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Report on Survey of Portuguese Studies in the United States

Carmen Chaves Tesser

University of Georgia



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After Fifty Years: �Ao Vencedor, as Batatas!�
                               Here then is a picture... of the national situation in Portuguese during the past two years. The report is neither clearly encouraging nor clearly discouraging. The situation is rather fluid than stagnant.
Fred P. Ellison
Hispania, 60 (1977): 539


     It is fitting that at the 1994 annual meeting, the AATSP chose to honor Fred Ellison with an homenagem. (118) The year is significant for Portuguese for at least two reasons. First and foremost, it is the fiftieth anniversary of the �P� in the AATSP; however, significant also, and perhaps not emphasized enough, it that 1994 is the twentieth anniversary of the publication in Hispania (57 [1974]: 941-47) of the recommendations of the �Task Force for the Promotion of Portuguese Studies in the United States� approved by the AATSP Executive Council in 1972, and headed by Fred Ellison. In connection with his work on the Portuguese Task Force, Professor Ellison conducted a survey of Portuguese programs in the United States by sending two questionnaires to the 450 members of AATSP who indicated an interest in Portuguese in their membership renewal forms. The results of his survey were presented at the AATSP annual meeting held in Atlanta, Georgia on December 28, 1976 and published the following year in Hispania. As part of the fiftieth anniversary activities, and in connection with the Portuguese Newsletter, I employed Fred Ellison's survey to ascertain -twenty years later- the condition of Portuguese studies in colleges and universities in the United States.

     The results come from the survey instrument published in the Portuguese Newsletter sent in the fall of 1993 to colleagues who indicated an interest in or involvement in Portuguese, as well as from data found in university catalogues, descriptions of Title VI funded Centers for Latin American Studies, and surveys conducted by the Modern Language Association of America. Responses (which numbered 134) also included a number of Portuguese programs in colleges and universities where the faculty did not belong to AATSP. Hispania has devoted many pages to Portuguese language and Luso-Brazilian literatures. The annual meetings of AATSP show a more balanced representation of Portuguese and Spanish. In 1990 the Executive Council voted to include Phi Lambda Beta as an official auxiliary of AATSP and provide the honor society with a modest stipend for its operation. As of this writing, Phi Lambda Beta has eight active chapters throughout the country and several others are in the process of organizing. Finally, the Portuguese Newsletter combined efforts with Phi Lambda Beta and appears regularly three times per year under the auspices of AATSP. All of this is �the good news�. The �bad news� in general terms is the fact that in spite all of these efforts, the membership of Luso-Brazilianists in AATSP remains low, some four hundred members indicate interest in Portuguese, and, of these, only a small percentage actually teach Portuguese on a regular basis. Finally, it should be noted that although two thirds of the respondents to Fred Ellison's Questionnaire B, question 13, �Portuguese specialists would consider forming their own professional organization (separately from AATSP)�, were resoundingly negative toward this idea, today [566] there are indeed specialized organizations springing up in the country for Luso-Brazilianists. The survey employed Fred Ellison's questionnaire A only. The goal was to study the situation of Portuguese programs in the country and not necessarily the situation of Portuguese in the AATSP.

     The first question of the survey, �briefly describe the nature of your Portuguese program with enrollments for 1992-1993 and 1993-1994, and impressions of enrollment trends�, is the most telling. Combining the responses of those surveyed with research of catalogue and Latin American Centers' materials, one finds the situation rather dismal. Nationally, enrollments are growing at the undergraduate level. For example, in his survey, Fred Ellison denotes as �large� those programs with enrollments of 50 students or more. The present survey would have to designate as �large� those institutions with annual enrollments of three-hundred or more, representing only six of the institutions that offer Portuguese. One third of the respondents report an enrollment of fifty or more. These enrollments tend to be primarily at the beginning and intermediate levels.

     Concerning enrollment trends, eighty percent of the respondents pointed to a �rising trend�, while only ten percent saw enrollments �shrinking�. It is significant that with only four exceptions -Brown University, the University of Texas, the University of New Mexico, and the University of Wisconsin- all other programs that offer advanced degrees in Portuguese (M. A. and Ph. D.), do so in the context of Spanish or Spanish-American Literature, Comparative Literature, Hispanic Linguistics, or Ibero-American Studies.

