Language requirement defers some seniors from graduating

Delaying the language requirement is one of the main reasons students do not graduate on time, said Provost Glenn Pfeiffer. Photo illustration by Catie Kovelman

Niki Black “walked short,” at spring 2017 graduation. Because she didn’t complete her language requirement before graduating, she had to fulfill the credits post-commencement.

“(The) 101 and 102 classes were fine, but when I got to the 200 level, it just became too much for me,” said Black, a ‘17 women and gender studies alumna.

Black chose to work with the disability department and have the course replaced with an integrated educational studies course because of her Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, she said.

Provost Glenn Pfeiffer explained that a common reason some students do not graduate is the school’s language requirement. The language study portion of Chapman’s general education program requires that students complete the study of a language at the 200 level.

Students can take a language placement test in Spanish, French, German, Italian or Latin that puts them in the appropriate course – 101, 102 or 201, according to the Chapman website.

“A lot of times, students come in already with credit from high school, and then they get to their last semester and they forget they have to take that 201 course,” Pfeiffer said. “So it can be difficult for some students.”

But the university is in the process of applying to a selective honor society Phi Beta Kappa, whose members include schools like Harvard University and Yale University. World Languages and Culture department chair John Boitano wrote in an email to The Panther that Chapman wouldn’t have “any change of success” in its application without its 201-level language requirement.

“The visiting Phi Beta Kappa team with whom (Spanish professor) Polly Hodge and I met made this very clear,” Boitano wrote. “Phi Beta Kappa only exists at the top 10 percent of liberal arts and sciences universities in the U.S.”

In order to be eligible for Phi Beta Kappa membership, a student must complete no less than an “intermediate college level” in a second language, according to the Phi Beta Kappa website.

Black thinks that all students should have the option to take a culture-based class to fulfill that requirement, or that the university dissolve the requirement altogether.

“I think up to 102 is fair, but 201 is too much,” Black said.

When the general education curriculum was created in 2007, the language department agreed that a 201 class is the level of language proficiency that Chapman graduates need, Pfeiffer said.

Nina LeNoir, the vice provost for undergraduate education, began a general review of the general education program with English professor Morgan Read-Davidson in spring 2016. The review found that 77 percent of students started their language requirement within their first year at Chapman.

While there is no data on the percentage of people who walk without their language requirement fulfilled, 11 percent of Chapman students have taken language courses elsewhere, LeNoir said.
Chapman’s program offers courses in American Sign Language, Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Ancient Greek, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Portuguese and Spanish. The world language department encourages students who enjoy the language program to pick up a language as a second major or minor.

This is the case for senior French and history major Paige Dudley, who also has a minor in Italian. Dudley said that she has always picked up languages easily, but can understand why some students don’t finish the requirement.

“The way they teach language (at Chapman) is different from the way they teach it at my high school,” Dudley said. “It took some getting used to.”

Dudley said that, in her experience, classes at Chapman are more focused on speaking in the language than reading or writing them. She has had good experiences with the language department, she said, including joining the Italian club.

Black, however, argues that the language department’s methodology wasn’t effective. Formerly a music major, she said it was difficult to focus on those classes when her schedule was already so rigorous.

“People cheat through tests and homework just to get through it,” Black said. “People really just want to focus on their majors.”

However, LeNoir thinks that part of being a Chapman student is to meet a certain standard.

“Being at Chapman has to require a certain (amount) of rigor, (otherwise) what makes it better than any other school?” she said.


  • Strange, I and many others see the value in learning a second language. While I’m confident a language course of any sort would be more challenging than your Gender Studies courses, that doesn’t mean we should dissolve the requirement. Employers look for individuals who can speak multiple languages, so I’m not sure you understand why this requirement is in place. I believe ITT Tech doesn’t have a language requirement.

  • People who can’t pass 201 are probably too busy going out to Fiji parties getting drunk beyond comprehension. Sad!

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