.
In a separate letter also addressed to administration, Ancient World faculty members expressed their concern that the plans overlooked the uniquely difficult nature of ancient language study and the importance of ancient languages to the College’s intellectual identity.
In response, the College organized a forum on March 29 between affected students, faculty and administration. During the forum, they announced the move to DLS would be put on hold for a year, and then reviewed.
Administration staff, including Language Coordinator and Saga College Vice-Rector Eduardo Lage-Otero and Humanities Divisional Director and Professor of Humanities Rajeev Patke, cite financial constraints and low enrollment numbers for discontinuing face-to-face instruction. Dr Patke said that such decisions are always a matter of balancing the many things Yale-NUS would like to offer, and the finite resources at hand. Ancient Greek courses currently have 5 students enrolled across Beginner and Intermediate levels.
Currently, DLS modules include Sanskrit, as well as modern languages Portuguese, Italian and Russian.The modules are conducted via teleconference with Yale University instructors, as part of the Yale Center of Language Study’s Shared Course Initiative. “Although we are still fine-tuning the implementation, the learning outcomes should closely match those of face-to-face instruction,” said Dr Lage-Otero.
However, at the forum current Sanskrit students said they faced difficulties with the online format of DLS. “There were big difficulties at the start,” said Vincent Lee ’19. “We can’t type Sanskrit unless we download the font; we need to transliterate. When the professor need[s] to write, he’s basically writing with his mouse,” he said.
Associate Professor of Literature Mira Seo said that Ancient Greek DLS students would likely face difficulties of a similar scale. “Ancient Greek is the same, because you have breathing marks, you have accents, you have a different alphabet,” she said.
Outside of practical concerns, Dr Seo said she believes that the clash over the proposal reflects deeper disagreements about visions and goals for the language program of Yale-NUS between faculty and administration. “[Ancient languages] are connected to the core academic strengths of the College,” she said, citing the intellectual framework set up by the Common Curriculum to foster students’ further pursuit of ancient world studies. “If you have limited resources you have to think about protecting your core academic needs and strengths, and not expanding into the periphery.”
The school administration, on the other hand, has expressed a desire to facilitate more language study, through lateral expansion of the program. When asked about the goal of Yale-NUS’ language program, Dr Lage-Otero said “If you look at the liberal arts experience, any area of study is linked to a culture, a language, and this is reflected to the broad range of languages our students want to study.”
The newly-approved Global Antiquity minor has an ancient language course as a prerequisite course. If Ancient Greek were to be changed to the DLS format, then only two ancient language modules (Latin and Classical Chinese) would remain with face-to-face instruction. Tay said that the DLS format, with its associated additional difficulties, would cause enrollment numbers to further dwindle, creating a “circular problem.”
Students and faculty alike voiced another major concern: the lack of communication of the administration’s decisions. The news to alter the Greek program caught students by surprise, who found out about the decision by word-of-mouth. Faculty members were upset that the administration did not consult them during the decision-making process.
Opinions also differed about the productivity of the discussion at the forum itself. While Dr Lage-Otero characterised the forum as a “good exchange of ideas between students, faculty and administration,” Dr Seo was frustrated at the perceived lack of understanding of the faculty perspective.
The Student Government is aware of this issue and is in ongoing communication with both affected students and the Dean of Faculty.