This fall, UCSB will welcome a brand new language course in Pashto, a language spoken throughout Afghanistan and in parts of Pakistan. The addition of this course to the current arsenal of language courses offered at UCSB aims to expand the university’s coverage of languages across the Middle East. However, the new course won’t be in any language department but instead through the department of religious studies. Furthermore, the new classes won’t further stress the school’s already tight budget, as the teaching position for Pashto I, along with four other language courses, will be financed largely by the U.S. Department of State.
By offering the courses, the department aims to overcome the linguistic barriers faced by religious studies students and also to address the goals of the Foreign Language Teaching Assistant program (FLTA) that brings the instructors to UCSB. Historically, the department incorporated foreign language courses as a way for students to enhance their understanding of non-English-speaking cultures and religions. Consequently, an undergraduate student may fulfill the foreign language requirement of his or her liberal arts education while simultaneously applying this language in a given area of study. Similarly, the instructors of these courses are able to share their experiences from foreign countries with their students. For example, the instructor of Pashto has recently been teaching English to students in Afghanistan. The benefit of this for students, said communications director Deirdre O’Shea, is that “the class will operate as a cultural exchange as much as a language course.”
Come fall, as these instructors bring their experience and knowledge to UCSB, many people may feel compelled to ask how these new courses are being offered at a time when budget cuts are taking effect throughout the UC system. The beauty of the FLTA program – sponsored by the Fulbright Commission, the Institute for International Education, and the U.S. Department of State – is that it offers a way for a university and a language instructor to exchange services: The university offers enrollment in a graduate course to the instructor at no cost, and the instructor offers to teach a language course, also without cost. The tuition for these teachers will be covered by UCSB’s Center for Middle East Studies.
Although the center receives support from the UC system in the form of office space and supply contributions, they do not receive any monetary support. According to director Dwight Reynolds, also a professor of religious studies, the center is supported and maintained by grants, private donations, and an endowment that will cover the tuitions of the FLTA instructors, whose travel, insurance, and living costs are covered by the FLTA program. In short, the UC system will not be funding these instructors. Additionally, O’Shea said, the cost of each instructor’s tuition will only be a few hundred dollars, while “the value of these teachers is immeasurable.”
The addition of these language courses will enable UCSB to offer two levels of Turkish, two levels of Persian, and an introductory Pashto course, all taught by FLTA instructors. In addition to staffing courses at a reduced cost to the university, O’Shea explained that the FLTA program provides instructors who “can put the language lessons in the context of their personal experiences.” She also said that the current financial situation necessitates such cost-cutting tactics. “In a time when we are all enduring budget cuts, we have been able to leverage resources from the U.S. Department of State,” she said.