Vaux’s Dialects Class Third Largest in College

Buoyed by a cadre of student promoters and the impending departure of Associate Professor of Linguistics Bert R. Vaux, his Linguistics 80, “Dialects of English,” class has become the third most-popular course at the College this semester.

According to the registrar’s statistics, 507 students are enrolled in Linguistics 80 this semester, compared to 182 two years ago.

The course enrollment trails only those of Social Analysis 10 and Religion 1528, which attracted 730 and 516 students respectively.

The high enrollment figure comes after the Linguistics department denied Vaux tenure in a process that upset both Vaux and many of his students.

Students also postered the Yard during shopping period, urging classmates to attend Vaux’s class in what may be his last semester at Harvard.

“I was flattered and mystified by the appearance of posters advertising the course,” said Vaux. “It was a nice gesture on their part, whoever it was.”

The course covers a variety of English dialects spoken around the world, and emphasizes the differences between male and female speech. Lectures include demonstrations of dialects by native speakers.

Vaux said he has reduced requirements for the course compared to past years, and this change may account for some of its popularity this semester.

“Because of my impending departure, I now feel more free to return the class to its original design, which was based on the sorts of requirements that were normal for large classes here,” Vaux said.

Blake J. Boulerice ’04, a linguistics concentrator who is in Linguistics 80, said he is particularly impressed with the turnout for the course.

“It’s really amazing that a professor can attract so many students to an introductory class in a concentration that is so small. Linguistics 80 isn’t even a Core, and people still want to take it,” Boulerice said.

Having spent nearly a year publicly protesting the department’s handling of his tenure case, Vaux—who has taught at Harvard for nine years—announced late this fall that he had signed a contract to teach as a senior faculty member at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Vaux said that he plans to appeal Harvard’s tenure decision because the department failed to follow proper procedure in reviewing his tenure request.

Many of the students who have rallied behind Vaux said they are not surprised by the high enrollment.

According to Elaine F. Besancon ’06, who took Vaux’s Social Analysis 34 class last fall, he was an engaging lecturer who easily gained and maintain the attention of his class.

“Professor Vaux was so enthusiastic about what he taught that you couldn’t help but want to learn more,” Besancon said. “He was also very personable. He is the kind of professor that would sit down and eat lunch with his students.”

“Students heard that Professor Vaux was a great teacher, and now that they know he won’t be returning to Harvard next year, they want to have a class with him while they still can,” said Elena L. Goetz ’06, who took Social Analysis 34 last semester.

“I’m touched to receive some support from the most important component of the University,” Vaux said. “If only they had a voice in how the University is run.”

—Staff writer Kimberly A. Kicenuik can be reached at kicenuik@fas.harvard.edu