Brussels program scrutinized by students

By Gail Beveridge, Contributor

The new Brussels exchange program is garnering mixed reviews among students, prompting college officials to call a meeting on March 5 that assessed the pros and cons of the Belgium experience. Officials hoped that it would draw McDaniel’s best and brightest.

Dr. Thomas Falkner, the provost and dean of the faculty, said that he called the meeting to “evaluate where we are,” concerning the exchange program with the Facult?s Universitaire Saint-Louis (FUSL), “and to make plans for the future.”

Some students are not very excited about the program. “There are issues,” said a senior who participated in the fledgling program last fall. “Big issues.”

“Frankly,” said Brenden Aston, a fall 2007 participant in the program, the meeting was called because “none of the administrators or deans knew anything about the program.”

Provost Falkner said he was “disappointed” to learn that students do not trust him in his familiarity with the university in Belgium, given his extensive work with administrators there. “I think Iim as informed about the program as I can possibly be,” he said.

One student in particular sent an email to Rose Falkner, director of international and off-campus study and the wife of Provost Falkner, to express concerns over the Brussels exchange experience just three weeks after arriving at FUSL last fall.

“I am not angry, just curious,” about “some issues”” with the program, wrote the student, who prefers to remain anonymous.
“Classes, credit transfers and language barriers,” were cited as the three main concerns in the e-mail, along with the lack of attention from FUSL faculty and staff.

The FUSL faculty responsible for McDaniel students is Ms. Paulus in FUSL’s office of international programs. She held her first meeting with the students “two weeks after classes began,” according to the e-mail.

“We were the guinea pigs in this situation,” said Oliver Cima, a senior and political science major who attended FUSL in 2007 who agrees with many of the complaints outlined in the e-mail. According to Cima, the program in Brussels “wasn’t organized from the get-go.”

Two of the five students in the group that went to FUSL confirmed having failed at least one class; four of them believe they were unprepared for the European curriculum.

“I didn’t know the language would be such an issue,” Cima said.

“All courses taught in English” is written under FUSL on the “Affiliated Programs” page on the McDaniel website. On the “About FUSL” page, it states that there is a “wide range of bilingual and trilingual courses” available.

Of the ten classes purported to be offered in English during the fall of 2007, McDaniel’s website lists two independent studies, one internship and one French class, taught in French, narrowing the number of available classes taught in English to six.

To the surprise of McDaniel students, six classes taught in English at FUSL are not enough to equal a normal course load of 16 credits at McDaniel. Before Paulus’ meeting, the credit value of classes at FUSL was allegedly “a series of rumors and guesstimates on everyone’s part,” wrote the author of the e-mail.

“2.5 credits is the most I could get out of a class,” said Cima. “You’re paying full time and getting part-time credits.”

McDaniel does not decide how many credits students receive for their work abroad, according to Provost Falkner.

“There are agencies that do that sort of thing,” said the provost. “We hope that students would receive approximately the same number of credits in Brussels as they would here.”

Credits are difficult to earn at FUSL. Aston, for example, took eight classes in Brussels, including an independent study worth four credits, totaling what would have been 18 credits at McDaniel. He only earned 11.5 credits from FUSL, not enough to constitute full-time status at McDaniel despite the full-time bill he paid.

Meanwhile, students here from Brussels are facing a different credit-transfer issue.

“We have to take five courses here,” said M?lanie Pecher, an FUSL student at McDaniel this semester. “It’s harder,” she said of her current work load, “but you just have to be used to the system.”

According to Pecher, the extra work will pay off for FUSL’s students, who will earn a total of 60 credits by the end of the year. Each class taken here is worth six credits at FUSL, she said.

Provost Falkner denied some students’ claims that McDaniel and FUSL had made a deal ensuring more credits for students from Brussels. “What our credits are worth in Europe is their decision,” he said. “We have nothing to do with that.”

Several Brussels students have made their own deals with professors, opting to take an independent study “in lieu of the fifth class,” according to Falkner.

Frederic Delmotte, another FUSL student at McDaniel, is not satisfied with the way FUSL is handling credit transfers. In February Delmotte received word from the head of the economics department at FUSL that the grades he earns at McDaniel will be lowered upon his return home, due to McDaniel’s allegedly easier curriculum.

“That’s crazy,” Delmotte said, “because I work more here than I do in Brussels.”

Aston said that because of credits and language barriers, he would only recommend the Brussels exchange program to students who “can think on their feet, not the general population.”

Falkner tacitly agrees with Aston. “This program is for strong, motivated, independent students,” she said. “It’s not the cushy experience you get with other programs.”

According to Mary Beth Bounds, another participant at FUSL in 2007, the curriculum in Belgium allows students freedom from attending classes, which means freedom “for traveling or discovering Brussels.”

There is a question of whether even strong students are willing to take on the exchange program with FUSL. The issue of credit transfer led some participants to question the tuition they paid for the program. One McDaniel student said that he paid $15,000 more than the “around one thousand” dollars that Pecher said FUSL’s students pay to come here.

Provost Falkner explained that McDaniel’s students never paid tuition to FUSL, nor are the students from Brussels paying McDaniel, outside of meal plans and housing.

“You pay home tuition,” he said, “and study away.”

“It’s completely fair,” said Aston of the variance in tuition. “Europeans pay taxes so they can go to school. We don’t.”

As for the discrepancy between the full-time tuition paid by McDaniel students at FUSL and the part-time credits they can transfer between schools, the provost said it is up to the students themselves to earn the credits they need while they are abroad.

“Although, there is a concern” that completing a 16-credit course load at FUSL would necessitate “an unreasonable amount of work,” said Provost Falkner.

Some students agree that there are concerns because the program has not been fully explored. “I won’t say it’s not ready,” said Delmotte about FUSL’s program for American students, “but it’s not developed yet.”

One student who attended the meeting said that there was no clear decision made about the future of the Brussels exchange program.

Falkner, however, said that the administration and faculty is sure of one thing: “We don’t want the program to die.”