Spanish campuses in dispute over language

April 28, 2000

Two Spanish universities are enmeshed in conflicts over sensitive language issues with strong political overtones.

A lecturer at Tarragona's Rovira i Virgili University was suspended for handing out exam papers in Spanish instead of Catalan. And the University of Valencia is in a long-running battle with the education authorities over its right to test lecturers' competence in the Valencian language.

Josefina Albert, lecturer in Spanish at Tarragona, was allegedly forbidden to hand out papers written in Spanish to students sitting entrance exams in 1998.

The university banned her from supervising or correcting exams. She took rector Lluis Arola and co-ordinator of entrance exams Joan Igual to court for prevarication. If found guilty, Professor Arola could face an eight-year ban from office and a bill of E6,010 (Pounds 3,555) for damages.

Spanish and Catalan are both official languages in Catalonia, but the university favours Catalan in exam papers. Invigilators are supposed to help any Spanish-speaking student who has problems understanding them.

Ms Albert said her treatment was discrimination against Spanish speakers, a claim denied by vice-rector Antoni Pigrau. He said 40 per cent of lectures are in Spanish. "We are not obsessive persecutors of Spanish. The language is very present in the university."

Catalan and Valencian universities allow lecturers to decide which language they teach in. Students elect to write assignments in either national or local language.

Valencia University has been trying to reform its statutes since 1997, but has met regional government objections. The university reserves the right to test tenured staff's language ability in Valencian to boost its use as the language of instruction.

Vice-rector Juli Pereto said the refusal to approve the statutes is politically motivated as the use of Valencian has never caused problems. "The only thing students protest about is there are not enough lectures in Valencian," he said.

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