Paul D'Anieri figures that the increasing popularity of courses in Arabic and Korean shouldn't surprise anyone, given recent turns in global events.
But he knows that the steady enrollment rise in courses teaching Chinese -- among the most difficult tongues to start, much less master -- only will continue at Kansas University.
"This country is getting more and more wealthy and more and more powerful," said D'Anieri, associate dean of KU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "It's widely seen as the country most likely to challenge the role of the United States over the next 50 years. We'd be poorly served not to be able to know them as well as they know us -- and you can't know a country if you don't know the language."
The popularity of Chinese courses -- the total credit hours being taken at KU this academic year are up 35 percent from a decade ago -- is only part of the rise of Chinese on Mount Oread.
John Head, a law professor who teaches courses in international law and international business transactions, said that China's influence reached across many disciplines. Business students want to be ready for the country's continued emergence in the world market. Law students seek understanding of the country's legal, historical and cultural underpinnings.
Undergraduates are continuing to show interest, knowing of China's push to challenge America's role as a world superpower.
"The future of China's economic and political development is unequivocally bound up with our own," said Head, who lived in China in 1994.
While overall university enrollment in foreign languages has held steady during the past decade, a handful of languages other than Chinese also have shown notable growth, including Arabic (up 294 percent), Korean (152 percent) and Japanese (57 percent).
But D'Anieri expects two languages in particular to stay atop the growth charts for years to come.
"I don't think it's going to spike immediately, but I think, over time, there will be slow and steady growth and interest in Chinese and Arabic," D'Anieri said.
Such projections and popularity also carry institutional challenges.
A year ago, KU lost its preeminent entry-level teacher of Chinese. Shengli Feng, an associate professor of Chinese, left for Harvard University.
D'Anieri said that KU had been filling the gap by having senior professors work with instructors and teaching assistants until it could get another professor hired. The school has agreed to terms with an incoming assistant professor, but a contract has not yet been signed.
Given the growing demand for such scholars, he said, finding and retaining such expertise is challenging even for a department with a national reputation like KU's.
"It's (a post that's) extremely difficult to fill," he said.
|Foreign language enrollment at Kansas University, expressed in number of credit hours per academic year, and percentage change: