Linguistics chair ‘pleasantly surprised’ with one-year reprieve for ELI program


It was barely a month after the December announcement that the English Language Institute’s Intensive English Program would close this summer that Provost Ann Cudd’s office floated the possibility of keeping the program going for one more year. As is often the case, it took a good bit of behind-the-scenes negotiating — and more than a little backlash — to bring that notion to reality, however.

“When the provost first proposed it to me in January, I was pleasantly surprised,” said Scott Kiesling, Department of Linguistics chair, in response to University Times’ questions about the extension. “The recent announcement was the result of longer negotiations between the provost's office and the Union (of Pitt Faculty), so I knew it was coming.”

During the March 15 Faculty Assembly meeting, Senate Council President Robin Kear said the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences’ Intensive English Program, which was set for closure this summer, will remain open at least through June 30, 2024. Kear explained that discussions between the administration, Union of Pitt Faculty and the ELI proved productive, noting that Kiesling and ELI Director Dawn McCormick shared the news earlier that day.

“So that is one year of reprieve,” Kear said. “Details are still being worked out. Discussions continue to address the impact of the extension on ELI faculty contracts.”

McCormick reported that the closure announcement — prompted by declining enrollment and financial concerns — had immediate consequences. This included the need to turn away applicants for the summer term and next academic year during peak recruitment time and possibly losing a contract with an overseas partner university poised to send 30 students to the ELI this fall.

Other university-based English-language programs the ELI worked with were turning to other programs because of the closure news, she said in February, “and we have to battle against a loss of confidence in the University from our continuing students because of the announcement.”

After the reprieve announcement, Kiesling said he thought the pressure from these factors “helped the provost move things forward,” but added that Cudd “proposed the extension before a good part of the (closure) reactions were communicated.”

Asked by the University Times to comment on the one-year reprieve, Cudd said “We are working with the union and the impacted faculty members on the fine details, but the ELI will remain open at least until June 2024.”

A primary ELI function is providing non-credit intensive English training to speakers of other languages. These learners often come from overseas to improve their English while being immersed in it in Pittsburgh. Students are generally here for a semester or a year, but they’ve also had arrangements with foreign colleges, such as Yasuda Women’s University in Japan, to have a group of students visit Pittsburgh for five or six weeks of English training.

Kiesling clarified that the ELI provides “many other support functions” for Pitt that would not have been affected by the Intensive English Program closure. “Very few people seem to be able to appreciate the many functions the ELI provides the University,” he said.

In January, Keisling said much of that work will fall back to the linguistics department, but he said, “Those are things that we do not have the capacity to do without the ELI faculty in our department.”

Kiesling said he believes the ELI will operate with the same resources it’s used to, but “it is unclear at this point” how funding for faculty contracts and other expenditures will shake out. While he is hopeful the one-year extension will provide enough time and attention to keep the ELI’s Intensive Language Program (IEP) as a going concern, it’s too soon to predict if the factors to make that possible will come together.

“If there were a very significant restructuring of the ELI's cost structure,” which he noted is mandated by the Dietrich School, “or a significant increase in enrollment to the Intensive English Program, then we could make an argument to the Dietrich School dean, although even then the decision might still be to close the IEP.”

For now, Kiesling and his Dietrich School colleagues are focused on the coming year and making the program as streamlined and cost-effective as possible.

“I would like the thank the provost for her decision, which if nothing else gives the ELI time to restructure in order to continue to provide essential services to the University,” Kiesling said, noting that Pennsylvania law requires teaching assistants and teaching fellows to be certified for English language proficiency.

“We will also be moving to help the University expand some services that will require English-language instruction,” he added, “and this extra year will allow us to put these into place in a more thoughtful and strategic manner.”

Shannon O. Wells is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at


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