This article was published in The SAIS Observer in 1995, and is part of our “From the Archives Section,” which aims to digitize consequential stories from the past.
By Tim Baker
In October, The Foreign Observer published an editorial survey on the SAIS Language Department from the student perspective. The issues raised in that piece prompted many responses from our readership. Dr. Gerald Lampe, Director of the SAIS Language Department, contributed the following comments during a recent The Foreign Observer interview.
What was your initial response to The Foreign Observer article?
I was struck by the negativity of it. It was not an accurate or fair picture of SAIS language studies. It seemed to be more a view expressed by a few disgruntled students. It would have been nice to have had a byline, and to have the results of the survey discussed before publication. In particular, the mention of “bribery” to pass the proficiency upset me.
How can the administration, the language department, and the student body work together to improve language study resources at SAIS?
Every semester we review course evaluations. When answers are negative, I deal with them immediately. Organizational development at Johns Hopkins is also involved in improving SAIS language facilities and the language program. THere is room for improvement, but I do think that we have one of the best language programs in the country.
Is there a way for students to communicate directly with you regarding their concerns during the course of language study?
We design the program around student needs prior to the start of the school year, and we allocated an additional $30,000 for class sections iths year. I think it is important for students to be aware of the fact that I am available five days per week. As a graduate of SAIS, I care a lot about this school. My door is open, and I hope SAIS students are aware of that.
What has been done in response to student concerns regarding the SAIS language program?
Generally, comments are centered on a particular instructor’s program. Sometimes they haven’t passed the proficiency when they think they should have. This year some students attempted to enroll in classes up to October 23, while others tried to drop after the REgistrar’s drop/add period. The development office and Dean Wolfowitz are working hard to obtain funding. However, one needs more exposure to a foreign language than five or six hours per week. In order to become proficient, a student needs access to technology. I think we’re going to have a new language lab soon with more emphasis on learner-managed learning.
One student in the survey mentioned that it seems as though certain language programs are more like “fiefdoms” than part of the language department. How would you respond to that?
In a few programs, too much emphasis is placed on “my program”. We’re all in this together, but some of my colleagues are too involved in their own professional development.
Some students are concerned about the lack of access to language classes after having passed the proficiency. What is the SAIS language department’s policy in this regard?
I welcome anyone who would like to take a second or third language here in my office. I raised this issue with Dean Szabo in the fall and he agreed. THere is also a movement to offer other non-major languages for proficiency. I feel this would be a bad policy, although some of these languages can be used to fulfill department requirements.
Do you have any closing thoughts?
I would like to add some positive points. First, almost one million dollars per year is devoted to the SAIS language program. SAIS is the only school to offer specialized language skills to its students. Despite the physical distance from the main Homewood campus, we have tailored our program to ur graduates, and found that the skills we teach here have helped them in their post-graduate employment.
We offer eleven languages, with Indonesian recently added as the eleventh, and five levels of instruction. I can understand the desire for some other languages to be offered, but there is a limit to how much can be done. I welcome criticism and positive comments, and would like to repeat that my door is open, and I hope SAIS students are aware of that. During orientation I emphasized an open door policy. I am inviting students to come and talk to me. That’s why I’m here – not just to be an administrator. My primary job is to respond to students.
Tim Baker is a second-year MA candidate in Russian Area and East European Studies