Sunday, October 3, 2010

SUNY Albany Is Dead

The following things become painfully clear from the letter I cite in its entirety at the end of this post:

1. The SUNY University system, which used to be famous for the high quality of its education and research, is now officially dead. If you've been trying to convince yourself that New York State is not the same as Southern Mississippi, think twice. It is now exactly the same in terms of a methodic destruction of higher education in both these states.

2. It wasn't for nothing that we've been reading all these articles in the New York Times and Co about the need to abolish tenure. Those articles marked a beginning of an official campaign to destroy scholarship in the US. Religious fanatics that came to power in this country 10 years ago hate secular education. Now they have proceeded to destroy the university, which is a place where their ignorant superstitions are ridiculed and where young people are taught to think for themselves.

3. A corporate takeover of the system of American higher education has now been completed. Uneducated crooks have made their way into college administration. They share the desire that drives the religious fanatics to stamp out every last vestige of intelligence and knowledge in their country. In their opinion, the great unwashed masses should serve their purpose by working themselves to death without complaining about their horrible work conditions, consume more overpriced junk, get into debt, and be extremely grateful to be allowed to lead this beautiful existence.

4. With the imminent death of the overwhelming majority of language programs in this country, the US will find itself even more isolated from other cultures. Americans already feel like pariahs who are hated by people from other countries for the atricities the American government keeps perpetrating abroad. Now, Americans will not be able to talk to foreigners and find out that, in spite of all the propaganda that Americans are brainwashed with daily, their work conditions are amongst the worst and their lifestyles are the saddest in the developed world.

While these changes have been taking place, we, the academics, have been doing nothing. We have been sitting there quietly, agreeing to fulfill our administrators' every whim, kissing our Deans' and Presidents' asses, and hoping that at least our own positions would not be cut just yet.

Hasn't the time finally arrived for us to break our pathetic and terrified silence and start doing something? It happened to SUNY today and it will happen to you tomorrow.

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. Senoir 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.



Brett Bowles
Associate Professor of French Studies

I found this shocking letter at a great blog you can find here.


Richard said...

This is an appalling piece of news as much for the implication for the other humanities as for the language department. One has the impression that once the federal government (read Defense Department and CIA) backed away from providing grants and subsidies to universities to operate area studies programs in the 1970’s most area studies programs have been in pretty steady decline especially within public (state) university systems. This is unfortunate since in our increasingly globalized economy area studies have a special value. It is bizarre that when internationalism is on the rise the SUNY system has chosen to start turning out provincial students for whom any place beyond their home state is a strange and foreign place.

Clarissa said...

Bizarre is just the word to describe this turn of events. The SUNY system has always been really good but now they can say good-bye to their reputation as a center for true scholarship and learning.

The excuse of low student enrollment as a justification for disbanding language departments is also a total fallacy. Languages cannot be taught to groups of 100 students at a time. Our classes are small because they have to be by the very nature of what we are teaching. While no new faculty are being hired, more sections of language classes can be opened. So complaining about low enrollments is hypocritical on the part of administrators.

Anonymous said...

I interviewed with the Modern languages and literatures department at SUNY at Albany a couple of years ago, and had a very good impression of its staff and faculty members.

During my interview, I was surprised too see how few professors of Spanish there were in the department in comparison with professors of French and Russian. SUNY at Albany had about the same ratio of French and Spanish professors, without the same ratio of students. The solution to that lack of balance was to hire professors of Spanish, I thought then. Unsurprisingly, administration decided to fire professors of French and Russian... and probably not to hire new professors of Spanish.

I also remember that department was lively, one of the most (if not the most) appreciated by the students.

This is appalling news, Clarissa. SUNY professors should go on strike to protest.