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Auf wiedersehen’ Innsbruck

Editorial Board | Friday, January 29, 2010

Last week the University made a difficult and dismaying decision to put an end to one of Notre Dame’s storied traditions: its first study abroad program, the Innsbruck program, was canceled after more than 45 years.
Anytime the University ends a service or program provided to its students, the student body should be saddened by the loss. In this case, those who know the Innsbruck program — especially those who’ve studied there — have expressed their extreme disappointment.
They’ve said that the program, since its inception, has provided a cultural immersion and German language experience for over 1,400 Notre Dame students that is likely not replicable anywhere else.
Admittedly, the University administration and the Office of International Studies found themselves in a tough position; just two students had enrolled in the upcoming yearlong program, and nine more in the spring semester option. Sustaining a program where most students take courses taught by professors on Notre Dame’s payroll is not viable when just two students are in the classroom.
But the administration should not think that the hole left by one program might be filled by another — just as it would be absurd to say the Toledo program might replace Chile, or Australia the London program, the Berlin program, while an attractive option for some, cannot replace the experience provided in Innsbruck.
One administrator told The Observer that the Berlin program was “more elite” and “more demanding.” For some students, the academic experience and challenging language requirements in Berlin may be a better fit, but for many of the students who might have studied in Innsbruck — many sophomores, some with just two semesters worth of German — Berlin will not be a reasonable option.
While the University’s decision is unlikely to be reversed, administrators must now determine why the Innsbruck program failed to meet enrollment expectations — beyond those reasons already given, including that more study abroad options have led to lower enrollment in Innsbruck. They then must use this information to prevent the closure of future study abroad programs. The cancellation of another study abroad program is a loss students should not have to endure.