SUNY Albany Cuts French Department
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.