A key aspect of why Rachael Morrissey ‘16 came to Knox was because of the possibility to study abroad in Barcelona, which was made possible through Knox-run study abroad programs. The emphasis on total immersion, paired with placing Knox students with host families and support of on-site Knox faculty pushed her to become fluent and helped her get her current job.
“I am now working as a bilingual legal advocate for the Violence Prevention Center of Southern Illinois and I help translate in court now for victims of domestic violence looking for protection,” Morrissey said. “I would not be able to work, to do what I’m doing now if I hadn’t had that experience abroad.”
Starting next fall, the Barcelona program is being jointly run with CEA, a study abroad organization, which will handle back office work like finances and student accommodations.
According to information provided to The Knox Student by Professor of Political Science Karen Kampwirth and Professor of Modern Languages Robin Ragan, Knox made the decision on Feb. 15.
When asked about these decisions, Dean of the College Laura Behling would not provide details and said that the administration were still working out the program details.
The two other Knox-run programs, Besançon and Buenos Aires, have both been suspended for the 2017-18 school year. In an email sent out to the campus, Behling credited this to low enrollment, citing three applicants for Buenos Aires and four for Besançon.
“Two of the programs have not had sufficient enrollments in order to make a go of it next year, so they have been suspended as we have had to suspend these programs in previous years,” Behling said at the Town Hall meeting held on Wed., Feb. 8, which protesting students attended to pose questions to the administration about the suspension of Buenos Aires and Besançon and changes to the Barcelona program.
In Behling’s campus-wide email released on March 6, she wrote that the loss of running the two programs with these low levels of students would amount to $70,000.
According to Kampwirth, the strict adherence to deadlines isn’t typical of Knox study abroad programs.
“You know what Knox College is like, deadlines are almost always soft deadlines. We’ve always done this,” she said.
Sophomore Delaney Rybarczyk said that her Modern Languages and French Professor Schahrazede Longou and Director of the Stellyes Center of Global Studies Bren Tooley told her two weeks before the Feb. 1 deadline that the program was likely cancelled.
“I talked to my French professor about it [the Besançon program] and she said ‘Oh, I don’t think it’s even happening this year,” Rybarczyk said. Because she believed the program was cancelled, she did not complete her application and did not have time to apply to another study abroad program.
Associate Professor of Modern Languages and Literatures Tim Foster and Rybarczyk both expressed concern that the program numbers dropped because of poor advertising on the part of Knox. “I don’t think it [the Besançon program] is well advertised at all,” Rybarczyk said. “I had to find it on my own. Not even the French department plugged for it that much, at least not to me.”
Kampwirth thinks that one possible reason for low enrollment is that Knox does not do enough to advertise their study abroad programs. Kampwirth noted that while they hold information sessions about the Knox programs during Fall Institute, students have to already know about the program to attend the session.
Responding to claims that the college does not adequately advertise the program, Behling said at the Town Hall meeting that efforts for recruitment began in October and that professors were alerted multiple times of low enrollment concerns by Tooley. However, she conceded that the college might need to look at more ways to advertise it to students.
TerraDotta, Knox’s study abroad application portal, was closed shortly after the deadline passed, according to Kampwirth. Foster said that in the past few years students have been able to apply up to over a month after the Feb. 1 deadline.
Explaining what was different this year, Foster said, “I think the hard deadline of Feb. 1 is where things changed.”
Foster said that normal procedure was, if the program was short on participants, faculty recruited more students for the program after the official deadline, noting that many low income and first generation students need more time to decide.
Following the assumption the situation would be the same, Foster found six more students interested in the Buenos Aires program after the application was closed, which would bring the enrollment up to nine. According to Kampwirth, the program has run at an enrollment between eight and 13 in recent years.
Despite this, Behling and Tooley would not reopen TerraDotta.
“These are programs that have the same deadline as every other off-campus program,” Behling said. “Deadlines really become one of the important parts of what we’re looking at here.”
In Behling’s email, she stated, “While Barcelona and the other two programs have always been run by a faculty director, this year no member of the Department of Modern Languages was available to direct Barcelona … however, third-party providers also offer excellent services, academic quality, and a network of personnel to cover the important administrative aspects of running off-campus study programs.”
