It is not often that I voice my opinion using this forum because I find the media to be somewhat repetitive. I would hate to call attention to an issue that has been discussed before in great detail. However, the Spanish department’s new policy concerning study abroad has been hidden within the bureaucratic mess of offices that fail to communicate with each other and with students.
Want to study abroad in a Spanish-speaking country? Enjoy a plethora of options. However, that list of options is quickly reduced to a single option if you want to receive Spanish language credit toward your minor or major. The breadth of opportunity that once characterized Villanova abroad has been discreetly replaced by a restrictive policy founded on department politics. This change was sudden and enacted without announcement or student consent.
In the midst of planning my fall semester abroad, it was suddenly brought to my attention that I would be required to enroll in Villanova’s program in Cádiz, Spain, in order to receive credit toward my Spanish minor.
This bit of information was not given to me by the Office of International Studies, my academic advisor or any of the faculty members with whom I discussed my plans, not because they failed to tell me about this new policy, but because they did not even know it existed. To my knowledge, the Spanish department failed to notify anyone about this new policy, allowing students to plan their academic schedules blindly.
I only learned about this change when I took enough initiative to email the department itself. When I approached the department’s office with questions about this issue, they gave me no direct answers, no statistics, no real reason for the sudden switch. In fact, the department only had a vague recollection of what I was talking about, let alone enough of a reason to satisfy my frustration.
I would understand this change in policy if any of the following criteria had been met:
1. Students were notified that the change in policy was forthcoming.
According to the department, this change has been in development. The only piece of the puzzle that was holding up the change was the completion of the Villanova program in Cádiz. This information would have been useful in mapping out my college career with my academic advisor as a freshman. Had I known this would be the case, my plans would certainly have been different.
Politics have gotten in the way of common sense. It is fair for the department to enforce this policy on the class of 2017. However, to suddenly change the policy and have that change apply to sophomores and juniors is inexcusable.
2. Students were notified when the change was enacted.
Even if I had not been notified of this change at the beginning of my freshman year, the policy would be agreeable if I had been notified at all. Instead, I was given this surprise only after inquiring about my chosen program in Madrid.
The Office of International Studies and Villanova’s academic advisors should have been notified at the very least.
3. The Spanish department provided statistics or any substantial evidence that this policy change will positively impact students.
In my attempt to extract information from the Spanish department, I was only handed one clue as to the logic behind the new policy—the Cádiz program is better than other programs. This vague generalization seems to be based more on politics than facts. It is hard to make the executive decision that the Villanova program is “better” than every other program that a student could bring to the table. Without even looking at my chosen program, the Spanish department told me that the one in Cádiz is “better” and that this change is an opportunity, not a restriction. However, the lack of communication between the department and its students makes this new policy a chokehold on the academic flexibility that once attracted me to Villanova.
Studying abroad is about much more than academics—it is an experience in the most complete sense of the word. I am not arguing against the quality of the Villanova program in Cádiz. However, Cádiz itself is a small city with a population of approximately 125,000 people—it is more of a vacation destination than a cultural epicenter. In considering all of these factors, I have made the decision to go to Madrid, with or without the Spanish minor. I will not be pressured into living and studying in a city for a semester because it is my only option. I am going to Madrid to have an experience unlike any other, for the opportunities related to my chosen field of study and for the spectrum of possibilities that can only be found in the capital city of Spain. I am enrolling in one of the most respected study abroad programs that Villanova works with and all four of my courses will be taught in Spanish. I will be living in the center of Spanish culture, yet I will not be receiving Spanish language credit. I will not sacrifice this experience for a minor and I will not validate the Spanish department’s politics by enrolling in the program in Cádiz.
After discussing this policy change with my academic advisor, study abroad advisor, the Office of Undergraduate Studies and the Spanish department itself, I am disappointed in how Villanova has handled this sudden and sneaky change. The departments have not been transparent, either with each other or with the student body. The Spanish department should be in the business of educating students. Instead, the department is in the business of selling its product. The Villanova bureaucracy no longer takes individual circumstances or goals into account—what we designate as “better” is now black and white with no room for discussion. According to the Spanish department, the student is not intelligent enough to advocate for his program, nor is he deserving of an explanation.