The Tufts School of Arts and Sciences recently announced the decision to end the Portuguese minor, placing the ability to learn the Portuguese language at Tufts in jeopardy. Current students who have already begun the minor sequence will be able to finish, and the department will continue to offer Portuguese language classes through the 2022–23 academic year. However, with the elimination of the minor, the Portuguese program as students know it will soon cease to exist, depriving members of the Tufts community of meaningful opportunities to engage with the language.
Lecturers and students were caught off guard by the decision, which was attributed to low enrollment. Amid shifting faculty members in the program, the department hired a part-time lecturer in the spring who believed the university would continue to offer the minor for the coming future. The sudden change with little notice and confounding rationale has also left students scrambling and disappointed by the administration, highlighted by a student petition and campaign to maintain and improve the Portuguese minor.
According to Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences James Glaser, who was involved in the decision, the Portuguese program was terminated due to limited resources. However, the Portuguese program has only two part-time faculty members, according to the Tufts School of Arts and Sciences website, and is already offering only three courses in the upcoming spring semester according to the same site. Students involved in the campaign also reject the notion that the decision was made on the basis of low enrollment. From the classes of 2016 through 2020, the university graduated nine Portuguese minors, a number that is comparable to several other language minor programs. In fact, the Hebrew, German, Japanese and Russian minors graduated nearly the same number during the same timespan. Additionally, when an academic program is already strapped for resources and has only two part-time faculty members, it is difficult for it to expand or grow. It is unreasonable to cut a program on the basis of low demand when the university has not put adequate time and effort into making it successful. The university’s circular reasoning for eliminating the program is inconsistent with the realities of program operation.
Cutting programs based on resource allocation alone is at odds with the university’s values of justice, inclusion and equity. The move also counteracts Tufts’ efforts to promote diverse curricula through its goal to become an anti-racist institution. Tufts has a strong commitment to world languages, evidenced by its six-semester language distribution requirement for Arts and Sciences students. The decision to end the Portuguese program is a stain on that record and that policy.
Despite low enrollment, this program offers numerous benefits to students and the Tufts community at large. Tufts’ host communities boast high counts of Portuguese and Brazilian immigrants. Portuguese is the third most spoken language in Massachusetts and is spoken by approximately 279 million worldwide. Even Somerville High School teaches Portuguese.
Through coursework in the Portuguese department, Tufts students are encouraged to engage with community partners and organizations in our host communities. The Portuguese program uplifts the diverse voices of our community by celebrating Portuguese language and culture. Furthermore, the language offers students many opportunities for professional growth and development — particularly given Brazil’s increasing influence in global affairs.
We urge Tufts to continue the Portuguese minor and support the Portuguese program through more — not less — investment in faculty and other important resources. To do this, Tufts should implement the requests of the student-run Save Tufts Portuguese campaign. Specifically, the administration should continue to support the minor and introduce a full-time coordinator in addition to one or more part-time lecturers. There is broad support for continuing the minor from the community — the petition has since garnered over 1,200 signatures, and over 200 faculty members, students and alumni have provided testimonials on the value and personal significance of the program. Beyond merely ensuring the continuation of Portuguese classes, it is also critical that the university take steps to build its courses and staffing, to ensure the long-term viability of the program as a whole.
When administrators solely prioritize classes that are in high demand and do not provide the proper resources to allow programs to grow, students lose the ability to diversify their interests and develop broad intellectual capabilities. The inclusion of Portuguese is necessary for maintaining a robust language program at Tufts, and for maintaining Tufts’ mission to being an anti-racist institution. Tufts must uphold its commitment to educating students on Portuguese language and culture.