Russian graduate program may be terminated
By biconews On 29 Feb, 2000 At 05:00 AM | Categorized As Archives | With 0 Comments

By Christine McCluskey

Bryn Mawr’s graduate program in Russian, widely recognized as one of the best in the country, may be terminated after the 2000-2001 academic year for financial reasons.

The Office of the President suggested the proposal to terminate the Russian program, according to Professor of Russian Dan Davidson. President Nancy Vickers said, however, her office has not yet made any “formal recommendaions.”

The proposal is based in part on a survey of faculty in all departments, including those without graduate programs. The survey was conducted by an Ad Hoc Committee on Graduate Programs released in early February, Davidson said via email.

“The Ad Hoc Committee made no recommendations in its report,” he wrote, “but we in the Department found its report on Russian to be very superficial and an exceedingly weak basis for recommending anything.”

The proposal will be reviewed soon by the faculty Committee on Academic Planning (CAP) and the Graduate Council Committee (GCC), which work together to evaluate all of the College’s graduate programs.

The decision will ultimately be made by President Vickers and other members of the administration. The dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, James Wright, commented, “This is a faculty matter at this point.” He emphasized that the administration has not started to make any final decisions on the matter.

“The question has been brought up for many years,” said Vickers, referring to the possible elimination of the graduate program. She continued. “We’re looking to bring it to a resolution, either a positive or negative resolution - out of the limbo it is in now.”

Although Vickers has not commissioned a special task force to investigate the department alone, “there is a discussion,” she said, “going on around [the Russian graduate program] specially and uniquely … that will lead toward a decision being reached.”

According to Davidson, who holds a part-time, tenured position, the major concern of the Committee is the ratio of part-time to full-time professors in the department. Two of the five members of the department are part-time, “and this is certainly not typical at BMC,” Davidson said via email. The Second Language Acquisition (SLA) graduate program in Russian was called “decentered” in one committee’s report because of this, he said. The department, though, views

the part-time professors as necessary, and does not want to alter the situation, as it works well.

The high number of teaching assistants (TAs) teaching first- and second-year Russian classes was also a concern of the CAP, but the department considers the current system of having graduate students teaching these classes vital to both the graduate and the undergraduate departments. Eliesa Ing (BMC ’02), a Russian minor, wrote in an email letter to be sent to President Vickers that her TA in first-year Russian last year was “the most encouraging and hard-working teacher that I have ever had.”

In addition to the presence of teaching assistants on the staff, the Committee also mentioned the high departmental turn-over rate that the department, again, does not see as problematic. George Pahomov, a full-time professor of Russian, said some people come to Bryn Mawr “to teach one course to fit the needs of the department,” and then leave. However, the resultant diversity of teaching styles in the Russian department from year to year is a benefit, say Pahomov and Davidson.

The department did have two searches for a full-time professor in SLA recently, but “we could not come up with a person the department and the administration could agree on … [and] at the last minute, one of the candidates withdrew,” explained Pahomov. There will not be another

search, he said.

In addition to the loss of a potential full-time professor, the Russian department recently lost a tenure-track position. Several years ago, the Board of Trustees created a “financial equilibrium” plan for the College. Part of this plan includes keeping the number of tenured faculty constant: so, whenever a tenure-track position in one department is created, such a position in another department must be eliminated. According to Pahomov, the Computer Science department, which gained the new tenure-track position, “desperately needed another appointed faculty member.” There are other “oversubscribed” departments as well, he said.

“We’re a small college, probably with more programs than anyplace else our size,” Pahomov said, adding that the number of good programs at Bryn Mawr necessitates the “financial equilibrium” concept in order to keep all the departments equally staffed.

The faculty and students in the graduate and undergraduate departments say the quality and reputation of the Russian graduate program are unquestionable. At a meeting last week to discuss the future of the program. Davidson said, “I believe that there is no question, no matter who is doing the ranking, Bryn Mawr is one.”

Davidson stated over email that out of 420 departments of Russian in the United States, Bryn Mawr’s is the leading producer of Ph.D. students and of research in Russian and Second Language Acquisition. Representatives of other colleges and universities were funded by the National

Endowment for the Humanities to come to Bryn Mawr to study the Russian program. In addition, the textbooks, videos and CD-ROMS that have become the standards for teaching Russian were all written by Bryn Mawr faculty and alumni, wrote Davidson, and some of the best Russian programs outside Bryn Mawr, such as those at the University of Texas and Ohio State, were started by alumni of the graduate school. Last year alumna Elizabeth McKay won the Pulitzer Prize for her reporting from Moscow for the Wall Street Journal.

Faculty and students alike say that the graduate program is a major part of the entire Russian Department at Bryn Mawr, which aiso includes study abroad programs, the summer Russian Language Institute, and the undergraduate program. More than one person likened the graduate program to a hospital, where students can get training from those with more experience, apply that training in the classroom as TAs just as interns would interact with patients, and do

research all in the same place.

Russian major Olivia Tomaselli (BMC ’00) is working to unite undergraduates in support of keeping the program by encouraging them to write letters to President Vickers, and is arranging a meeting between Vickers and undergraduate Russian students to discuss the issue. “The graduate students have served as our teachers, our mentors and our friends. Without them, the energy level of the department is sure to decrease significantly,” she wrote in an email.

Graduate students are also voicing their opinions, Ph.D. candidate in Russian and Second Language Acquisition Natasha Vanyushkina, who also earned her second master’s degree at Bryn Mawr, said that she believed most of the graduate students are not worried as much about the effects on themselves as the “global and far-reaching effects” of the elimination of the program on the world of Russian scholarship. Another affected sector in Russian studies would be the undergraduate Russian students at Bryn Mawr, said Vanyushkina.

“My concern as a researcher is that this might affect the situation [of scholarship in Second Language Acquisition] in general,” she explained. While graduate programs in literature and linguistics are more common, she said, programs like Bryn Mawr’s in SLA are quite rare. She also expressed concern for the undergraduates, who she thinks may benefit from the “smooth transition” from undergraduate to graduate study in Russian here, with the option of taking

graduate courses as undergraduates. She said that they might “lose the motivation” to pursue their studies of Russian without the graduate program’s presence.

Lauren Warner, another graduate student, also recognized the strong connection between the graduate and undergraduate students. She said via email: “Every day, [undergraduates] find themselves in a supportive environment, surrounded by graduate students who are well-versed in the language and culture. Vanyushkina said that the high standards of the department, its singularity, and the unusually successful graduate-undergraduate paring are all reasons the Russian graduate program “should be the pride of the school.”

“The current recommendation betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of what the Russian program actually does, of the position it occupies among Russian programs nationwide,

and whether the program is even any good or not,” wrote Davidson. He and other members of the department think the administration and the committees evaluating the program do not have all the information they need to formulate any proposals or decisions.

President Vickers acknowledged that more “information-gathering” needs to be done, and said that she was anticipating much more conversation before any decision is reached, Davidson, Dean Wright and Russian Department Chair Elizabeth Allen echoed this sentiment. Allen wrote, “The department’s faculty and students are eager to work with administrators to address concerns about the graduate program in Russian before any final decision regarding its future is made.”

Pahomov said he was very unsure of what the final decision of the administration may be after it discusses the graduate program with Russian faculty and students. He expressed that he believes the decision could go either way at this point, saying, “The future is unknown.”

With reporting by Rachel Nielsen and Bonnie Bisonnette.

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