Proposed restructuring would move all faculty away from Global Studies and Languages

Major and minor programs in GSL may be modified as a result

Global Studies and Languages may soon be restructured to move all faculty to other academic units, if current proposals are carried to completion. Language instruction should remain intact, but major and minor programs may be affected.

Melissa Nobles, dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, is leading this process. Nobles and Agustin Rayo PhD ’01, associate dean of SHASS, emailed a joint statement to The Tech.

“Dean Nobles has outlined a proposal for the restructuring in very broad terms,” Rayo wrote. “The basic idea is that the language instruction program (Global Languages) would remain in place — along with lecturers, senior lecturers, and staff — but that GSL faculty would move to other SHASS academic units, where their research and expertise are at home.”

“The proposal is in response to long-standing organizational issues, and informed by my conversations with members of the GSL faculty, as well as the work of previous committees, especially the 2011 SHASS Reorganization Advisory Committee,” Nobles wrote.

The organizational issues include “relatively small faculty size and how that has impacted long-term planning,” as well as internal “personnel matters,” Nobles explained.

The 2011 committee proposed a Global Languages Center with a faculty director, associate director, staff senior lecturers, and lecturers in language instruction. Nobles believes the new GSL “may look very much like” this earlier idea, she wrote.

Nobles has asked Rayo to submit a report with a more detailed proposal by the end of the semester, the statement said. Afterwards, Nobles intends to present the proposal to relevant committees and implement the restructuring “as expeditiously as reasonable.”

“I’m worried about stripping the GSL faculty away from GSL,” Ian Condry, professor of Japanese language and culture, said in an interview with The Tech. “I think it will do damage to the language programs at MIT. I think it hurts our commitment to excellence. I think the majors and minors programs will be at risk.”

Condry was head of GSL from 2013–2015. (For part of Condry’s term, GSL was called Foreign Languages and Literatures, its previous name).

“My main desire is that there is a little bit more of an open and thoughtful discussion that occurs over a longer period of time,” Condry continued. “We have never seen a written down plan, so it’s hard to say, but we faculty in GSL have been encouraged to find other departments that will accept us as soon as the fall.”

Rayo wrote that his role is not to decide whether the restructuring should take place, but rather to write a recommendation on how to proceed assuming that it will, according to an email chain sent to Comparative Media Studies/Writing faculty May 3 and forwarded to The Tech by Condry.

Also in the chain was an email to GSL lecturers from Rayo, in which Rayo presented two “reasonable working hypotheses” about what would happen if the restructuring took place. First, current GSL faculty would “no longer be responsible for supporting GSL’s programs.” Second, GSL would, due to its budget, likely be unable to hire new teaching staff in replacement.

Faculty can choose to continue supporting GSL, but Rayo wrote that he has encouraged junior faculty to focus on building tenure dossiers in their new departments instead.

Rayo also wrote that he hopes there would be no significant changes required to the concentrations. For minors, however, changes would likely be needed, perhaps in the form of loosening requirements or working with faculty, including in other departments, to ensure that classes they are interested in teaching are listed as options for the relevant program.

“It goes without saying that reconceiving the majors is more challenging than reconceiving the minors,” Rayo added. “My own hope is that we'll be able to keep them in place.”

“The study of global languages and cultures is one of the most popular SHASS areas for MIT undergraduates, and an essential component in preparing students to live and work in a globalizing world,” Emma Teng, head of GSL, wrote in an email to The Tech.

“Going forward, our goal to deliver these strengths to MIT students will be unchanged, and it’s my hope we can further strengthen language and culture education on campus through new opportunities for study abroad and with language classes for professional purposes,” Teng continued, citing medical Spanish, Chinese for engineers, and business French as examples.

Teng did not respond to a further request for comment about whether she supported the proposal to remove faculty from GSL.

Three students are currently majoring in GSL’s programs and 65 are minoring, according to Joyce Roberge, undergraduate academic administrator for GSL, in an email to The Tech. GSL has five tenured faculty and five non-tenured faculty.

“I don’t think of us as a small department,” Condry said. “We have enrollments over 2,000 each year.” However, Condry acknowledged that one source of GSL’s struggles is that there are very few senior faculty, and GSL has “lost” three faculty lines to other departments over the years.

Faculty lines refer to faculty members whose “home and salaries are within the budget of the section,” Condry explained.

Getting those lines back would make a significant difference for GSL, Condry continued. Other possibilities for reducing the burden on senior faculty include having faculty with joint appointments in other departments work with GSL for a few years.

If implemented, the proposed restructuring would move GSL in the opposite direction, likely resulting in GSL being downgraded from a “section” to a “program,” according to Condry’s understanding of the situation.

Sections have heads that attend SHASS School Council, while programs do not. Heads participate in discussions and voting, primarily regarding tenure and promotion cases. WGS is an example of a program, which has a faculty director who can attend “extended School Council” for “general announcements and discussions," Condry wrote in an email to The Tech.  

“The importance of having a Head is that it gives a voice to a Section’s concerns directly to the Dean and in consultation with the Heads of other departments,” Condry wrote.

Siranush Babakhanova ’20, a French minor who heard about the proposed restructuring through one of her classes, wrote in an email to The Tech, “I cannot help myself stressing the importance of the advanced classes in the GSL. I took one in French on the topic of Queer Studies and one in English on the topic of Africa's place in the world. … [B]oth may not exist anymore because of these changes.”

The process of restructuring is “directly affecting not only students in GSL and professors but also all kinds of national groups and the very vision of MIT — as something that seeks for technology and innovation and inclusiveness,” Babakhanova wrote.

Rayo wrote in his statement to The Tech that he has met or will meet with every faculty, lecturer, and staff member of GSL, and he is also soliciting input from other SHASS departments. If students want to discuss the restructuring, they are also welcome to contact Robin Palazzolo ( to set up a meeting time.