Dart leaving, Linguistics program sticking around

By Hattie Stahl

After years of ambivalence over the state of the Linguistics Department, students can now relax. Faced last spring with the prospect of its major disappearing, the department has hired a replacement for retiring Professor Sarah Dart for the 2006-2007 academic year. The department, pending approval, will begin a search for a tenure-track replacement this summer.

The renewed standing of the department follows a faculty vote last December in which faculty members voted almost unanimously to approve a newly structured Linguistics program.

When Dart announced last spring that she planned to retire at the end of this semester, she submitted an allocations request for a tenure-track replacement.

“At that time we were bounced back and forth by EPAG,” Dart said. “I very much did not want to kill the program by leaving, so I’m very pleased that the program has been continued.”

The Educational Policy and Governance Committee (EPAG), which reviews all curricular decisions, worked with the Linguistics Department throughout last fall. According to chair Ruthanne Kurth-Schai, when Linguistics Department chair John Haiman and Dart proposed a newly re-designed Linguistics major curriculum, EPAG approved it. The proposal was then presented to the faculty at large.

According to Haiman, the December faculty vote was almost unanimous in favor of approving the department’s newly structured program. “We felt very threatened [before the vote],” Haiman said. “And we feel very relieved now.”

Before Haiman opens the search for a tenure-track position this summer the department must first receive allocation approval from EPAG. According to Kurth-Schai, the allocations process is currently underway, and the Linguistics Department will learn in early May if it can hire to fill a tenure-track position.

Provost Diane Michelfelder said she was aware of the frustrations of the department last fall. The department’s frustrations were understandable, she said in an e-mail. “Despite their small size, the faculty has been able to accomplish some pretty incredible things.”

After the vote, the major was opened again to sophomores and first-years who had been previously informed that they could not declare a major in Linguistics.

According to Dart, an increasing number of students are declaring a major in Linguistics. “Maybe the threat to the department has caused course fillings to shoot up,” she suggested.

Michelfelder said that last fall, it was clear that the number of majors was trending upwards, and this certainly helped the department in making its case.

In Fall ’05, there were 19 declared majors in the department. As of April 25, 2006, there were 24 declared majors and 6 minors.

Linguistics is an interdisciplinary department that can offer core courses in its own discipline, but must also offer regular courses in different disciplines, and can only have two full-time professors to teach the core material.

The department also, as part of its restructuring, raised the number of courses required for a major, from 10 to the required 12 minimum for an interdisciplinary departmental major.

According to Linguistics major Maeve Kane ’08, the department is incredibly interdisciplinary. Kane is currently taking three courses that will count toward her major, courses in the German, Philosophy, and Psychology Departments.

“I like the department a lot,” Kane said. “It’s nice having a smaller department, although it is sometimes harder to get into the classes I want, although I imagine that will get better once we are able to hire another permanent professor.”

“Linguistics has always been a strong program,” Kurth-Schai said. “There’s enthusiasm for the re-designed interdisciplinary major in an important curricular field,”

Haiman has mixed feelings about the restructuring. “We’re introducing something new,” he said. “I’m hopeful but I don’t know how I feel about it.”

The Linguistics field, according to Dart, is the quintessential interdisciplinary field, especially when considering Macalester’s international mission. “How can you have international diversity if you don’t consider language in that?” Dart asked. “We had a lot of educating to do about linguistics.”

“I’m really happy with the person who is replacing me,” she added. “I can leave Macalester with a clear conscience.”

Christina Esposito, who is finishing her Ph.D. at UCLA, has been hired for the 2006-2007 academic year. “I’m essentially picking up where Professor Dart is leaving off,” Esposito said.

Esposito will teach one course, Language Endangerment, which will explore why and how languages become endangered, as well as what linguists today can do to prevent languages from continuing on this path.

“Hopefully things will work at Mac,” Esposito said, “and I will be able to apply for the more permanent position.”