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“We always do these things in fits and starts,” said Dr. Feal, who is a Spanish professor at the University at Buffalo. “We pick targets of opportunity as the geopolitical circumstances change, and we don’t create a steady infrastructure so that language learning at a deep level is possible.”

She said the program cuts also revealed an “Anglocentric perspective” that fluency in English was enough to understand the world.

“How can you be a comprehensive university center,” Dr. Feal said, “and not offer students even the chance to take advanced courses in French, German, Russian and Italian, to read Goethe in the original?”

It is a tough choice, but a necessary one as publicly funded universities can no longer rely on piecemeal, one-time cuts to balance budgets, said Terry W. Hartle, a senior vice president of the American Council on Education. Across the country, he said, foreign language programs “are being looked at carefully with an eye toward measuring student demand versus expenses.”

At SUNY Albany, which has lost tens of millions of dollars in state aid in the past few years and faces another $13 million loss this year, the situation has “reached a breaking point,” said its provost, Susan D. Phillips.

The French department has seven full-time faculty members and 40 majors, while 15 doctoral students do “a great deal of the undergraduate instruction,” Dr. Phillips said. In Russian, there are three full-time faculty members for 19 majors. By contrast, the communications department employs six full-time faculty members for 520 majors.

The university, which has also stopped accepting new majors in theater, has suspended degree programs in French, Italian and Russian. Making the change permanent would require State Department of Education approval.

Dr. Phillips said she hoped some instruction would continue in those languages. Currently, classes are offered in 13 languages, including Arabic, Dutch, Hebrew and Korean; students can earn undergraduate degrees in Spanish, Chinese and Japanese, and in East Asian Studies.

Meanwhile, those who have declared French, Russian or Italian as a major or minor say they worry that their diplomas could lose value if the degree programs vanish.

Jessica Stapf, a freshman, arrived on campus planning to pursue a double major in French and political science, followed by a master’s in French, the only language in which the university offered advanced degrees. She hopes to land a job someday with the United Nations in Africa, where French is widely spoken.

Though the university made an exception and allowed her to declare a French major anyway, she was advised that she would need to cram 11 upper-level courses into the next three semesters. The master’s, she said, appears to be out of the question.

“It’s extraordinarily inconvenient for me,” Ms. Stapf said. “If the university wants to provide that ‘world within reach’ they’ve been sloganeering about, then they have to provide the languages that bring the world within reach.”