German-language master's program suspended

by Todd Pringle

Daily Cougar Staff

The pile of musty, dog-eared textbooks lying on the sixth floor of Agnes Arnold Hall symbolized the long end of a dreary, frustrating day. They were German texts -- literature, teaching aids, fiction and nonfiction -- all slated for the trash can.

That day, May 28, started the same for University of Houston German teaching assistants Kerstin Uhl and Hendrik Winterstein: Only three students enrolled in Uhl's class, and eight managed to show for Winterstein's. Both TAs were to teach beginning German this summer, but without at least 10 enrolled students, both their classes were canceled, they said.

To add to their problems, the UH Department of Modern and Classical Languages has temporarily suspended applications to its German master's degree program, where Uhl and Winterstein are enrolled, due to low enrollment and lowered funding.

Three students have already had their acceptance revoked. The decision to suspend the German master's degree program reflects the growing uncertainty of how long German will be taught at UH.

The master's program has been cited as a drain on DMCL funds because it mainly attracts students seeking the $9,000 earned by becoming German teaching assistants, while they complete their requirements.

This form of financial aid is called a "TAship" and is paid annually. To get the aid, students are required to teach one 1000-level German class.

All three students who were denied acceptance to the master's program have requested TAships and are now looking for other schools to attend.

Unless enrollment by students who don't need the TAship increases significantly, said Julian Olivares, chairman of DMCL, the German master's program will be eliminated.

"Right now, funding German TAs is impossible," Olivares said. "The DMCL only received $215,000 in funding for this year, compared with $243,000 for the 1995-1996 year."

The suspension will not affect the bachelor of arts degree offered in German. "Right now, we'll just have to shift our emphasis there," Olivares said.

Uhl and Winterstein consider themselves fortunate. Uhl will earn her degree this summer, and Winterstein can continue his TAship until he graduates in the fall. Uhl has been a TA for two years and Winterstein for four years. Both are international students from Germany.

"Our foreign language is dying. I've seen a preliminary list of enrollment in German classes for the (fall `96) semester. Only two to three students are signed up per class," Winterstein said.

Uhl said, "There is a trend developing where less and less students are interested in majoring in languages. Spanish continues to be popular because Texas is close to Mexico, but languages like German are disappearing here."

Olivares said one of the chief problems with the German program is that it mainly attracts international students. With high out-of-country tuition fees, securing TAships was a priority for them.

For now, German's future looks shaky at UH, Olivares said. Once the figures for fall enrollment are processed, the DMCL can decide how to keep students interested in taking the courses, Olivares said.

Uhl and Winterstein said they wonder about the future of the German language.

"I want to be a professor of German at a university," Winterstein said, "but will I find a job? Perhaps in Germany, but not America."

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