     Question two involved overseas programs available to students. Respondents reported sending students with organized programs held primarily in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Fortaleza, Belo Horizonte, Recife, Porto Alegre, and São Luis do Maranhão in Brazil and to Lisboa and Coimbra in Portugal. Many respondents found that the most successful overseas activities were those arranged on an individual basis for and with students either through university to university agreements, through the Fulbright Commission or through the Gulbenkian Foundation.

     Question three asked about the availability of teaching materials. Without exception, respondents expressed dissatisfaction with currently available materials. They judged those available for the first year mostly �inadequate� and found most cultural components are �sexist�, �racist�, and outdated. Materials for intermediate and more advanced courses are simply unavailable. When asked what the most pressing needs were, most respondents had a difficult time answering, since the needs are so great and so varied. It seems clear that although the Task Force recommendations of twenty years ago were heeded and accepted by the profession, the production of materials did not become a priority.

     Question four dealt with current federal or state funding for Portuguese programs. Title VI continues to fund Centers for Latin American Studies. As part of the funding, these Centers must continue to offer Portuguese language programs. Many of these programs, however, are staffed by either temporary instructors or non-tenure track professorial faculty. While many Centers for Latin American Studies are abiding by the letter of the law, it seems that many are not abiding by the �spirit of the law�. These centers do what is needed to receive the funds, but do little to develop the programs.

     Question five sought information on non-federal funding for Portuguese programs. Some regions of the country with a large concentration of Luso-Brazilian immigrants have established small foundations of Portuguese-American members. These foundations seems to show an interest in helping developing programs. Two respondents mentioned funding from the Gulbenkian foundation as a real source of extramural funds. One respondent summarized what we believe to be a real concern, �After teaching three Spanish classes, preparing all the materials for my Portuguese students, doing PR work for the Portuguese program, and pretending to be rested... who has time to investigate funding sources?�

     Question six dealt with problems which may exist in the area of scholarly research and publication regarding language, language teaching, literature, or related areas. This question elicited more frustration than others. Colleagues indicated concern about apparent �contradictions� in our field: �multiculturalism�, �nationalism�, and �area studies� all seem to compete for limited time and resources from faculty. Respondents continued to mention the difficulty in publishing �pedagogical� materials with major publishing houses.

     In response to question seven, which asked about communication among Portuguese programs and faculty, most respondents reported still feeling isolated. With few exceptions, Portuguese programs are managed by one or two [567] faculty members. Relatively �large programs� have a maximum of three faculties whose primary responsibility is Portuguese language and/or Luso-Brazilian literature; the three programs that list more than four faculty in Portuguese admit that these are not full time lines. Respondents mentioned electronic mail as one way of bridging our isolation, but many do not see a solution to this challenge.

     The last question requested views and impressions on employment prospects for new teachers of Portuguese. The response was uniformly pessimistic. If the MLA Job Information List is an indicator, the situation is discouraging. For 1993-1994, only three positions were listed for Portuguese in the country, and one of these was non-tenure-track. However, some responses indicated that some high schools are beginning to open programs, especially where there is a significant Luso-Brazilian community, which may help college programs. Those few respondents who are still optimistic point to the continued need for a �combination of skills�: Portuguese and Spanish, Portuguese in the context of Latin American Studies, or Portuguese in the Context of African Studies.

     Going back to Fred Ellison's words, �here then is a picture... of the national situation in Portuguese during the past two years. The report is neither clearly encouraging nor clearly discouraging�. What we do see is that very little has changed in the past twenty years. Some programs have grown; others have become nearly non-existent. Portuguese continues to be one of the �critical languages� for the federal government, and it still plays a strong part in the funding -or lack thereof- for Latin American Studies Centers. Problems of twenty years ago are still here -lack of suitable materials, isolation, lack of national direction, and a sense of frustration. As the AATSP honors Fred Ellison this year, and we celebrate our fiftieth anniversary within the context of AATSP, have we progressed at all? I would say that we have. Today we have several journals devoted solely to Luso-Brazilian letters. Participation in regional and national meetings by our colleagues has increased significantly. �Large programs� now enroll three-hundred to one thousand students annually, rather than fifty to a hundred students. We are growing, although slowly, in many areas of the country. Our challenge has always been to make ourselves seen and heard. Only we can continue to meet this challenge, and we cannot do this by further isolating ourselves. We must stand up and be counted among colleagues in the AATSP, ACTFL, MLA and other organizations that bring all of us interested in other cultures, languages, and peoples together to discuss our needs and future directions.

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