Classically Inclined

May 8, 2012

Departments under threat: Graduate Classics at Pittsburgh

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 1:43 pm
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This one has been all over the Classicists e-mail list over the weekend, but in case you haven’t seen it, there is a petition which can be signed – I repeat the text here:

On April 5th, admission to the University of Pittsburgh’s graduate program in Classics was “suspended.” This represents a significant step back from one of the university’s oldest and most lasting commitments, from a subject to which so many others owe an immense debt. It was when speaking of the Greek and Latin classics that Thomas Jefferson said, “I thank on my knees him who directed my early education for having in my possession this rich source of delight.” Like the founders of this university, Jefferson would be unable to understand the administration’s decision.

This “suspension” will have significant effects beyond the Classics Department itself. Until this decision, The University of Pittsburgh had a highly-regarded interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in Classics, Philosophy, and Ancient Science (CPAS) that allowed students to participate in classes and research across the three relevant graduate departments: Classics, Philosophy and History & Philosophy of Science (for the program’s web page, see www.classics.pitt.edu/classics-philosophy). At present there exists a community of graduate students with similar interests across the three departments. The Classics Department has contributed a significant proportion of the students in this program; without these students, the CPAS community, and thus the experience of the relevant students in the other two departments, would be significantly impoverished. In addition, students from various graduate programs throughout Arts and Sciences regularly find their way into classics courses as they discover that Latin or Greek are essential to their own course of study. Such considerations do not seem to have been adequately weighed by the administration when deciding to suspend the graduate program in Classics.

No less disturbing than the ramifications of this decision is the way the decision was handled by the administration:

1. The decision to suspend Classics, as well as two other graduate programs, was made without any conversation with the departments involved, and no opportunity for discussion or compromise has been provided.

2. The administration cites financial difficulties due to “deep and disproportionate budget cuts we have received in commonwealth appropriations.” While it is true that such cuts have indeed occurred, the reduction amounts to only 2.1% of Pitt’s operating budget.

3. The administration has based its decision on certain statistics in which the Classics Department is said to have done poorly. However, such statistics obscure the fact that over a period of years the University has gradually withdrawn significant resources from the Graduate Program. This includes the loss of two TA/TF slots, exclusion from teaching in CGS (formerly an important source of graduate student support), exclusion from fellowship opportunities open to other graduate programs, and the continuing vacancy, since January 2008, of a position in Ancient Philosophy in Classics that is of fundamental importance to the disciplinary integrity of the CPAS Program. The statistics that supposedly justify the decision to “suspend” the Graduate Program are thus the result of a consistent policy of reallocation of resources, and the “suspension” is itself a continuation of that same policy. Such realities sit uneasily with the administration’s claim that this move is motivated by financial necessity.

In short, with this “suspension,” the university is abandoning its own history, undermining its prestigious program in Classics, Philosophy and Ancient Science, and ignoring that tradition of consultation which alone forms the basis of sound decision-making. We the undersigned therefore urge the administration to reconsider its decision.

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