At the beginning of each semester, with the exhausting demands and challenges of preparing classes, managing departmental duties, spending time with our families, etc., I always remember the conversations I used to have with my dear friend and longtime member of FLANC, Norman Litz. We used to say that we could find many reasons why we should not be in this profession, but fortunately we could also find many more reasons why we wanted to continue in our chosen career. Norm was for me more than a friend; he was a mentor, a beacon, especially during difficult times in my professional life. For me it is impossible to imagine FLANC without remembering people like Norm. Fortunately, many like him are still with us in the Executive Council and in other similar organizations and institutions. People like Norm are one of the reasons why we continue this long tradition of teaching, especially of languages, in these stressful and complicated times.
And there is no doubt that we are living in difficult times. Our profession is under great stress, from the lack of resources to the epidemic of adjunctivism. Today, approximately 76 percent of all instructional appointments in higher education in the United Sates are for non-tenured positions (1). So the majority of instructors are working under extremely harsh conditions, many without basic benefits and in classes that are much more populated that the recommended number of students per instructor by respected institutions such as the Association of Departments of Foreign Languages (ADFL), which recommends 20 students per instructor (2). In the Modern Language Department in which I am Chair, the maximum number of student per class is usually 40; especially in introductory classes that are commonly taught by non-tenured instructors. Many of us are trying to change this phenomenon, but the task is extremely difficult. Furthermore we have the problem of the implicit message we give to our graduate students about teaching languages, particularly in language departments where second language acquisition courses are being taught predominantly by GSIs and lecturers. In those departments tenured professors normally only teach classes in literature. You will rarely find a tenured professor teaching languages. And then there is the issue of technology, which ideally should be used to support classrooms techniques and help to achieve student learning outcomes. However, most of the conversations about educational technology today appear to be mainly focused on the idea of using these technologies in ways that could serve the largest number of students with the fewest resources. In addition, more and more economical entities are directly or indirectly influencing curriculum, for example, through research and materials produced by the few textbook publishing giants. Another example of this corporate influence in our field that directly or indirectly affects us can be found in the use of consultants to outsource critical operations of the educational institutions such as technology and assessment. Consequently, the difficulties are enormous.
That is why I think that, in these times, it is extremely important to have a place where we can interact, support and motivate each other. This is why I will, during my tenure, propose different strategies and conversations to the Executive Council of FLANC that will attempt to address these modern issues. We will keep you all informed about new activities, reports and seminars that we will offer in addition to our regular annual conference that this year will be at Berkeley City College on November 7th and 8th.
Finally, I would like to add that in the last 14 years, FLANC, our regional institution, has been that sanctuary and oasis in which I and many of my friends have found the support and the answer to why we are in this career. This is why I am deeply thankful to the Executive Council, especially our past President Dr. Masahiko Minami, for all their exemplary work and dedication.
Dr Fabián Banga
Berkeley, August 23, 2014
1.- Background Facts on Contingent Faculty: http://www.aaup.org/issues/contingency/background-facts
2.- ADFL Guidelines and Policy Statements: https://adfl.mla.org/Resources/Policy-Statements