In November 2008, a proposal to discontinue the German major and minor was made to the faculty. The discontinuation, finalized in the spring of 2009, left somewhat of a sour aftertaste in the mouths of some members of the Gustavus community. For those involved, it was a difficult decision to make.
Many factors contributed to the discontinuation of the German major. Due to lack of interest in the German language at Gustavus in recent years, there is only one German professor. Consequently, only a limited number of courses can be offered each semester. When courses are not offered often enough, it becomes increasingly difficult for students to complete a major. On these grounds, the German major was discontinued.
“The administration can’t justify [a major] when there’s only one professor. … Even with only a minor, we didn’t have the staff for it,” Current Chair of the Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures (MLC) Department Laurent Dechery said.
“We just couldn’t make a case, knowing other departments needed replacements,” last year’s MLC Chair Anne-Marie Gronhovd said.
Dechery and Gronhovd also cited low enrollment as a contributing factor.
“Here, German was once flourishing in a liberal arts tradition. Now it has died out,” Professor of German Horst Ludwig said.
“[Discontinuing a major is] very serious. It’s not something you just do on a whim,” Chair of the Curriculum Committee Michele Koomen said. “The department identifies that there’s a problem. When it comes to us, [we] invite the chairs to come to us.”
After discussion and deliberation, the Curriculum Committee presents the case to the faculty, which then votes. “We, as the Curriculum Committee, say that we recommend this decision.” This is generally how it works, but Koomen also said, “There is not a procedure in the handbooks.”
Many faculty members were opposed to the idea of discontinuing. Students, too, resisted the decision.
“[The German major] is the reason why I came here. From day one, it was what I wanted to do,” Sophomore German Major Hannah Hysack said.
As a first-year student aspiring to become a German education major, Hysack visited the Registrar to explore her options. She discovered that the German major would soon be gone, and the German education major was nonexistent. She declared a major before the option was no longer available.
Sophomore Economics and German Major William Hauer had had similar intentions. Like Hysack, Hauer declared a German major before it was too late. “I am limited in the classes I am able to take here, which as of now only officially goes up to 252. In order to complete my German major, I must study in Germany,” Hauer said. Additionally, he must take courses at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
“I have to take German 252 and 399 [at Gustavus]. After that, I will have to take courses at Mankato or in Germany. I just have to find a compatible [study abroad] program and work with [MSU],” Hysack said.
“Part of the reason why I came here was to get a German major or minor, and, even though there are other options, I didn’t come here to teach myself German,” Sophomore Communication Studies Major and German Minor Jennifer Vancura said.
First-year students from this year felt misled. The German major was listed on Gustavus’ website as a major option as late as March 2009, after the recommended registration date. Until November 5, 2009, Gustavus’ website linked to a page with videos of students speaking about being a German major at Gustavus.
“It’s just been very frustrating,” First-year History Major Mark Jensen said. Jensen had planned to major in German and History at Gustavus after having studied German for 14 years. “I don’t want to transfer, despite the difficulty.”
As an alternative to the German Language major, a German Studies major was explored. German Studies would have included courses from many departments—Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures; History; Philosophy and Religion, might have been a few options.
Koomen said that “sufficient courses to complete a German Studies major” did not exist.
This does not mean that German will fade away from Gustavus entirely.
“I truly believe that the administration is committed to the German program,” Gronhovd said.
“This is a Lutheran college. We need [German] for our own identity,” Dechery said.
“Discontinuation doesn’t mean it’s terminated,” Koomen said.
German is not dead at Gustavus Adolphus College; just don’t expect to see a major or minor option resurfacing any time in the near future. That possibility seems, for the time being, utterly kaput.