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France study abroad program to be reorganized

Kevin Kane’s job has allowed him to call Tours, France home for 17 years, but, come July, this will no longer be the case.

Kane, an instructor in Romance and Classical Studies at the University, is one of the 30 non-tenure-track faculty members who were notified their contracts would not be renewed in July.

He has been an on-site director for the Education Abroad program in Tours, France since 1997, a program itself that has also been nixed next year.

“The impact to me on a strictly personal level is colossal because I’m laid off,” Kane said. “My job is to gracefully close a series of relationships here that have existed since 1996.”

University officials made the decision to eliminate the program after reviewing the abroad programs to see which ones were losing money, said Joe Frizado, vice president of Academic Operations at the university.

“If you look at the trend, most of the universities that have been doing this have been shutting down their programs in France, and have been doing so for quite some time,” Frizado said.

The problem, he said, is that it wasn’t attracting enough students.

As part of an “ongoing review,” Rodney Rogers, provost and associate vice president of Academic Affairs, convened a working group to build a process by which education abroad programs could become fiscally sustainable; in other words, they were tasked to find a way for the programs to not lose money.

“They were huge,” Frizado said of the monetary losses to the France program. “This program has cut support costs for staff several times to try to get to a sustainable model.”

While the University has many study abroad programs, only three have a faculty member on site. This includes Tours, France; Madrid, Spain; and Salzburg, Austria. Austria’s program is the next to be reviewed, Frizado said.

Two programs were identified “as being the biggest problems,” Frizado said: the program in France and the program in Spain.

Both programs had on-site directors, support staff and additional faculty. Both the on-site directors, which includes Kane, were cut.

The programs were originally suspended for next year, but Spain will now remain in place, as it was restructured to be sustainable, decreasing instructional costs and cutting some excursions, Frizado said. The faculty member was also re-hired.

What made Spain a feasible program, also, is that it’s “much more robust in terms of enrollment” compared to the program in France, Frizado said.

About 20 students are enrolled for the Spain program next fall, compared with six who were registered to go to Tours. Those six will now work with the University to go to other places in France through other external programs, Frizado said.

These programs have been vetted by the University. The credits students get with these outside programs will then transfer back to the University, Frizado said.

The problem, Frizado said, is that students are showing a waning interest in studying abroad, especially during the academic year. Summer still sees the most students studying abroad, Frizado said,

“Students are going abroad less and less on long-term programs and more and more on short-term programs,” said Jenifer Chambers, director of Education Abroad and International Partnerships.

In the 2012-2013 academic year, 403 BGSU students studied abroad, according to numbers provided by Education Abroad. Of those, 120 went abroad either for an entire academic year or for one semester. Comparatively, 250 went abroad during summer, spring break or winter break.

While this allows for more financial flexibility for students, Frizado said the concern is paying faculty to be there year-round.

“You can’t justify a 12-month permanent director based on a good summer enrollment,” he said.

Throughout the year, University officials have reiterated that dwindling state funds have necessitated rolling back many programs and faculty if they are to keep tuition from rising [they did freeze tuition for next academic year]. Specifically, state funding has declined by 30 percent since 2009. This year, say administrators, the University budget saw a $2.5 million shortfall, and as much as a $10 million shortfall is projected in coming years due to decreases in the State Share of Instruction, which is the formula used to distribute state money.

University administrators cut the France abroad program to avoid cutting more programs on campus, Frizado said.

“If you reverse that decision, you would have to make an onerous decision on campus,” he said.

As an undergraduate student at the University, Kerbie Minor, an alumna, studied abroad in Tours, France for the 2011-2012 academic year, her junior year.

“I could not believe it when I heard it,” Minor said of the University’s decision to eliminate the program. “I’m really upset with the fact that Bowling Green is dead-set on shooting itself in the foot … it’s getting rid of all the programs that make it unique.”

Minor said her time in France opened up opportunities that she otherwise wouldn’t have had. Minor will return to Tours, France in September to teach English. The job is through the French consulate.

Chambers said every student can benefit from an international experience.

Kane emphasized the importance to learn how a different culture lives.

“Once the common physical needs of the human animal are met … we organize our societies in wildly different ways,” Kane said.

This semester, 14 students are in Tours, France, Kane said.

“In general, people come over with a mix of anticipation, maybe a little bit of fear,” he said. In the end, though, “they discover a new side of themselves.”

Part of Kane’s job is, of course, teaching, but he also takes his students on excursions to historical sites. One of his favorites is “Le Pont du Gard,” a Roman aqueduct.

He teaches at the Insitut de Touraine, an educational institution focusing on the French language located in Tours. His subjects include art history, and French literature, culture and history.

Kane leads excursions to Paris, and ends the program with an optional trip to Burkina Faso in West Africa.

Now that Kane’s time at the University is coming to a close, he said he is “eternally grateful” for the experience.

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