May 30, 2005 -- Brown University's Academic Priorities Committee and its College Curriculum Council have "decided to re-instate American Sign Language here at Brown as of
this coming fall semester," says Mamet. MORE.
May 30, 2005 -- Brown University's Academic Priorities Committee and its College Curriculum Council have "decided to re-instate American Sign Language here at Brown as of this coming fall semester," says Mamet. MORE.
The Brown University American Sign Language program is in peril. The administration is trying to phase it out, and students, faculty and outside supporters who consider the decision a grave mistake are rallying to the cause.
Brown has offered ASL classes since 1995, and credit-bearing ASL classes for five years. Each semester classes are filled to capacity, with a significant waiting list. These wildly popular classes are now about to be relegated to the "Brown Learning Community," basically a continuing studies area, where classes cost extra and offer no college credit. (There are currently no Brown students enrolled in BLC classes.) The move spells death to ASL education at Brown.
The change came about as a result of a review by Brown's Academic Priorities Committee. The Center for Language Studies, a department that often houses "orphan languages,"had asked for financial help with ASL for three years before receiving a response from the university.
When the APC finally responded in the fall of 2004 and reviewed the ASL program, it concluded that the program either needed to be discarded or upgraded. An upgrade would mean hiring a full-time staff member, which would money that the University it seems does not want to invest in ASL. (Ironically, the University seems perfectly willing to accept the money that will be made off of ASL classes when they're relegated to the continuing studies area.)
But students, lead by Adrienne "Adee" Thal ('05), Eric Tong ('05), and myself ('04.5), are speaking out and signing up to protest the University's plan. A letter-writing campaign is underway, successful in large part due to the inspiring leadership of Lennard Davis. Students, faculty, and ASL-supporters from all over the world are writing their concerns to the Provost, the President, and the Dean of the College.
The actions taken by the APC show its members' ignorance - rather than neglect - of the importance of ASL in the world and at Brown. So we have made it our duty to educate them. In the process, we are not only making our concerns known, but also galvanizing a pro-ASL community. We continue to fight, peacefully and pro-actively, toward the reinstatement of the full course of ASL classes to Brown's curriculum.
Keeping ASL at Brown is an issue of access, of disability awareness, of Deafness and of diversity. If Brown purports to be a bastion of diverse and liberal-minded education, then they need to "walk the walk": they need to support programs that foster all kinds of diversity at Brown.
Brown has been on the forefront of ASL education since 1995. There has been a more than four-fold increase in ASL classes offered at the university level since 1998, according to the Modern Language Association. To step back from a position of leadership in this field would simply be bad form. Why would Brown, an example to the world of progressive educational practices, want to backpedal?
Brown makes a big to-do about its students being citizens of Rhode Island, of entering the Providence community, rather than being holed up in a castle on "The Hill". Providence has a large Deaf population, so, even forgetting the chances for community service (a high priority at Brown), the chances of running into someone who communicates using ASL are very high. If we lose our ASL program, there will be far fewer people who can navigate the hearing and Deaf worlds at Brown and in Providence. Cutting the ASL programs would only serve to sever the Brown community further from its surroundings.
Brown has an opportunity to make the right choice: to keep our ASL classes, stay connected with that many more people in the wider community, have a program that attracts people from all disciplines (anthropology, linguistics, public health, medicine, cognitive science, sociology), and work our way to the top of the list in terms of diversity. According to many faculty who have already written in support of ASL, Brown would do well to work a little harder on actually making strides toward a more diverse curriculum and student population.
At a meeting of Brown's Undergraduate Council of Students on April 13, President Ruth Simmons presented the school's priorities, for which funds will be sought during a new fundraising campaign. The school hopes to raise $1.3 billion dollars and hire 100 new professors, said Simmons. Set against the backdrop of this proposed expansion, the ASL program's impending death-sentence is particularly upsetting. To acquire one tenured faculty member, the ASL program would need $1 million. No one will notice the difference between a $35 million cafeteria and a $34 million one. But the community will certainly notice if American Sign Language disappears from campus.
Keeping the ASL program is not a hard choice to make financially or philosophically. Hiring one faculty member now will be a lot cheaper than trying to reinstate a full and healthy ASL program a few years down the line, once the other Ivies have done the same and Brown is scrambling to save face.
Education is cheaper than ignorance and Brown cannot afford to lose ASL.
WILLA IVES MAMET graduated from Brown University in December, 2004 with a degree in Deaf Studies. She currently "pursues beauty in the form of photography and pro-ASL activism."
Articles posted April 20, 2005.
Back to ASL, the University, and The Wider Community
ABOUT US | E-MAIL EDITOR | HOME
© Copyright 2005 Ragged Edge Magazine
This Website produced by Cliffwood Organic Works