Department Tongue-Tied Over Chinese Program’s Troubles

UCSD’s prestigious Chinese studies program, which pioneered the multi-tracking language placement system, is facing challenges this quarter due to deficient funding, staffing problems and exponential enrollment growth, forcing the program to cancel some classes and overfill others.

Jason Campa/Guardian
The Chinese department has added up to 20 extra students in classrooms in an effort to alleviate staffing problems.

The department has cut two language classes completely due to inadequate staffing levels. Professor Qin-Hong Anderson took maternity leave this quarter and another department faculty member, professor Pei-Chia Cheng, is scheduled to take maternity leave next quarter. The lack of critical teaching staff has left scheduled classes without professors to teach them.

In addition to federally mandated maternity leave, professors are entitled to receive paid leave, and department funds for such purposes are not fully reimbursed, according to Dean of Arts and Humanities Michael Bernstein. The policy has further pressured the department’s funds and resources.

The department is trying to find substitutes, Bernstein said, but so far has been unable to attract any because they would not receive benefits.

This year, UCSD’s record-size freshman class was unable to register until shortly before classes began. Within that time frame, the influx of students registering for a Chinese studies program course critically exceeded expectations, according to professor Samuel Cha. Classes were expanded to accommodate the many students. First-year Chinese courses, he said, have accepted approximately 20 more students than last year. In addition, some students had to be turned away for the first time in the program’s history.

By enlarging classes, the quality of students’ education is being compromised, according to Chinese Language Program Director Jane Kuo. In language courses, Kuo said, class size plays a vital role.

“I feel that we are sacrificing the quality of teaching for quantity,” Kuo said. “I need to be able to interact with the students of the class.”

In addition to the impacted classes, fourth-year Chinese language class CHIN 122A and a similar class, the fourth-year course CHIN 185A, have been canceled for the quarter. Moreover, there will be only one third-year Chinese language class, CHIN 111B, offered for students with a native Mandarin Chinese language background. Anderson normally teaches the class, but because she took maternity leave this quarter, Cha was forced to substitute for her and the classes he normally taught were canceled.

Students who need to take fourth-year Chinese for their majors will have to wait until next year.

Due to a conflict in Cha’s teaching schedule, the CHIN 111B class time was changed after summer, creating problems for students because of the short notice.

“Since the class time switched, it interfered with another class, and since CHIN 111B is only offered once a year with just one class, I had to drop my other class,” Sixth College junior Johanna Gan said.

Several students qualified for CHIN 111B were waitlisted for the first week of classes until a larger classroom became available, and some classes were originally filled past fire-code regulations until rooms were changed to accommodate all of the extra students. Instruction began during second week because of the classroom discrepancies.

Furthering the troubles within the Chinese studies program, Education Abroad Program students who spent the last year in China were originally supposed to have a class particularly designed for them. Resources, however, are not available for that option, according to Cha. Instead, EAP students were forced to compete with other students for access to CHIN 111B and many had to waitlist.

In addition, the department has had trouble placing students in the correct language levels.

Using its multi-tracking system, the UCSD Chinese studies program places students into three tracks, depending on the student’s particular language history. Students who have no Chinese language background are placed in the first track, students with a background in Mandarin Chinese are placed in the second track and students with a background in other Chinese language dialects are placed in the third track.

To be placed in the correct track, a department member must interview each student before assigning that student to a track. This process is strenuous on staff, Cha said, but the Chinese language is too diverse a language to narrow placement down to a written test. Furthermore, there is no correlating textbook for each language level, Cha said.

Bernstein said he was unaware of most of the problems the Chinese language program is facing, but said that it would receive his full attention.

“It is my goal and hope to work toward the steady expansion of the course offerings and instructional opportunities for students in all areas of Asian studies, including Chinese studies,” Bernstein said.