ASL now satisfies university language requirement for admissions
Published: Monday, November 14, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, November 15, 2011 05:11
American Sign Language will now be accepted for the university's foreign language requirement for admission for the first time since the 1970s, following a Nov. 7 decision by the Faculty Senate.
Previously, applicants needed a traditional foreign language such as Spanish or French to be admitted to the university, according to Faculty Senate president and business professor Sheldon Pollack.
"The current rule is that if you applied to UD and took all your math and history and took a foreign language, but it was American Sign Language, you would not satisfy the foreign language requirement for admissions," Pollack said.
He said admitted students must still take a university language course if it is necessary to satisfy their individual college's requirements, because the university does not plan to offer any ASL courses.
Before this decision, prospective students with only ASL experience were required to take at least a semester of an introductory language course at a community college before being admitted, according to director of admissions Lou Hirsh.
"We do insist with ASL, with anything the student presents in high school, that these courses be college preparatory in content," Hirsh said. "They're rigorous enough that they stand up on their own as courses that could reasonably be used to help prepare students for college-level classes."
Until the 1970s, ASL was acceptable for enrollment and taught at the university, Pollack said. In the 1980s, the Faculty Senate removed ASL courses due to lack of interest, and established two years of language experience as the benchmark for admission.
The debate over ASL's viability resurfaced in early 2010 and was brought to the Faculty Senate's attention over the summer, Pollack said.
While a deaf culture exists for students to study and ASL is an official language, there is no global connection or collection of texts, Hirsh said, putting ASL's ability to count as a foreign language into question.
The Faculty Senate addressed the issue because state legislatures and community members worried that while Delaware high schools are teaching ASL, the university was not accepting it for admissions and in-state applicants would be disadvantaged, Pollack said.
Hirsh said Delaware residents constitute 30 percent of the student body.
While there are a few Delaware schools that offer ASL and only a handful of students who have been affected by the admissions provision, the language is taught more frequently in New York, Hirsh said.
Senior Talha Malik, who started the American Sign Language Club at the university last spring, believes there is enough student interest to warrant a class. He said approximately 40 regular members attend the two classes he teaches each week.
Malik believes if ASL was incorporated into the foreign language department, there would be enough interest to have three or four sections.
"You have to remember my club is a volunteer class and 40 people are showing up on their own time every week," Malik said. "More people would attend if it was a university class and it was a requirement."
Currently, the new rule applies solely to the admissions process and the university does not plan to offer any ASL courses, Pollack said.
"We simply just don't have the resources to teach American Sign Language," Pollack said. "If we could get the money for professors to teach different languages, it would probably be Chinese or Japanese. There are more people that speak it and it is more relevant to our world today."
Danielle Brody contributed reporting to this article.