A faculty director always stays in Barcelona for the year while students attend classes at the University of Barcelona.
While no Modern Language professors were technically available, Chair of Gender and Women’s Studies Magali Roy-Fequiérè and Professor of History Konrad Hamilton had already committed to directing the program as of Jan. 9.
Instead, Knox decided to appoint Grace Moran ‘14 to direct the program. Moran is currently assistant director at the Barcelona program, who works beneath Ragan, who is acting as director.
“In late January we were contacted by the Dean of the College, who thanked us for volunteering, but said that the decision had been made to have someone with prior experience with the program direct it,” Roy-Fequiérè said in an email statement to TKS. “This was fine with us, as our only reason for volunteering in the first place was that we wanted to see the program go forward under the directorship of Knox personnel.”
Ragan and Moran visited CEA in Barcelona and a proposal was presented to Knox by CEA, after Knox reportedly initiated the relationship, detailing their requests. In the first proposal, which was received by Tooley on Jan. 31, a Knox director and apartment was included in the program. According to Kampwirth, the proposal indicated that most of the work CEA would be doing would be financial and tax work.
“I sent in several pages of feedback and questions on the first proposal, but overall, after my questions were answered, I felt good. It seemed to solve many of our issues and still give students the program they had signed up for,” Ragan said in an email to TKS.
The second proposal, which Ragan received on Feb. 15, had much more cooperation with CEA. In this proposal, students would be taking classes at CEA instead of at the University of Barcelona, along with 500 other American students. According to Ragan, it also excluded a Knox director, which CEA told Ragan was requested by Knox.
“When the second proposal came through, it had eliminated the director and the assistant,” Ragan said. “There would be no on-site Knox person throughout the year. I was utterly perplexed.”
According to Kampwirth and Ragan, Behling emailed Moran the same day to tell her that there would be no role for her next year, as Knox had decided to work with CEA. When asked about the director position at the Town Hall on March 8, Behling declined to answer whether a Knox director would lead the program next year or not. She stated the college was still going through information and could not comment on it at the time.
Ragan notified TKS on Thursday, March 9 that Tooley informed her that the CEA agreement was being changed once again to include a Knox director. Tooley confirmed that Moran will be the Resident Director, and CEA staff will help her with logistics. While students will once again be taking classes at the University of Barcelona, there is still discussion open about classes being taken at CEA, according to Ragan.
Ragan said that having a director from the home institution has proven to be beneficial to first generation and minority students who have less familiarity with study abroad.
“It also creates a special bond of trust between the students and the director that lasts a lifetime,” Ragan said. “I know, for me, the students that I still keep in touch long after they graduate are the students that were in my study abroad groups.”
Kampwirth worried that if students take classes at CEA it would not be beneficial for students looking for a full immersion experience, especially if classes are being offered in English, and the students feel like they can speak English with one another outside of class.
“You could be a Spanish major and take a bunch of courses and never actually learn to speak and think in Spanish. It’s really only with this kind of immersion experience that happens,” Kampwirth said.
Some students, such as junior Miranda Corbett, agree that there are inherent benefits to traveling with Knox professors through a Knox program. Corbett went to Buenos Aires with the Knox program this past Fall Term.
“I got the support from Knox throughout the entire process, before during and after … I also got to meet the people I was going on the program with beforehand and we had lunches before we went. Plus they’re Knox students so you know it’s people you have at least some common thread with if you all go to Knox, so that’s really helpful when you’re there,” she said.
Students who had participated in the program before decided to take action. Several students who went on the Buenos Aires program tabled in Seymour Gallery this week, collecting signatures to prevent the program from being suspended.
They collected 771 signatures.
Speaking with TKS after the Town Hall, Behling said that whether or not the Buenos Aires program could be reinstated for the next year could not be said without further discussion. The college does not have a working timeline for when the decision might be made on Buenos Aires.
“We talk about this human-powered Knox experience,” senior Vicki Martin said. “It doesn’t get much more human powered than a Knox-run collaboration between Knox faculty and on-site directors … To take it away, to deny it to students next year it honestly makes me want to cry. … I want students to have the same incredible opportunities I was given.”