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!

Birmingham Crisis Redux … in a Bad Way

Yesterday Edith Hall informed the Classics International facebook group that the crisis at the University of Birmingham which we learned about last summer was going down the road everyone feared. Here’s a somewhat edited version of her comments:

Yesterday, selected non-professorial Classicists, Ancient Historians and Archeologists received letters from the (Classicist) Pro-Vice-Chancellor Michael Whitby informing them that their posts have been selected to go into a pool from which redundancies are proposed. Three redundancies in Classics/AH out 12 lecturers, senior and junior; in Archaeology, five lecturers out of seven plus all 8.8 Research staff. Professors are completely protected.
These proposals will be presented to the College Council on Wednesday 3rd October, which is terrifyingly soon. Since writing to Professor Whitby himself has so far had little effect, members of this group are encouraged to write immediately to the Vice-Chancellor himself,
Professor David Eastwood,
The University of Birmingham
Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT
United Kingdom.

email: d.eastwood AT bham.ac.uk,

I have no idea of the identity of the source of any of the information I have posted here, which has arrived anonymously. The contents of the letter to staff in the redundancy “pool” can only be disclosed with Professor Whitby’s written permission or it will be treated as a disciplinary matter.

… note that date of October 3 … obviously any emails would best be sent as soon as possible.
Some background:

Update on the Threat to Classics at UVa

Wow … reaction to this one was rather swift, compared to many, many others. Judging from the talk on the Classics list yesterday, we might be dealing with a reporter or administrator who was a little ‘loose’ when they were talking and Classics aren’t really threatened at all. Inside Higher Ed also had a piece on the firing of Teresa Sullivan, which included this bit, inter alia, about Classics (tip o’ the pileus to John McMahon for passing this along):

[...] Consider classics. The department’s website features a quote from Thomas Jefferson, the university’s founder: “To read the Greek and Latin authors in their original is a sublime luxury…. I thank on my knees him who directed my early education for having in my possession this rich source of delight.”

Classics at UVa is very much alive because it is alive statewide in high schools. In 2012, Virginia had the third-highest number of students of any state (behind only New York State and Massachusetts) who took the National Latin Exam, which is offered to high schools nationwide. This strong history of Latin high school enrollments in the state has translated into strong interest in the classics at the university.

John F. Miller, chair of the department, said in an interview Sunday that student interest is so high that the department typically offers four to five sections of advanced Latin for undergraduates, typically has about 70 students at any one time majoring in classics, and graduates up to 20 a year. The Ph.D. program is small (appropriate, Miller noted, given the academic job market in the humanities) and typically graduates one or two new Ph.D.s a year.

Miller said that he woke up this morning to find e-mail messages from people around the world expressing shock and asking, “What’s going on there? What can we do to help?”

In his interactions with administrators at Virginia, Miller said, he has received strong support and encouragement, so he was “flabbergasted” that board members consider classics an “obscure” department that could be eliminated. “It makes me feel mad. It’s an embarrassment to the university,” he said.

Jefferson and Modern Languages

While Jefferson loved the classics, he also believed it was crucial to study modern languages. In fact, in a move that went against the norms at the time he founded UVa (when leading universities in the United States focused language study on Greek and Latin), Jefferson included in his original plan for the university a School of Modern Languages, with instruction in Anglo-Saxon, French, German, Italian and Spanish. [...]

Besides the reduced threat to Classics, I hope folks notice the connections made there to strength in Classics at the university level and strength in Classics at the high school level …