Cal State Bakersfield faculty and students worried about the future of the university's Department of Modern Languages and Literatures held a small campus protest Wednesday in support of the program.
About a dozen people, including instructors and current and former students, affixed posters and marched with signs at Dorothy Donahoe Hall over concern that CSUB will dismantle the department.
The university says the group's fears are unfounded, but Interim Chairman Anthony Nuno admitted that several language professors who have retired have not been replaced.
"In several meetings administration has mentioned that they're thinking of dissolving or eliminating the department, and that would be terrible," said Nuno, an associate professor of Spanish and Chicano literature.
Nuno is part of a committee formed in March to call attention to the department's attrition rate. In May it sent University President Horace Mitchell a letter outlining its concerns and making the case for preserving the department.
The president has yet to respond to the letter, Nuno said.
Mitchell was out of town Wednesday and could not be reached for comment, but university spokeswoman Colleen Dillaway said there's never been any thought given to discontinuing foreign language majors.
"We're committed to it because we recognize that this is a multicultural society," she said.
University programs across the board have been reduced in recent years due to state budget cuts, Dillaway said.
"We're constantly looking at how to make our programs viable and strengthen them given the funding reality we have to work with," she said.
If current demographic trends continue, by 2060, Hispanics will comprise nearly half of all Californians, Nuno said.
People bilingual in English and Spanish will have an advantage over competitors in the job market and in economic development, he said, so it's in the community's best interest to produce college graduates fluent in both languages.
Moreover, a lot of those graduates go on to become teachers and professors, so the knowledge is spread exponentially, Nuno said.
And then there's the cultural component.
"There's a big Hispanic population here," Nuno said. "The department is an opportunity for them to learn about their history and their culture, and it's a meeting place for the Hispanic community on campus."
CSUB offers 35 undergraduate degree programs. There were 13 degrees awarded from Modern Languages and Literatures in the 2011-2012 school year, a little less than 1 percent of all degrees awarded that year.
In fall quarter of 2012-13, 53 students declared a major from the Modern Languages and Literatures department.
Angela Blanco, 38, who was at the protest, earned a bachelor's degree in Spanish in the spring and is working as a notary public while she considers pursuing a teaching credential.
Spanish has been invaluable in her work, she said.
"Most of the time what I'm signing are mortgage documents, so it's extremely important for (customers) to understand me and that I understand them so I can explain what they need to know," she said.
Sherley Lozano, 32, is getting a master's degree in Spanish at CSUB after earning a bachelor's in communications in her native Peru.
"The Hispanic community in the state is very big," said Lozano, who also attended the protest. "Being bilingual will take me to the next professional level. I would hate to see that opportunity lost."