The Johns Hopkins Gazette: March 15, 1999
Mar. 15, 1999
VOL. 28, NO. 26


Romance Languages to Consolidate

French and Hispanic and Italian Studies rejoin to strengthen departments

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

The French and Hispanic and Italian Studies departments will officially merge on July 1 in a move intended to strengthen each department's academic curriculum and recruiting power. The new entity in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences will be called the Department of Romance Languages.

Stephen Nichols, current chair of the French Department, has been named chair of the new combined department, which rejoins the two language groups, which have been separate since 1983.

Stephen Nichols

Nichols said the move has distinct "educational advantages" for students.

The most commonly taught Romance languages are French, Spanish and Italian. The new department, according to Nichols, will allow the school the freedom to have more course offerings in Portuguese and some of the "minority" Romance languages such as West African or Caribbean French and greatly varied versions of Spanish spoken in Spain, Latin America and the U.S. The increase in the school's undergraduate population over the years has also driven the demand for additional language offerings.

"There are a number of Romance languages--and they have showed a very flourishing tradition--that we have not been able to pay attention to in the past," Nichols said. "[The merger] can give us more options if we are really serious about cultural studies and showing Romance language diversity."

The change also comes at a time when there is deep concern about the disadvantage smaller departments have when trying to recruit students and faculty. "I think students sometimes ask how large a department is. And if they come to a Romance Languages Department with a sufficient critical mass of faculty, even though the sections may be small, the effect of the whole is more reassuring," Nichols said.

Prospective faculty, Nichols said, have similar concerns.

"They are afraid if it is too small a department, they will feel isolated and not have the opportunities a larger department might afford them," Nichols said.

Herbert Kessler, dean of Arts and Sciences, said that when he became dean, one of the first issues he wanted to address was the problems faced by the smaller departments. This merger will serve to correct some of the perceived weaknesses, he said.

"We saw this as a way to go about rebuilding our strong Romance language tradition," Kessler said.

There will be no changes made to the departments' physical office space as part of the restructuring, and their budgets will remain separate. Nichols said the changes will mostly be transparent for students. The course catalog will reflect the new grouping next fall.

Harry Sieber, professor of Spanish and interim chair of the Hispanic and Italian Studies Department, came to Hopkins in 1967, when the former Romance Languages Department existed. But since the separation of the French and Hispanic and Italian Studies departments in 1983, Sieber said, the dynamics of each have changed.

"It's not the merger of the two old departments. It really is a merging of two different departments that have developed side by side over the past 16 years," Sieber said. "We have a new generation of colleagues. We have new areas of study that were just thought about at the time and weren't really being developed. I think we have much more in common now than we had at the end of the old department. I think this is a very good idea."