Exclusive | Students write letter to Provost Cudd, Dean Blee urging Pitt to keep English Language Institute open


Nate Yonamine | Senior Staff Photographer

The Parkvale Building on Meyran Avenue, which houses the English Language Institute.

By Punya Bhasin, News Editor

Pitt’s announcement that it will close the English Language Institute this summer left international students worried about losing their student visas, some saying they will have to leave the country in about two weeks at the end of the semester. 

Haile Proctor, a senior political science major and volunteer at the English Language Institute, pleaded with Provost Ann Cudd and Kathleen Blee, the dean of the College of General Studies, in a six-page letter to reconsider the University’s decision to cease the ELI’s operations on June 30. Proctor also criticized the University for creating “setbacks for international students” and defunding resources that marginalized students typically use.

The letter, which Proctor sent out Monday night, is signed by 18 student leaders, including from the Middle Eastern North African Student Association, Women in Law at Pitt and Breakthrough at Pitt. As of Tuesday night, more than 950 people have also signed an online petition created by Proctor urging Pitt to keep the ELI open. 

Cudd responded via email to Proctor about 40 minutes after she sent the letter on Monday night, saying “Thank you for your input.” Based on this response, Proctor questions if Cudd even read or considered the entirety of her letter. 

“When I saw that she responded so fast I was like, there’s no way she gave the proper consideration that this letter deserves,” Proctor said. “I know when people ask me these types of things or send me something that has to do with a big decision I like to sit down and really consider it, and I guess I just expected the same respect from my University leaders.”

Proctor said Cudd’s response was just a “professional way of telling me to shut up.” She added that Cudd’s email including the phrase “sent from my iPhone” shows “a lack of regard and care.”

“I didn’t have very high hopes for a response and for respect, but I feel like that was just the bottom tier and I thought I deserved more than that,” Proctor said. “She didn’t respect any of the work me and the other supporters of the English Language Institute have put in trying to save it.”

Nick France, a Pitt spokesperson, said “conversations regarding the future of the English Language Institute are ongoing.” He didn’t directly respond to questions about whether Cudd read the petition or the letter, or students’ concerns regarding the loss of their visas. 

Blee sent a letter to the Department of Linguistics in December, notifying them that the English Language Institute will cease operations in June. The letter cited declining enrollment in the ELI’s Intensive English Program as the reason for the decision. According to the institute’s website, Pitt’s IEP has served more than 14,000 students from more than 130 countries since 1964. Scott Kiesling, chair of the Department of Linguistics, said earlier this month that he plans to meet with Cudd to request support for the ELI for another year. 

Proctor said she wishes the University would do “the bare minimum” and create a transition plan or a way for some of the courses taught within the institute to be integrated within other departments or buildings on campus. 

“I really do think that they either need to hear them out, or they need to create some smaller program, because the ELI teachers and directors are so open to hearing other options and working with the University, and the University is just not being open to anything and just saying no,” Proctor said.

Laura Chien plans to pursue a master’s degree in the U.S. and will complete her second semester at the English Language Institute this year. If the institute closes, she said she will likely have to go back to her home country of Taiwan. 

“When I’m finished with this semester I would just have within two weeks to prepare to go back to my home country,” Chien said. 

Chien and others are worried that the ELI’s closure will derail their post-graduate plans.

Grecia Camposano, another student within the ELI who is from Peru, said she is disheartened by the closure because she and her fellow students all want to continue pursuing higher education and learning English. 

“Because the ELI is closing we will no longer have our visas, and so we will have to go back,” Camposano said. “It’s sad and I think not a good decision by the University because we all want to continue studying English, and like we all don’t have other options to study it because we have to go back now.” 

Camposano added that she wants the University to realize that they are breaking up families and affecting many students.

“So many of us came here without any family, so it’s like we have created here that new family and friends, so it’s like why do you want me to start in another place when I already created something here,” Camposano said. 

According to Camposano,   the University hasn’t helped provide them with other options to continue their education in the U.S.

“Some of our professors told us about, like, Chatham University, but we have to apply by ourselves and the University has not helped us apply to anything, and we think applying now won’t be good because it’s too late and they might not accept us now,” Camposano said. 

Emily Chen, another student at the English Language Institute, said she has no desire to transfer to another University. 

“I don’t want to go and to be transferred to another University because it is kind of being forced on us, and I came here to Pittsburgh because this was the best and I just am feeling forced now to go out,” Chen said. 

Proctor said she will continue to fight for the students and teachers at the English Language Institute. 

“I hope they send me a different response, but I don’t think they will,” Proctor said. “I want the University to know that I won’t be giving up on this and neither will the people at the ELI.”

Read the full letter addressed to Cudd and Blee below.

Save the ELI