Restrictions for ASL program starts online petition

Daniel Moore

Ally Snyder was a mathematics major when she came to Kent State. Currently in her second year, she has an internship this summer at Pressley Ridge School for the Deaf in Pittsburgh. Pa.

As a freshman, she knew she also had an interest in sign language, so she decided to take a course in American Sign Language — and became enthralled with everything about it.

“My second semester here I realized I was miserable in my math classes and could not stand it,” Snyder said. “I loved my ASL classes. I loved the other students. I loved the teachers.”

Snyder said she then changed her major to Deaf Education.

But such changes won’t be possible for students beginning Fall 2011. The university plans to restrict all American Sign Language courses on the main campus to students enrolled in an ASL major or minor, a Deaf Education major or an Educational Interpreting major, according to the university’s website.

She joined with fellow students to form the group Silent Standoff, which petitioned online against the university’s planned changes. As of Sunday afternoon, the petition had over 1,550 signatures, according to the website.

“I wouldn’t have had those opportunities if I hadn’t been involved in sign,” Snyder said.

Bethany Stahler, a senior ASL major, drafted the petition. She said she came from New Jersey to Kent State for its accredited ASL program.

According to the Kent State website, the program is the only one of its kind in the nation to have national recognition and accreditation from both the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL).

“Everyone knows about how great the Kent State ASL program is,” Stahler said.

Stahler said she considers the restrictions to be discriminatory and feels university officials are ignoring those students who want to take ASL courses as an elective.

Timothy Moerland, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, wrote in an email response to the petition that the change is being made for “budgetary, staffing and programmatic reasons.”

“It will allow us to raise the instructional standards in the sections offered at the Kent campus and strengthen the program,” Moerland wrote. “Majors (will) emerge with a stronger foundation.”

He wrote that in the face of limited financial resources, “our choice is to keep the ASL major strong.”

However, Stahler said placing limitations on the major will make it weaker. Professions, like doctors, should be able to have a basic, practical knowledge of the language without having to declare a minor, she said.

“ASL can be used in any field — it says it right on the website,” Stahler said. “Kent’s not fulfilling its obligation to offer courses that make you a well-rounded student.”

Also, she said, weakening the ASL program hurts the university because, like fashion and architecture, the program draws students.

Snyder said Silent Standoff has been unable to get a definitive number of cuts in terms of faculty and class sections, but she believes a number of teachers were laid off already.

“They don’t really want to talk about any of this,” Snyder said. “But how do you keep a full staff full time when you have no classes?”

Jennifer Larson, chair for modern and classical languages, said she has spoken with many students in the past couple of weeks about the matter, and it “speaks highly” of the ASL program to have so many students involved in fighting the change.

However, she said some of the opponents of the change may be misinformed. She reiterated the ASL program is not shutting down, and the ASL courses at Kent State University still count as a foreign language requirement.

“I would caution people to make sure they get the facts right, as there has been a lot of misinformation flying around,” Larson said.

Snyder said she fears Kent State would lose its recently earned accreditation if too many students left the program.

“It just doesn’t make sense,” Stahler said. “Let people take the class.”

Stahler said she never expected the petition to take off like it did. She said she understands there’s a possibility the university won’t change its mind, but she is doing everything she can to make sure they do.

“We have such a diverse group of people that care,” she said. “I think they’re starting to realize (that.)”

Contact Daniel Moore at [email protected].