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,”  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.
 – 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