Sad Day at MSU: Last Classics Major Graduates

Excerpts from an item at the Lansing State Journal:

Andrew Crocker wasn’t in East Lansing on Friday. He didn’t put on cap and gown along with Michigan State University’s 6,951 other graduates. He was in Dublin, Ohio, where family matters brought him some months ago.

His graduation merits notice because it marks an ending. Crocker was the last classical studies major at MSU.

“It’s sad to be the last person,” he said, earlier this week by phone, “especially because I loved it so much.”

Classics was one of a spate of programs placed on the chopping block in the fall of 2009. The university was both responding to declines in state support and taking the opportunity to reassess its priorities.

[…]

Classical studies has a different sort of historical resonance, of course. Prior to the Civil War, most American colleges required heavy doses of Latin and Greek, and even classes in the sciences would often evoke Aristotle and other ancient authorities. It was a part of the backbone of American higher education, even if more modern subject matter and more experimentally oriented methods would ultimately make it an optional rather than a required part of the curriculum.

It was different at Michigan Agricultural College, which began as a school for farmers’ sons. Latin and Greek weren’t part of the curriculum at first. The practical arts and sciences took precedence. Virgil, Homer and recitations of hic, haec, hoc would come later.

“The university has a mission, I think, to preserve and transmit cultural heritage and values, and they’ve decided that people aren’t interested in that anymore,” said John Rauk, a professor of classics at MSU, who now mostly teaches general education courses and introductory Latin.

Formally, the program isn’t gone yet. As Karin Wurst, the dean of the College of Arts and Letters noted, it will remain on moratorium through the next academic year, meaning it won’t accept any new students.

But a moratorium is frequently a first step toward eliminating a program and with no majors and one of the three remaining classical studies professors, William Tyrrell, retiring this spring, few seem to expect that it will come back.

The university has been “retreating from the humanities in a significant way,” Rauk said.

“It’s the end of something that didn’t need to be lost, I think.”

Tyrrell was harsher. He said MSU was “giving up its commitment to what a university should be.”

MSU is a big place, of course. There are other professors, in art and history and other departments, who teach courses on the ancient world. But the offerings are diminished, in Latin and Greek especially.

It is the only Big Ten school without an active classics major.

Students now have to go elsewhere to learn the language of the Spartans.

“Once you know the ancient world, you can really see the reverberations today and how we as modern people look back and interpret the ancient world and use that to create our own identity,” Crocker said.

He began studying Latin in high school. At MSU, he discovered an interest in classical archeology. His plan is to brush up on his ancient Greek, his French and his German and apply to graduate school.

Studying classics made him a better student and a better person, he said.

“I’m hoping the university will come to its senses and reinstate it,” Crocker said. “If it doesn’t, that’s a great loss.”

… didn’t know they taught Dorian Greek at MSU. For some background on the demise: Classics Threatened at MSU!!!

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Classics Threatened at the University of Alberta?

Sharing an item from Tom Sienkewicz

Cuts at the University of Alberta include Classics

In a memo dated August 16, 2013, Dean Lesley Cormack of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Alberta announced plans to suspend twenty undergraduate programs and concentrations, with new admissions to be halted immediately. These suspensions are in response to a reduction in government funding of $56 million for the university.

At http://artssquared.wordpress.com/2013/08/18/open-letter-from-alexander-beecroft-classics-comparative-literature-university-of-south-carolina-ba-ualberta-1995/ you can read a letter of concern about this decision by Alexander Beecroft, an alumnus of the University of Alberta, an Associate Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature at the University of South Carolina, and a CAMWS member. Prof. Beecroft has also initiated a petition to Dean Lesley Cormack, Faculty of Arts, University of Alberta to save these programs. You can read about this petition at

http://www.change.org/petitions/dean-lesley-cormack-faculty-of-arts-university-of-alberta-save-20-undergraduate-programs-at-the-university-of-alberta.

Si vales, valeo.

Tom Sienkewicz

CAMWS Secretary-Treasurer

I’ll append some press coverage … we’ve seen this ‘argument’ from the beancounting administrators before:

Program in Peril: Philology at UPatras

University of Patras

University of Patras (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is a different sort of ‘peril’ … they’re not talking about eliminating the department which includes Classics, but relocating it some 280 km away to a place of little reputation, for want of a better term. Here’s where you can sign the petition:

Classics Threatened in Russian Universities!

