My alma mater, Southeastern Louisiana University, announced last month that it plans to cut its French program. After that, we got the news that soon universities across the state would lose LOUIS, a consortium of university libraries that provides a number of online databases to its members, thereby expanding the scope of research capabilities in small libraries. When I studied at SLU, such databases were indispensable. If I had relied entirely on the collections of books and periodicals housed in the library itself, my research would have been inestimably poorer. I imagine that these resources are, in many cases, the one factor that keeps academic programs at Southeastern competitive. Cutting this program seems to me the equivalent of a leg amputee shooting himself in his one good foot.
Louisiana actually enjoys "one of the nation's most progressive student assistance programs." I did not have to take out a loan to attend college, and only when I took summer classes (every summer) did I pay any tuition. Since I lived off campus, my fees mostly went to parking passes and textbooks. This law came about from the same politicians who constantly bemoan the fact that many of Louisiana's brightest students flee the state as soon as they can get into a better funded and equipped university anywhere else in the country. I stayed in Louisiana to attend college because I had met some of the faculty through a program that allowed me to take college courses while a junior and senior in high school, and because I earned a TOPS scholarship. They're letting go of some of their best and brightest faculty, it seems, and I wonder how handicapped the library will be when the funding for LOUIS runs out. If I were a graduating senior today--and maybe this is a bit too reactionary on my part--I would be gone from Louisiana the day after my graduation ceremony (or I'd leave soon after the last class and let them mail me my diploma).
Getting back to the national issue of library cuts. That piece from the L.A. Times says it all. I miss having a well equipped and stocked library in walking distance, and I regret that I did not spend more time in the libraries of the Boston area while I lived there. My wife visited the public library here in Garanhuns, which amounted to a small room with poorly organized shelves. She says that that is pretty much the norm in this region. One wonders how conditions might change in this country if the distribution of information and education were just a little more equitable. New books in Brazil are prohibitively expensive to all but the middle class and elite. Even though this is a university town, there is only one used book store, and while one may find a few gems there, it's nothing compared to its equivalent in the States.
Public libraries are definitely appreciated in many counties throughout the United States. I can't help but think, however, that more could be done to encourage the public to make use of them. When I read the article about the closing of the French department at Southeastern, I was reminded of the time I had signed up for a semester of study in France. The trip was canceled, and I was refunded my money, because too few students enrolled in the program. At the time, I blamed it on the "freedom fries" hysteria. (This was at the beginning of the war in Iraq, when the Gauls had the gall to oppose American foreign policy.) But now I think it was probably because there were only a handful of French majors (I minored in the subject), and few of them had enough money for the trip.
So, when I read President Crain's statement that French is a "low-completer" program (and currently enrolls only 25 students), I thought, "Well, I can't argue with him there." French at Southeastern, as long as I've been familiar with it, is characterized by a paucity of students. My advanced classes barely met the minimum enrollment for a class. Now, I am not supporting the decision to cut French. Southeastern, like every Louisiana institution, wastes money on any number of ill-conceived notions annually. And beyond whatever the university itself has failed to do, there is the question of state funding. I just can't help but think that if more students were enrolled in that department, the question of cutting French would never have been uttered. In other words, we can all do our part to help save these vulnerable things that we love. It may often be a losing battle, but it's worth fighting.
All of this, of course, is happening in the wake of one of the greatest environmental disasters in U.S. history (is that right? I'm just guessing). Even when I don my rose-colored glasses, the future of Louisiana (and the rest of the country) is as brown and stinky as....