Cal State Fullerton to dissolve American Language Program and lay off 14 faculty at the end of the semester

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student looks at door with closed sign
(Dalia Quiroz / Daily Titan)

UPDATE: This story was updated on April 3, 2018 at 1:15 p.m. to reflect the most recent information regarding the notification of students of the closing of the American Language Program at CSUF.

Fourteen faculty have been laid off from the Cal State Fullerton American Language Program, also known as the ALP, which will be dissolved at the end of the spring semester.

“Our major concern right now is not our own jobs, it’s the fact they haven’t told the (ALP) students that they’re closing the program,” said Bruce Rubin, ALP faculty member on March 23.  

On April 2, ALP students were notified via email by International Student Services that the program would be closing.

The program serves international students who do not currently have the language proficiency to pass an English language test to enroll at CSUF. What the program offers is “conditional enrollment,” which allows students to enroll through courses meant to acclimate them with American life.

CSUF is now one of the few CSUs to not provide an intensive English program for international students.

“By eliminating this program, the university is really devaluing that whole field,” said Mark Herbst, ALP faculty member.

Even though the program is self-funded, the CSU told faculty it will dissolve the program because it is not financially sustainable.

“Their reason for shutting us down or ‘sunsetting’ us because we’re not financially viable is simply not true,” said Michelle Luster, program faculty member.

Rubin said the Chancellor’s Office told ALP faculty it could not devote any resources to keep it open.

“There’s nothing for them to devote. We’re self-supporting; but they said if they lay us off, they might offer some minimal severance package or something. That’s what they’re willing to pay for,” Rubin said.

Becoming financially unsustainable was a looming threat that Rubin said surfaced “half a dozen times” in the history of the ALP, and that the program has always recovered from its setbacks.

“They’re not giving us a chance to recover here. They’re reading the tea leaves and deciding the market is going to be tougher, but they don’t know,” Rubin said.

At a faculty meeting on October 13, the ALP faculty were informed that the program would be outsourcing its recruiting to a third party and that the program’s 2018 spring mid-entry and summer terms would not be offered in order to bring in an outside partner.

A third party recruiter was never brought in.

In a meeting with the Chancellor’s Office on March 21, Rubin said the faculty were told that University Extended Education did not have “the power to make an agreement with an outside party.”

“I think one of the main reasons we’re in the position we’re in is that the leadership that’s in place is rather new,” Luster said. “The provost was at one point our acting director when she was the new interim dean. While she’s an educator and a highly regarded and acclaimed one, she doesn’t know anything about our field.”

Before she became interim provost in January, Kari Knutson Miller served as the dean of University Extended Education until 2017. In that position, Knutson Miller oversaw the ALP.  

“Shortly, after (Knutson Miller) came into place, it was clear that she wasn’t really interested in what we had to say. So a lot of the aspects of our program that made it so successful and supported our students, were defunded,” Luster said.

Provost Knutson Miller was not available after multiple requests for comment.

Before faculty were informed the ALP would be shut down, Luster encouraged alumni to write to CSUF President Fram Virjee to tell them how the program had benefited them.

“We were relying on Dr. Knutson Miller to tell (Virjee) who we really are, and she didn’t really know either. So I said the best way for the new president to know who we are is to have a voice from the students,” Luster said.

Hiromi Takizawa, a visual arts assistant professor at CSUF, participated in the program in 2001 as a student after coming to California from Japan.

“My accomplishments are absolutely rooted in the help that I received in the ALP,” Takizawa wrote to Virjee. “The ALP is the gateway for international students and scholars to come to study at Cal State Fullerton.”

Mohammed Al-Behadili came from Iraq to CSUF in 2014 and learned English through the ALP. In February, Al-Behadili received top honors from the Orange County Engineering Council.

“I did not know where my life would have taken me, but (the ALP teachers) worked hard with me and the other students as well in order to understand everything around us,” Al-Behadili wrote to Virjee.

Four weeks ago, ALP alumnus Hussein Al-barazanchi, created a change.org petition addressed to Virjee to keep the program. It has gained over 600 signatures since its formation.

“(Virjee) is receptive but he’s still new, and the provost is the power player at the moment,” Rubin said.

International students can still apply to CSUF, regardless of the ALP’s existence; however, students will have to pass either the Test of English as a Foreign Language, the International English Language Testing System or the Pearson Test of English Academic.

Luster said the ALP doesn’t only prepare those international students with skills that will help them succeed with proficiency in English.

“A great part of our program is cultural acquisition,” Luster said.

The ALP’s website says it is no longer taking applications for spring and summer 2018 but fall 2018 applications will be available soon, and to “Please check back.”

“This program’s been around for 32 years and it is the face of Cal State Fullerton for the international community and by closing it down without any replacement, we no longer have any representation on the international stage,” Rubin said.

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