Nomadics

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SUNY Albany Cuts French Department

October 4th, 2010 · 11 Comments · Layoffs

The email below — a real shocker — was forwarded to me by a friend in Paris, France on Sunday morning. It is true that I hadn’t read the letter the President of SUNY Albany sent out late on Friday afternoon (what timing!?) in great detail, putting it away after the first half dozen paras giving the usual details about the financial problems of the University. But the info detailed in my colleague’s letter was indeed alluded to (rather than explained) or better, buried by the President in paragraph 15 of his circular where he states: “I have issued a directive today to suspend all new admissions to five program areas – Classics, French, Italian, Russian, and Theatre.” When I started at Albany in 1992, the same thing had just happened to the German Department, and there was much discussion among us as to how to make a contemporary “Humanities” Department work without the ability to have students in lietrature, criticsm and theory take courses in German language and literature, in Dichten und Denken. The hope has always been — unreasonably so, but that’s what hope is — that some day we would be able to restore that department or add German as a section to the “Languages,  Literature and Culture Studies” Department. Well, now there is no more LLC — & no more Classics — & no more Theater! Meanwhile our Union has to fight to keep the fat cats in the SUNY system from giving themselves major raises — check that out here.

And now for the email from the colleague in the French Department as redirected via the friend in Paris:

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Today the seven members of the French faculty at SUNY–Albany (all tenured)  were informed that by presidential decision, ostensibly for budgetary reasons, the French program has been “deactivated” at all levels (BA, MA, PhD), as have BA programs in Russian and Italian. The only foreign language program unaffected is Spanish. The primary criterion used in making the decision was undergrad majors-to-faculty ratio. We were told that tenured faculty in French, Russian, and Italian will be kept on long enough for our students to finish their degrees–meaning three years at the outside. Senior faculty are being encouraged to take early retirement. The rest of us are being urged to “pursue our careers elsewhere,” as our Provost put it.

Needless to say, the decision is personally devastating to those of us affected, but it is also symptomatic of the ongoing devaluation of foreign-language and other humanities program in universities across the United States. I’m writing to ask for your help in spreading the word about this decision as widely as possible and in generating as much negative media publicity as possible against SUNY–Albany and the SUNY system in its entirety.

There is much background to add about how this decision was reached and implemented, too much for me to explain fully here. Suffice it to say that the disappearance of French, Italian, and Russian has resulted from an almost complete lack of leadership at the Albany campus and in the SUNY system. Our president, a former state pension fund manager, holds an MBA as his highest degree, has never held a college or university teaching position, and has never engaged in any kind of scholarship.

More disturbing still, due process was not followed in the decision-making process. The affected programs were not consulted or given the opportunity to propose money-saving reforms. Our Dean and Provost simply hand-selected an advisory committee to rubber stamp the president’s decision. The legalities of the situation remain to be discussed with our union, UUP, but in the meantime I welcome any advice you may have.

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11 Comments so far ↓

  • Crystal Hoffman

    This is terrifying to be quite frank. Is there any hope for academia in this country. I think that we should begin to start our own schools. It is precisely this kind of problem that inspired me to put on this cabaret:

    http://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=159510204075456&ref=ts

  • Joe Amato

    Awful news, Pierre. And disgusting to see a university president capitulate (if that’s what it is) in such terms. A major state university with English and Spanish only? No French, German, Italian, Russian? No theater? No classics? Yeah, that’ll produce better global citizens all right. And I can feel the value of my Albany doctorate plummet, for that matter. But to see faculty treated with such disregard really burns my ass.

    I’ll try to get the word out. Hang tough.

  • Susan Schultz

    This is beyond horrible, Pierre. thanks for posting, and I’m sending it on as I can.

  • Timothy Cahill

    This is grim. It isn’t just Fr, It and Rs that are being eliminated, but Latin and Greek and the study of European foundational civilization (and, in Theater, it’s cultural patrimony). An assassination of the Humanities and the “idea of a university.” I am gutted by the wreckage we are leaving to the future.

  • Craig

    Hooray! We can now declare war on our youth and dumb down Amerika. Let’s see, English is already widely spoken in America as is Spanish. Is the point to make sure that America’s graduate youth cannot function outside of US borders?

    I wonder how many fat cat administrators have ever left the US (or their guided tours from the Holiday Inn near Cancun). The US is no longer the center of the universe. What is the point of college or a liberal education if our students do not have access to the tools they need to compete/cooperate/collaborate with their international counterparts? If they cannot learn language and cultural difference in high school and college, then when?

  • Jaundist

    To say that it was long expected from the hegemon’s march to dominance begs the question as to when the oppressed get off their complacent duffs and get back to the barricades.
    That would of course require class solidarity which in GDII [great depression.2] is sorely lacking.
    Not that you need to go to high school or college or anywhere but your computer to “learn” a language.
    And what good is another language if you live in a nativist society?
    And no one speaks what you speak or even speaks their mind in public?
    Or even gets it that most of these things will be taught over the internet?
    And that one to one ‘shining city on the hill’ education is reverting to a privilege for the rich?
    And getting used to that idea might free up a lot of energy to direct at better, more egalitarian solutions?

    Not that the hegemon will remain standing for long but isn’t it better for it’s victims to be standing up when it is falling rather than sitting in it’s path?

  • danny

    This has just made a major headline in the most important French newspaper

    http://www.lemonde.fr/idees/article/2010/11/01/campus-americains-le-francais-en-declin_1433858_3232.html

  • Fred

    I’m actually surpirsed it took this long – state universitites are finally reralizing we are beyond broke, deficits must come down, and they need to cut programs that do not have enough majors. I work at a university where if people were not forced to complete 3 undergrad language courses the language departments would have almost no one taking their courses. Some of these programs graduate under 5 people a year! we need to teach languages that are relevanto our economy and our security – Chinese, Arabic, Spanish – not ancient Greek, Latin, French, German etc – all of Europe speaks English so why teach European languages?

  • alabama

    This is the worst possible news for anyone using the English language, because we can’t use English well if we don’t understand its workings–its syntax–and we only learn its workings by studying other languages (monoglot students are truly handicapped when it comes to learning their mother tongue–forty years of teaching have taught me this).

    This, this is insane…

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