French Responses to U Albany Department Eliminations

Here are two further pieces from France to be added to the ever-growing dossier concerning the scandal re the to be eliminated Language & Theater Departments  at the University at Albany, SUNY. The first is a translation of an article that was published by the French daily Le Monde, the second a public letter by the French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy. The translator is David Wills.

Le Monde, 1 November 2010

American Campuses: French in decline (Original title: “You have been deactivated”)

Jean-Jacques Courtine, Professor of Anthropology, Université de Paris III; Emeritus Professor, UC-Santa Barbara
Claudine Haroche, Director of Research, Centre National de Recherche Scientifique

You were thinking that formula was invented by George Orwell… Big mistake.  It is the administrative “newspeak” message, in all its laconic brutality, that the seven professors in the French program at SUNY-Albany have just received from the President of their institution. Notwithstanding that each of them has what is called, in the US, “tenure,” which, they thought, gave them absolute job security. The oldest were advised to take early retirement; the youngest, “to pursue their careers elsewhere.” In the case of both groups, they had been reproached with no professional shortcoming. They were treated as cogs in a machine that, no longer being profitable, had simply been disconnected. There is no “deactivation” without some prior dehumanization. We are indeed in an Orwellian space.

What has just happened at Albany reveals, well beyond the human consequences to which no-one can remain insensitive, certain extremely worrying general tendencies that are now having profound effects on higher education in the US. In this respect, we in France toil under stubborn illusions of perspective: we see only the overexposed window-dressing of centers of excellence in Shanghai while ignoring the darker façade of a multitude of anonymous universities that are nevertheless responsible for educating the overwhelming majority of the student population.


This sector is seriously threatened today by a brutal economic and intellectual restructuring. The “deactivations” put into effect at SUNY bear witness to the severity of budgetary reductions that are liquidating domains judged least economically viable (beside the French program, those in Italian, Russian, Theater and Classics were simultaneously wiped off the map), at the same time rendering employment infinitely more precarious. There are currently only 35% tenured or tenure track faculty in American universities, whereas there exists a large body of fragile and nomad adjunct teachers, whose existence is played out, in the main, on the highways that convey them from one university and one classroom to another. Thus, we should understand literally the real sense of the advice dispensed by the administration of SUNY-Albany: “Go pursue your career elsewhere,” that is behind the wheel of your car.

In the US, universities were remodeled, following the Second World War, according to the norms of American enterprise, but they nevertheless preserved two historical “anomalies” that were foreign to the culture of the enterprise, having inherited them from the European university tradition: job security (tenure), and an important sector of intellectual activities that were not directly oriented toward profit (the Humanities). Those two anomalies are in the process of being “rectified” before our eyes. Job security is slowly but surely disappearing from the American university as part of the generalized erosion of individual protections demanded today by economic neo-liberalism. As for the fate of the Humanities, the brutality of the measures adopted by the President of SUNY-Albany paradoxically offers a great advantage: that of showing what can become a banal reality for universities where, from one day to the next, the Humanities will no longer be taught. And where, along with them, the fiction imagined by George Orwell will fall into oblivion…


18 October 2010

To choose between eliminating French or Philosophy . . . what a fabulous choice! Should one rather take out the liver or the lung? The stomach or the heart? The eyes or ears?

We need to invent teaching that is, on the one hand, strictly monolingual – for isn’t it true that everything can be translated into English? – and strictly lacking in all forms of questioning (for example concerning what is implied by “translation” in general and from one language to another in particular). A single language unencumbered by the static [parasites] of reflection would be a great subject for university study, smooth, harmonious, easily submitting to the controls of acquisition.

We should propose eliminating both of them, French and Philosophy. And everything existing in proximity to them, like Latin or psychoanalysis, Italian, Spanish or literary theory, Russian or History. Perhaps it would be wise to introduce in their place, as requirements, certain computer languages (like Java), as well as commerical Chinese and technological Hindi, at least until such languages are able to be completely transcribed into English. Unless the inverse were to happen first.

In any case, let’s teach what is displayed on our advertising billboards and on the stock exchange monitors. That and nothing else!

Courage, comrades, a new world is about to be born!

Jean-Luc Nancy, Emeritus Professor of an old French (not for long) university.

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3 Responses

  1. Ralph Cleminson says:

    Well expressed, and all true, but, alas, barbarism is by no means confined to the United States. For an even more flagrant act of cultural vandalism, see
    — the proposed closure of one of the great libraries of Europe. Don’t just read: write. One of the only promising things about the Albany closure is the stink that has been kicked up about it: let’s see if we can do the same for Augsburg.

  2. Melissa Smith says:

    The very first teaching job that I was interviewed as a then A.B.D. was at Albany (1982). While I wasn’t hired there at the time, I regarded the Russian department there as one of the most innovative of public institutions in the country. What does this bode for the rest of us?

  3. Linda Hanely says:

    Thank you for posting this. I am a graduate (1983) of French Literature from SUNY Albany. I concentrated in poetry. I won an award from the French Ambassador for my work studying Yves Bonnefoy. I was a German/English minor. I have always supported my alma mater, but no longer will give them a dime for such despicable acts. We are living in a world in need of compassion and understanding. The best way to achieve such things is through the understanding of culture and language. I have witnessed SUNYA whittle away at the languages they offered. German went right away. Then I believe Greek. Now this… There hasn’t even really been a French Department recently…it fell under the umbrella of Languages and Literature I believe… Is it time to set up the equivalent of Medieval Monasteries to keep the light of intelligence and creativity alive? I think the answer is yes. I also think it is time to keep the libraries open with print books that cannot be so easily swiped off the face of the earth in a click of a mouse…

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