Three departments in the College of Arts and Sciences —European Languages, Literatures and Cultures; Hispanic Languages and Literature; and Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature — will be combined into one entity over the course of the 2017-18 academic year. The merger will alter language instruction in the coming year, beginning with the dismissal of at least three foreign language lecturers.
Full-time Russian lecturer Anna Geisherik is one of the lecturers who was notified last summer that her contract would not be renewed following this semester.
“I’ve given half of my life to the school, exactly half of my life,” Geisherik said. She came to Stony Brook University as a graduate student in 1997 to earn her master’s degree and doctoral degrees in Foreign Language Teaching, and would go on to become an adjunct. Three years ago, she accepted her current position as a full-time lecturer.
“I was hoping to stay here for my whole career,” Geisherik said. “And I enjoyed the whole three years of a life that I’ve always wanted to have.”
Although the College of Arts and Science’s Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page states that there are no reductions planned for the school’s language programs, Associate Professor of German Robert Bloomer, said this is not the case.
After the Spring 2016 semester, admission to the German major was suspended when the second-to-last German professor retired. This left only Bloomer, another lecturer and an adjunct to take on the course load. After Bloomer ultimately agreed to a reduced form of the major, it was reopened to new students.
Just days before the Fall 2017 semester, Bloomer said he was notified that the lone remaining adjunct had been let go. This left the other remaining lecturer, Birgit Viola, responsible for teaching the adjunct’s courses. This also forced her to cancel two of her original classes.
Later in the semester, it was announced that Viola’s contract would not be renewed for Spring 2018. In spite of her plans to retire in 2020 and receive her full pension, after 30 years at Stony Brook, Viola is forced to explore other career options or live off her savings for two years.
“I could work in a high school, but I would have to take a couple of courses to get a high school certificate,” Viola said. “Who’s going to hire a person for two years?”
Bloomer wrote, “knowing that it would be impossible to run the major or even the minor with only two persons let alone one, I immediately advised newly declared students to choose different academic paths, and guided students already in the program toward non-German electives as substitutes for the classes that were canceled and for those that are not taking place in Spring 2018.”
“It frustrates me,” Micayla Beyer, a junior physics and German major, said. “I love the language. It’s like my escape from all of my hard classes is going to the German class, and it just boosts my mood.”
Since Beyer declared her major in Fall 2017, the school will let her complete the requirements, although not without considerable difficulties. Beyer was forced to reschedule her study abroad to her final semester so that she would be able to attend the last German classes being offered during Spring 2018.
According to the College of Arts and Sciences’ FAQ page “tenured faculty from the Department of Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies have been redirected into language-based majors. These tenured faculty have relevant training in language and literature instruction and will continue the strength of these programs.”
During a SUNY Board of Trustees Meeting last November, linguistics professor Lori Repetti voiced concerns about this practice, adding that she and her colleagues were unhappy with how Sacha Kopp, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, has managed the university’s so-called “financial crisis.”
“The personnel loss in the language programs has been so great that in order to cover even the most basic courses, the Dean has proposed that research faculty teach in these language courses,” Repetti said. “These faculty are not trained to do that and it takes them away from what their primary mission is, which is research and specialized education.”
Sophie Leroy, associate professor from the Department of Cultural Studies & Comparative Literature, wrote in an email that she was reassigned to teach French courses instead of her usual comparative literature courses in the past semesters.
“I do not think literature specialists should be reassigned to teach low-division language courses on a systemic basis,” Leroy said. “This is not why we were primarily hired at Stony Brook.”
When asked for Kopp’s comment on the matter, his office provided the following statement in December: “The claim that the University is in fiscal crisis is inaccurate. All programs across the University are currently undergoing review and making staffing adjustments.”
John Bailyn, a professor in the department of linguistics and a member of the Steering Committee of the LLRC, said “it’s like a lose-lose because you lose the really good people whose lives are devoted language pedagogy from teaching these classes and you lose the research specializations of those research faculty who are now being thrown into that position.”
“Quality of the classes are affected,” Bailyn said. “And what about the class that’s not being taught by the professor who’s now having to teach this thing against his/her will and against all standards?”
Bailyn said organizing a strong language teaching program at a healthy research university is difficult, but it can be solved with creative administration and faculty without significant financial investments.
“I think the positive message is that Stony Brook could be and should be a leader in foreign language teaching, teacher training, pedagogy, research about learning languages, the range of languages offered. There are so many ways to do that,” Bailyn said. “And they don’t have to cost money.”
Correction: Jan. 22, 2017
A previous version of this story misprinted professor Bailyn’s last name and professor Repetti’s speech was misquoted.
The story has been updated to properly represent Geisherik’s current position as a full-time lecturer and better contextualize the quote that follows.