Another Department in Peril: UMD College Park?

In the wake of the threat to Classics at MSU, it has been brought to my attention that the Classics program at UMD College Park is also threatened, although to what extent at this point isn’t certain (merger with other departments is the current suggestion … maybe). From what I’ve been able to gather, UMD has had major cuts imposed on it by the state and the fallout of that can be seen in this item from the Diamondback:

The classics department may be merged with another department as part of the university’s ongoing push to cut costs and increase efficiency in the face of severe state budget cuts.

The move could insulate the department, which houses three undergraduate majors and a popular Greek and Roman mythology class, from reductions that would devastate a small department but could be weathered by a larger one, arts and humanities college officials said. But classics Chair Hugh Lee feared the department could lose some of its independence.

“In some ways I have a little bit of sadness because I think the classics department is now in its golden age, and the faculty are very active nationally and internationally,” Lee said. “In an ideal world, I think we’d like to stay independent.”

Lee said he believed the department was targeted for a possible merger because it is small and does not offer a doctorate. The department includes 40 undergraduate students and about a dozen graduate students.

A merger might be necessary to protect small departments such as classics from a bleak budgetary future, arts and humanities college Dean James Harris said.

“Part of it is looking to the future. In other words, … we’re trying to position units to put them in the best situation to cope with the future, and the future doesn’t look good right now budgetarily, and it’s especially true of small units,” Harris said. “Can they survive on their own?”

A merger could save money on operating costs by pooling resources like paper, copiers and telephone service, Harris said, and by reducing the number of staff members. For example, one secretary could serve two combined departments. While Harris doesn’t plan to lay off any staff at the moment, vacant faculty and staff positions may go unfilled, he said.

Lee said he hoped the classics department would be able to keep the same number of students after the merger, but many details about the structure of the new department would need to be worked out. How many classes would every faculty member be expected to teach in a merged department? Who would be responsible for sitting on various university governing bodies?

“There’s no clear model for this kind of merger that I know of,” Lee said. “But I think we would probably have to give up some of our resources — some of our budget would have to go over to the larger unit.”

No final decision has been made on whether to merge the classics department, Harris said. The college is also considering merging the African American studies, American studies, women’s studies and LGBT studies programs. Across the university, departments are being forced to offer fewer and larger courses because of declining university fundraising and $86.2 million in state budget cuts over the past two years.

There is no timetable to make a decision, Harris said. It is unclear which department classics could merge with, although Lee said he has already talked with the English department and the languages, literatures and cultures school.

Lee said he hoped the academic quality of the department can be maintained.

“When Maryland talks about its peer universities … they all have free-standing classics departments,” he said. “I think we’ve over the years tried to build up a department; even though we don’t have a Ph.D., our teaching and our scholarship is something that the university can be proud of.”

Anyone else having 80s/90s flashbacks?

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