When I first came to Rice, I was thrilled with the number of language programs offered. I chose to study Russian, and my first-year classes were two of my favorites I have taken at Rice. Taught by Dr. Jonathan Ludwig, they were engaging, enjoyable and effective at improving my proficiency.

My classmates and I were dismayed to discover that second-year Russian would not be offered in the fall of 2016. Despite having enough interested students for both second- and third-year classes, neither was offered. Due in part to these program cuts, Dr. Ludwig left for Oklahoma State University. He was just one of 21 faculty members to leave the department in the past three years, with four more leaving at the end of this semester.

Despite receiving assurances from Dr. Rafael Salaberry, the director of the Center for Languages & Intercultural Communication, that second-year Russian would be offered in the fall of 2017, only first-year classes are being offered again. This is not just an issue for the Russian department. In fact, Arabic, Hindi and Italian also only offer first-year courses.

This lack of upper-level courses is problematic for a number of reasons. First, it can interfere with students’ ability to complete their major requirements. Students pursuing a degree in Asian studies must take five semesters worth of an Asian language, which includes Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Korean or Russian. For three out of these six languages, it is no longer possible to fulfill these requirements.

Additionally, the cuts to these language programs limit students’ study abroad opportunities. For example, I had hoped to participate in a language program in St. Petersburg, but can no longer do so because I cannot meet the prerequisite requirements. Finally, restricting students’ ability to develop language skills hurts future career prospects. Bilingualism makes job applicants more marketable and better prepared to engage in the international workplace, skills desperately needed in our rapidly globalizing world.

If Rice wishes to remain at the top of the academic world, we must invest in our language programs. We must stop seeing language classes as merely existing for the sake of distribution credit and treat them with the respect they deserve. Offering only first-year classes props up the perception that language studies (especially if they are not “mainstream” languages) are unimportant and not worth funding. The lack of upper-level language classes directly contradicts Rice’s commitment to excellence, and should be tolerated no longer.