Oh, the Humanities!

I first learned of this via e-mail, but apparently SUNY-Albany is cutting a number of foreign languages programs, essentially firing tenured professors and forcing others into early retirement. I hope you all get the same feeling in the pit of your stomach that I did when I read that this happened without consultation with the faculty or departments. Yet the university tells the media that the decision “This decision was based on an extensive consultative process with faculty.” Further, the to-be-fired faculty were informed and encouraged to “pursue [their] careers elsewhere,” [1] yet the university claims that “no faculty are losing their jobs this year and at this stage it’s too early to determine when faculty positions will actually be impacted.”

My initial reaction was the same one I had when my own university decided to completely abuse its graduate student body. Disgust and anger at the continued rise of the Janus-face in university administrations.

It really does seem like the decision came about because of declining majors in these areas. But guess what – you do not have to major in something to have an interest in it or to learn it. German was not my major; even if I wanted it to be, my GPA in it was not good enough. Yet my entire career is rooted in my foreign language skills.

I do not know why specific people interviewed were chosen, but I will admit that the faculty have not done themselves any favors in the news article sound bites. Noting that literature is politically relevant in other cultures will not get many non-literature people excited, nor will the plea that it’s necessary for a true liberal arts culture. That stuff does not attract students nor sell in times of economic crisis. I’m not downplaying those arguments out of spite. Both are true, and valuable, but when universities are looking to cut programs in today’s hyper-politicized atmosphere they go after the ones that have weak-sounding defenses. “this is how it used to be” or “this is how it should be” do not cut it.

How about the old cliché of the increasingly globalized world? How about noting that Russia’s still a huge power player in the world simply because of its nuclear arsenal? How about noting Europe’s increasing unification and the (far-fetched but media-loving) idea that the EU could develop into a super-powered suprastate and thus French and German are not dead languages? How about the fact that businesses want to hire people who can communicate in other languages, and even though it’s no longer sexy, Europe remains a major trading partner?

This is a university. For all the talk about sports programs bringing money into the schools, how true is it and does the money benefit more than those same sports programs? Because how many professors, educators, could be kept on if university coaches made the same as professors? How about recognizing that the economy will stabilize and that those university leaders preaching on diversity, need-blind aid, and doing everything for the students took a slight pay cut and stopped being treated like major corporation CEOs?

Don’t tell me university is like a business. It’s not like a business, and should not be run like one. If cuts are necessary, discuss them in the open. Further, do not lie to the media about what has occurred. You represent a university for Pete’s sake. Stand up and be honest and take the criticism that comes with it. It’s called academic honesty and scholarly integrity. It’s what you’re supposed to be instilling in your students.

Second, it’s still not a business. If it were a business, professors would make a lot more money. If you had a corporate job teaching or consulting with groups of students who paid $40,000 or more per year for the opportunity, you would make a lot more than a university professor. The university system is supposed to be a safer job environment because of the lower salaries and the high difficulty of switching jobs when compared to the corporate system. What leverage does this give the employees?

I know I’m supposed to have some sort of well thought out conclusion but this post is more of a rant. It’s not just the cuts. It’s the duplicity and the lies. The increasing disdain for the humanities and for foreign languages – arguably the most marketable of the humanities – is troubling and feels unstoppable. Opponents have done too good of a job denigrating the original arguments for them (culture, critical thinking, morals, etc.) even though they likely have more value than ever, and playing by the other team’s rules, that college is just for getting a job, will not help much either.

Thoughts?

[1] – the quote about pursuing careers comes from the e-mail. The author asked that we spread this news and so I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong utilizing the provided quote. The other quotes are from http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/10/04/albany

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3 Responses to Oh, the Humanities!

  1. The New York City Math Teacher With New! Improved! Law School! says:

    What I don’t understand is why the faculty senate at SUNY isn’t going apeshit about this. Under Policy Paper 1701, Program Deactivation and Discontinuation, of the SUNY rules of governance, in order for the a program to be eliminated:
    (quoting from the document, found at http://www.suny.edu/sunypp/documents.cfm?doc_id=332)

    “A request for deactivation or discontinuance of a registered academic program is submitted in the form of a letter from the campus president to the provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs containing the following information:

    1. the program name and degree, certificate, or diploma designation;

    2. a brief description or explanation of the reason for requesting the deactivation or discontinuance of the program;

    3. when appropriate, a statement of how enrollment of incumbent students and the credentials granted to them in the future will be accommodated and reported;

    4. the proposed effective deactivation or discontinuance date—the date for deactivation of a program should be coordinated with the campus admissions process so that admission to the program will be closed in sufficient time. In setting a discontinuance date, the campus should be sensitive to the interests of students already enrolled in the program and honor the University’s intention to give enrolled students the opportunity to complete their programs unless unusual circumstances make it impossible or inappropriate to do so;

    5. the information requested will enable the office of the provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs to coordinate with other offices of system administration. Appropriate offices in system administration will then review the impact of the proposal on (1) University-wide offerings, (2) campus mission, (3) campus budget, (4) campus staff and students, and (5) desirable state and public services. Special attention will be given to the proposed discontinuance of a program unique within the University. The office of the provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs will provide a reaction to the campus president as soon as possible after a request has been reviewed. A minimum of 60 days lead time is required for system administration review of the proposal. In the event of a fiscal emergency, a shorter time frame may be accommodated;

    6. in the case of program discontinuances, the campus recommendation, when reviewed by system administration staff and approved by the chancellor, will be presented to the University Board of Trustees for formal action. No programs may be discontinued without formal approval by the University Board of Trustees. Campus presidents will be notified promptly of the board’s action”

    So this isn’t going to happen, even if budget considerations shrink the window of time for considering the proposal, unless the SUNY University board of Trustees formally approves this. Frankly, I think the elimination of programs in Classics, French, Italian, Russian, and Theatre is f**k*ng vandalism, considering the composition of the population of the state of New York (more than a quarter million Russian-language speaking residents in the state, for example). The right thing to do now is to mau-mau the University Board of Trustees, Patterson, and Andrew Cuomo, on an ethnic vote basis, so that the Board of Trustees is on notice that its decisions are under scrutiny.

    a quarter

    • In that case, could the faculty pursue their case in court, arguing that the university is in breach of contract, rules, etc? The tactic might at least be able to to tie the school up for long enough to mobilize a real reaction. Of course, if they get the wrong judge, the precedent of the ruling could cause more harm than good.

  2. andrewsshi says:

    Well, I think that the thing to note is that the ultimate fault here lies with the State of New York. When you drastically slash budgets, of course everyone’s going to be fighting like cats in heat over the remaining funds. The administrators have to cut funding *somewhere.*

    Dear States: cutting funding to universities is eating your own seed corn.

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