This one’s potentially confusing as there are two petitions kicking around, one in Russian:

… and one in English (which, according to Boris Kaiatchev in the Classics International Facebook group, is specifically aimed at folks outside of Russia because one of the criteria affecting all this is ‘the degree of internationalization’):

The Russian one has a link to read the petition in Russian, and it seems specific to St Petersburg; the English one seems more general. It was suggested the English one might be better for folks like us to sign, but if one would like to sign the Russian one, here’s a guide (courtesy of Edith Hall) of what the various blanks on the side mean:

Monitoring the Crisis: Birmingham

Just to keep the pot stirring, this item appeared at Birmingham UCU:

Greek, Latin and Ancient History have been taught at Birmingham since the foundation of the University in 1900 and are now under threat from dangerously short-sighted management practices. Yet, lecturers at UoB are now prevented by a bizarre confidentiality clause from bringing to public attention the serious threat posed by a proposal involving imminent redundancies in Classics and Ancient History. UoB’s proposal to make redundant a quarter of the Classics and Ancient History team at the Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity is bewildering, especially in a year when student fees have climbed to £9,000 pa and the Government’s own UniStats website is focusing on student teaching experience as the core of university value.

UoB claims to be committed to Classics and Ancient History, but the plan to close the IAA, recently submitted to University Council, tells a different story. Although this year’s admissions round has been difficult across the sector, management has made an arbitrary decision to use 2012 admissions as a baseline, and as a spurious rationale for compulsory redundancies. A detailed plan for generating new business and increasing the numbers of the desired ABB+ students, produced by long-standing and senior members of IAA, has been ignored in favour of seeing this short-term ‘solution’ through. If the Head of College has his way, three prize-winning educators and leading scholars in Classics and Ancient History are in the firing line along with the quality of the student experience. The plan to replace two out of the three permanent staff with fixed-term, teaching-only posts is at odds with UoB’s status as a Russell Group university, apparently publicly committed to research-led teaching.

Indeed, Classics and Ancient History is facing a 25% reduction in non-professorial staff, with inevitable repercussions on the breadth of research and teaching available to students. In addition, the serious decline in Archaeology staffing will reduce the choices available to Classics and to Ancient History students, endangering recruitment and potentially leading to further redundancies in the future. The redundancies, rather than any institutional changes, are at the heart of the matter. We welcome some of the proposals, which provide an opportunity to respond to challenges related to student recruitment without the large number of job losses envisioned.

One element of the Review points the way forward. One group within the IAA, the Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies, has been given several years to fuse with the History department. No job losses are currently envisioned within the Centre, even though it currently recruits no undergraduate students of its own (unlike the other areas of the IAA where some areas facing redundancies have comparatively strong undergraduate recruitment). This is a far-sighted policy which will enrich the variety of modules available within History and boost the overall number of high calibre students applying to the University through that programme. It also reflects an important truth: many subjects have difficulty recruiting not because of any failing among staff but simply because the A level subjects which act as feeders have comparatively small student numbers. The University clearly believes that if students recruited via the much larger cohort of A-level History students are given access to Byzantine courses they will find them attractive. This move also helps ensure that the History degree has a distinctiveness compared to other History degrees nationally. This policy, which maintains as much of the skills’ base of the University as policy, and which also gives the University the best chance to recruit the highest quality students, is also one which should be applied to the other areas of the IAA (including Archaeology and Ancient History), and not just the Centre for Byzantine Studies. Surely Stonehenge and Roman Britain are as much part of British History as Clement Attlee’s government? Surely courses on those subjects are just as likely as one another to attract and enthuse the very best students?

Is it just me or is almost every single case we’ve looked at of a program in peril — if not every single case — based on deception and/or distortion of the reality of the situation? Is it just me or do administrator types seem to think Classics is an easy target that no one will care about? We will fight them on the beaches … we will fight them in the departmental coffee lounges …  Cha ghèill! Cha ghèill! Cha ghèill!