Message from the Director
The SLLC is proud of its deep heritage, its growth, its rich resources, and the legacy of alumni success stories to its credit, as well as the spirit of renewal, adaptation, and continual devotion to the needs of its students. The themes of the School’s first convocation, celebrated on September 1, 2015, reflected on the deep history of the study of language, literature, and culture, dating to KU's founding in 1865; they highlighted the economic empowerment, life-transformation, and career-boost that acquiring a second language affords to students. We have remained true to our mission of serving the state, both through our mentorship and teaching of students, as well as the outreach work that we do, despite the ongoing struggle with resources brought on by the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and the skepticism about education as a public good. We are not naïve about the realities of our world and recognize the symbiotic relationship between education, industry, and quality of life. For these reasons, we have sought to reexamine our assets, both internal and external, and seek innovative ways to strengthen the School.
Over the next few years, you will see new programs and initiatives emerge. Among the first is a new scholarship for high school students entering KU who wish to pursue the study of a second language beyond the one they studied in high school. We are using seed funds provided by the Endowment for the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences to provide this modest scholarship, while we strive to raise new funds to sustain this initiative. You will also see us develop and foster ties with external partners in both the public and private sectors in order to provide resources, career opportunities, and financial support for our students
Language and culture as industry and national educational priorities
Students need foreign-language and cultural knowledge more than ever before. Private Sector and corporate employers today truly understand the need for multilingual and culturally competent employees. A vast, and growing, offering of literature on the need for language and inter-cultural competence in virtually all professions highlights the urgency to add these elements to one's education (Read, for example, "What's Your Language Strategy?" in the Harvard Business Review or "What is a Foreign Language Worth?" in The Economist.)
Recently bipartisan members of the US House and Senate commissioned a major study from the American Academy of Arts & Sciences to "examine the current state of language education, project what the nation’s education needs will be in the future, and offer recommendations for ways to meet those needs." The Senate's letter confronts new realities that will shape the America's demographics and workforce needs for the foreseeable future:
“English is no longer sufficient as a lingua franca—neither at home nor abroad. The percentage of the world's population that speaks English as a first language is declining rapidly; if current demographic trends continue, only 5% will be native English speakers by 2050. At the same time, the ability to communicate in languages other than English has never been more important, as:
- American jobs and exports are more dependent than ever on foreign markets;
- The American population is increasingly multilingual;
- Americans are more engaged diplomatically and militarily around the globe than ever before; and
- Challenges like poverty and disease, and opportunities in scientific research and technological innovation, all require international understanding and cooperation."
We will be watching closely as the commission issues its report in fall of 2016 and carefully consider its recommendations.
The message is clear – It is the responsibility of the KU School of Languages, Literatures & Cultures to help students become globally competent citizens, ready for the challenges of a rapidly changing society and its workforce demands.
Why English alone is insufficient: empathy and perspective
Statistical evidence is convincing enough, but why are language skills and cultural competence essential? During recent conversations on campus connected with the concerns of students in the Invisible Jayhawk movement, we reflected on our values and practices. In particular, we revisited our School's mission statement, which articulates our commitment to the deep understanding of diversity in our teaching and research. The world's diversity is fundamental to what we teach and study. Reading and examining narratives of other cultures, past and present, compels us to consider and intellectually inhabit worlds other than our own. Using a foreign language takes this experience into real-world practice: as we interact with others using their language and rules of engagement, we are able to empathize, as well as elicit empathy. Beyond empathy, this perspective of seeing the world from one's own viewpoint and another's at the same time allows us to perceive the world in three dimensions. With empathy and perspective we can help our students work towards a better, more equitable, and peaceful existence with our fellow human beings.
Marc L. Greenberg, Director