Russian grad program looking at loss
By biconews On 29 Feb, 2000 At 05:00 AM | Categorized As Archives | With 0 Comments


In Russian culture there is the belief and the epigram that “hope dies last.” It means that when challenges appear on the horizon, people hold to the hope that things could right themselves.

At this moment it is hoped that, for the sake of both the graduate and the undergraduate students who thrive in its rich academic soil, the Russian graduate department is not felled by the Bryn Mawr administration.

The idea that this prestigious graduate program must justify its right to exist to an administration that touts the quality of the undergraduate Russian department in promotional materials is not right and is not coherent. Rather, it is absurd. This is because the grad students’ dedication contribute such a substantial amount to the much-flaunted education of the undergraduate students.

If it does not retain the people who teach and coordinate fifteen weekly hours of Intensive Elementary Russian and seven hours per week of Intensive Intermediate Russian, who avail themselves for countless hours of tutorial help, who organize the Russian Table, Russian Club and Haffner Russian, and who energize the entire department from the ranks of the first-years to the tenured professors - how would Bryn Mawr ever hope to sustain the unparalleled

reputation of its undergraduate Russian program? It is doubtful that other current staff members - part-time members of the department - could fill all of the grad students’ roles. Without the tremendous support of the graduate students, it is certain that the structure of the

undergraduate program would weaken.

This is not to mention the fact that the elimination of the department means the disappearance of one of the nation’s most reputable graduate programs in Russian language acquisition. This point is not lost on the designers of the webpage of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, who write that the Russian graduate department, “with its distinctive program in Second Language Acquisition, is on the cutting edge of issues in language pedagogy.” The website then draws the conclusion that with “its many program initiatives in Russia and its traditional offerings in literature, the department enjoys a special reputation among the very best in the country.”

The writers of the webpage believe such facts to be significant and impressive enough to attract prospective students to Bryn Mawr’s graduate program. Why, then, do they seem to weigh so lightly in the Ad Hoc Committee’s proposal to eliminate of the graduate Russian program?

Although the answer is not clear, the reasons to maintain the program remain self-evident. The Russian Graduate School cannot help but foster a rigorous and thus successful undergraduate Russian language department. The prestige of the graduate program attracts eager and well-prepared candidates who serve as enthusiastic and highly-qualified teacher assistants, as well as impromptu advisors, conversation partners, and conveyors of Russian language and culture. Having the chance to discuss various study abroad options with people who participated in the given programs, to converse about Russian life with someone who just returned from another summer of graduate study in St. Petersburg, or to benefit from the TAs’ immediate interest in Russian language acquisition as it applies to their research - having graduate students in the Russian department engenders each of these opportunities.

Failing to maintain a graduate department encourages only disjunction between classroom experience and real life experience, limiting students chances to utilize the language outside of the curriculum. As all bi-co students can attest - as all fulfill a foreign language requirement - interacting in a different linguistic frame of mind encourages and inspires language learning.

There is an abundance of reasons to continue to fund the well-established study of graduate-level Russian at Bryn Mawr. If the Committee on Academic Planning and the Graduate Students’ Council decline to consider the academic reputation of the graduate program, then they must at

least consider the state of the undergraduate program. They must consider the diminished state in which they would leave it if they were to disband the Russian Graduate Department. Most of all, they must question whether making spending reductions at the price of lessened language training and cultural education amounts to savings and efficiency, or just a careless disposal of the energies and talents that graduate students of Russian so willingly and so fruitfully avail.

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