Letter from the U Albany French Department

Here the letter Eloise Brière, who has taught for many years in the French Department at the University at Albany, SUNY, sent to Silvia Nagy Zekmi, a former colleague in Spanish, now chair at Villanova University, after she got the devastating news of the imminent retrenchment of her department. It should be noted that there are some 6,123 students enrolled in language courses  through the dept  of LLC. Check also further links on this matter below:

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Dear Silvia,

Thank you for your concern and assurance of your solidarity.

It was a Friday afternoon massacre. Of course it was no secret that the university faces a dire budget situation.

But for us, no prior warning that we were in trouble.  No discussion as to what we needed to do to get into the administration’s good graces: nothing.  Our most senior member had retired, removing a perennial bone of contention with the administration (and producing substantial savings in salary and benefits). We therefore went into our meeting with Dean, Provost & the President’s Administrator, fully expecting to discuss the pros and cons of doing away with the Ph.D. program…..

In the meantime, unbeknownst to the Chair of the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, the trio wielding the guillotine had scheduled meetings with the Department’s Russian faculty a bit earlier and with the Italian faculty after the French meeting, flagrantly bypassing proper administrative channels .

You can imagine our dismay when we learned that it was not the Ph.D. program but all three of our degree programs and our 7 careers that were on the line and moreover that we had 2 years to clear out our offices (the time it would take for the last student enrolled in French to finish her degree).   We learned of the fate of Russian, its three faculty members and degree program “deactivated”. Upon departing,  we crossed our Italian colleagues in the hall on their way to the meeting with the administrative trio, our ashen faces suggesting what awaited them…

An hour later, members of the campus, convened by Pres. Philip, packed a large lecture center to hear of the budgetary decisions that would enable U/Albany to meet a  $12 million shortfall. I expected I would hear that cuts had been made in a variety of departments, only to learn that 4/5 of the cuts came from a single department, mine. With the loss of French Italian, Russian and Classics  (= 12 faculty members sans lecturers, adjuncts, T.A.s, etc…) the only remaining language major available in our Department will be Spanish; the other department also “deactivated” was Theatre.

As the president spoke I felt hundreds of eyes focusing on the language faculty, U/Albany’s sacrificial offerings to the “budgetary crisis”. Relieved, colleagues from other departments silently offered thanks they had been spared the guillotine.  At the meeting’s end acquaintances looked the other way as I passed by; in a single afternoon I had seemingly become a shadow, already a former colleague.

Clearly this is a very personal perspective on an event that has repercussions far beyond the personal: I think of my younger colleagues who have made enormous sacrifices to build stellar careers at U/Albany, of the 400+ students who study in the French pre-major sequence, of the 40 French majors and as many M.A. and Ph.D. students. I think too of the thousands of high school students  (2,008) who are part of our University in the High Schools program, who pay $140/student  to take  U/Albany courses across New York State and whose teachers we mentor in French, Russian,  Italian, and Classics. What will happen to the humanities if we allow our windows on the world, its past and its cultures, to close, one after the other ?  Will parochial become a synonym for American?

Come Monday morning, the lives of my other colleagues at U/Albany will be back to normal, but ours have been changed forever.

Thanks again for your concern.

Also check out the following links to responses to the events at UAlbany:

The President of Harvard, here.

Please consider signing the petition protesting the elimination of French, Italian, Russian, Classics, and Theater at UAlbany:

There is also now a Facebook web site here.

Today’s Times Union has an relevant article: Anti-Intellectualism at UAlbany by Teresa L. Ebert AND Mas’ud Zavarzadeh: here.

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2 Responses

  1. David Gitin says:

    This is appalling behavior by a university. There were no open forums or discussion of how to make cuts. Languages and Drama surely do not deserve to handle most of them (only two departments)!

  2. José Toscano says:

    Why should languages be the first thing to go when budgets get tight? Communication with other people and an understanding of different cultures are important aspects of one’s ability to navigate a complex and interdependent world.

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