Mar 132010

Yesterday was a good day. I got two beautifully crafted handmade books in the mail from Germany. One is a copy of Mark Twain’s The Awful German Language, with hand-printed lino cut illustrations, and the other is called To Touch and to Cut, a cleverly designed math-related miniature. They are by Buechertiger (aka Hilke). I know several book artists who used to be mathematicians, Hilke included. What’s the connection there?

As for the Mark Twain, I’d been following the making of it on Hilke’s blog. Having taken three years of German a long time ago when I was a university student, I was entertained by her choice of text. Looking through these books is a real treat! They are quite wonderful.

On a sadder note, though, I’m finding it a bit ironic to be reading this particular selection now. As many of you know, the situation at California’s state universities is dire. At my alma mater, Humboldt State, they are slashing programs and faculty and reducing the salaries of those who remain. Students are not only paying a lot more to attend, but they’re crammed into their classes, if they’re even fortunate enough to get into the ones they need. One of the programs that got the ax not too long ago was German.

We just heard from an acquaintance who teaches at the University of Nevada Reno that they have gone a step further. Their administrators are planning to eliminate the entire Foreign Languages and Literatures Department. No more French, German or Italian. Can you believe it? (If you’re on Facebook, the students have set up a page about it.) And now even as I was writing this, someone else told me that UCLA, where I once took multiple foreign languages and linguistics classes, is planning to do something similar.

Even though people always thought I was an art student, I didn’t actually major in art once I came to Humboldt State from UCLA. I had a double major in language studies and anthropology. It’s been quite a while now, and my working knowledge of the languages I studied is growing fuzzy. But learning them still was one of the greatest gifts I got from my education. It shocks me to think that course offerings in major European languages are now considered expendable at American universities.

That’s awful. Beyond awful.