Administration Must Justify Reductions to Language TAs

As reported in the Review last week, the French and Arabic departments are undergoing budget cuts, resulting in decisions that will potentially affect the overall quality of language education and the education community at Oberlin (“French and Arabic Teaching Assistant Programs Reduced,” Feb. 22, 2019). As a non-French Oberlin student who appreciates the French language and culture and the broader language community, I believe the administration’s decision to reduce the number of French TAs is unacceptable and has been left completely unexplained. For my Winter Term project, I wrote an essay arguing for the need to establish an absolute educational standard to which all programs must adhere: any class or program must be more valuable than any plausible alternative. Furthermore, not establishing the absolute standard would lead to attacks on education.

The administration’s decision to reduce the number of French TAs affects students who take, or plan to take, French classes, as well as the French TAs themselves. Therefore, whoever is responsible for this decision must be able to justify reducing French resources instead of reducing those dedicated to other subjects.

Further, according to John Dewey, an American philosopher of education, the values of all subject matters are intrinsically equal and can only be evaluated under a certain standard. For example, although the values of the natural sciences and language are intrinsically equal, if the school thinks that students should be equipped to contribute to technological innovation in the future, teaching the natural sciences would be more valuable than teaching language. However, if we value the ability to understand different cultures, teaching languages would be more valuable than the natural sciences. Therefore, valuing the natural sciences over teaching languages is only possible under a particular criterion.

The administration has the responsibility to prove that other subjects are more valuable than French — or any other language — if it is going to reduce resources in various language departments. They should publicly present a plausible and unproblematic standard that justifies their value judgments before making this decision — or else risk attacking education against students, faculty, and TAs. Although my emotional attachment to the French TAs — from whom I have learned a lot — seems absent from my argument, it is rather a rational representation of my emotional attachment to them. I thank the College for giving me an opportunity to learn about the philosophy of education. However, I cannot thank it for unjustifiably cutting TA positions.