Foreign language programs have been in existence in the IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI since the early 1960s. They were initially part of a single foreign language program, administered by the first chair, Margaret A. Cook, a professor of French. Through the late 1960s, the foreign language department was quite small, with a total of four faculty: one faculty member in French, one in German, one in Spanish, and one joint appointment in German and French.
In the 1970s, each language program grew to degree-granting status, and split of into separate departments with four full-time faculty members in French, German, and Spanish. By 1989-1990, the school created new programs in Classical and Japanese Studies, with one tenure-line faculty in each. Both programs were administratively housed in the German Department. In 1995-1996, the chairs of the three separate language departments discussed the curricular and administrative impact of combining the programs into a single unit. In July 1996, the Department of French (comprised of French and Arabic) and the Department of German (comprised of German, Bahasa Malay, Classical Studies, Japanese and Russian) were united and formed the Department of Foreign Languages and Cultures, which later became World Languages and Cultures (WLAC). The word “cultures” was included in the departmental name to signal a move from the focus on literature toward the exploration of the broader cultural dimensions of language study. In July 1997, the Department of Spanish (which also housed Italian) joined the merged department.
The first chair of the new department was Larbi Oukada (1996-2002), followed by the second chair, Gabrielle Bersier (2002-2012) and third department chair, Marta Antón (2012-2018). The current chair is Rosa Tezanos-Pinto (2018-).