Amid Shrinking Enrollment, Romance Languages and Literatures Plans To Redesign Curriculum

The Department of Romance Languages and Literatures is planning to redesign its curriculum to attract concentrators and non-concentrators to high-level language courses which have seen a sharp decline in undergraduate enrollment in recent years, according to chair Virginie Greene.

Greene said that the department is exploring a variety of approaches, such as better communicating the value of its courses to students and introducing more courses for non-concentrators, to make the department appear more relevant to students. She added that the department is considering altering the name of its undergraduate concentration, which is currently called Romance Languages and Literatures.

College students want to know the practical value of their courses, according to Catherine Downey, coordinator of undergraduate programs for the department.

“Students might not necessarily know Romance languages and literatures. What do you do with that? What does that mean? I think we are trying to bring it back to the basics,” she said. “What can you do with that concentration?”

Director of Undergraduate Studies Luis G. Negron argued that the study of Romance languages enables students to pursue a range of activities in cultures outside of the United States, from working on health initiative in Peru to studying student movements in France. The department currently teaches courses in French, Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan, and Italian.


To show students the range of opportunities that can accompany a Romance Languages and Literatures degree, Downey said that the department is working to contact and understand the career paths of its alumni.

In addition to conveying the relevance of its courses to draw in more enrollees, the department also hopes to ease language requirements to attract more students to upper-level courses specifically.

“We should offer more courses in English to attract students who don’t feel that they are at the linguistic level to take advanced courses in the culture, the literature, the films...but would be very interested in our topics,” Greene said.

Offering courses in English about Romance cultures often motivates students to learn the language of the works they are studying, Negron added.

The department has not yet finalized the direction it will take to institute changes to course structure, but Greene said that she hopes that changes will be made in the next few years.

“Maybe [the changes] will be done progressively. I am not sure how it will be done,” she said.

Before making changes, the department will issue a survey to students currently enrolled in department courses to measure their effectiveness, Romance Languages and Literatures preceptor Nicole A. Mills said.

Mills said that the results of this survey will be presented in a symposium featuring many experts from Harvard and other universities across the country in October. The findings of the survey will inform the steps that the department will take in coming years.

The survey will launch on April 1 and remain open through April 15.

—Staff writer Jill E. Steinman can be reached at Follow her on twitter @jillsteinman.