The proposed cuts to humanities programs at Stony Brook University are now official, according to a June 22 email from Sacha Kopp, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences.
Calling the decision “extremely difficult” in the email, Kopp reiterated the college’s commitment to “offering a wide array of rich programs, courses and degrees” during a time of “constrained resources.”
In spite of student opposition, all admissions to the undergraduate degree programs in theatre arts, comparative literature, cinema and cultural studies and to the graduate degree programs in cultural studies & comparative literature have been suspended. All proposed changes have been approved, with the exception of the Hispanic languages and literature graduate degree program, which will continue to be offered.
But the decision — which also involves consolidation of three departments — is a heavy blow to students of the humanities. The field of study has been a primary target in the last decade, as dwindling state funding has pushed universities to trim smaller programs.
Gabriel Rudas, a graduate student in the Hispanic Languages & Literature department, said that while he is glad his program has been spared, he is disappointed by the plan set forth by the administration.
“I feel bad for my fellow graduate students and the faculty members in the comparative literature and theater departments,” Rudas said. “They have amazing programs and they don’t deserve this.”
The departments of European Languages, Literatures & Cultures, Cultural Studies & Comparative Literature and Hispanic Languages & Literature will combine to form the department of Comparative World Literature. This new department will also be home to the existing undergraduate majors and minors in Spanish, French, Italian and German, as well as a minor in Russian, and master’s degree programs in language teaching.
“It would be better if all of us were on the same side working as a team,” Rudas said. “We know we are living difficult times, and need to face challenges together. In order to do so, we need leadership that understands the members of our academic community and that is able to listen to all sides and to follow the voice of reason.”
The possibility of cuts first came to light in April, when an email was sent to affected departments. A subsequent mass email sent on May 4 explained that suspension of certain programs would be made in an effort to reduce expenditures, transferring resources from those with declining enrollments to growing majors. The savings are projected to amount to over $1 million, according to the CAS.
The original announcement provoked hundreds of protesters to join the March for Humanities on May 10, which consisted of hours of chanting and marching as well as a sit-in outside of Kopp’s office. Their efforts came to no avail, as members of the administration remained inside their offices, declining to hear the list of demands compiled by representatives from the departments in jeopardy.
Mark Pingree, a Ph.D. student in comparative literature who delivered a speech at the protest, said it was exciting to see so many people get involved.
“No matter how hopeless it all might seem, we will surely lose every fight if no one shows up to fight for something,” Pingree said. “Direct action can work and we plan to keep up the pressure in the fall.”
Still, Pingree expressed frustration with the cuts for diminishing his area of study.
“For us graduate students, we have already been decimated – psychologically, emotionally, mentally – by a tumultuous pedagogical environment,” Pingree said. “The pressures of graduate school are immense, but when the institution doesn’t support your work, and even actively attempts to eliminate your field of study, it’s hard to keep up the fight.”
Suspending admissions will not affect current students, nor the seven incoming students who declared their interest in one of the affected majors on or before May 1, 2017, according to the CAS’ FAQ webpage. Classes for the 2017-2018 academic year will run as scheduled.
Staff may be reassigned, and some term appointments may not be renewed, according to the website, but the extent of the changes is yet to be seen.
Kopp, as well as the department heads of each of the affected programs, did not comment by the time of publication. Upon inquiries and a request for interview, Kopp’s office referred us to the June 22 email and the Q&A webpage.
Professor John Lutterbie, chair of the theatre arts department, also declined an interview, writing in an email, “At this time there are still too many uncertainties about what the suspension will ultimately mean.”