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Cuts To University's Humanities Program Draw Outcry

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Cuts To University's Humanities Program Draw Outcry


Cuts To University's Humanities Program Draw Outcry

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A story now about the impact on colleges of the huge shortfalls in state budgets. Public colleges and universities are ending programs with low enrollments and also increasing the size of classes. The State University of New York, SUNY has had to cut $640 million from its budget. Its Albany campus recently announced it was suspending five programs: French, Italian, Russian, classics and theater.

NPR's Margot Adler has more.

MARGOT ADLER: There have been cuts at SUNY Albany in everything from journalism to business. But the fact that five humanities programs have been suspended -that means new students will not be able to major in them, at least for now -has resonated with the public and the press.

David Wills is a professor of French. At first he was shocked. Then he was angry.

Professor DAVID WILLS (French, SUNY Albany): None of us accepted that it was something that a university could do and still call itself a university. This is not a university if you only have one non-English, European language program left standing.

ADLER: To be fair, you will still be able to take some classes in these subjects, but not major in them.

Alexandra Cialeo transferred to SUNY Albany a few months ago and is majoring in Italian. Juniors and seniors will be able to finish their majors, but most freshmen and sophomores will have to choose alternatives. Cialeo's a sophomore. She notes SUNY Albany's slogan: The World Within Reach.

Ms. ALEXANDRA CIALEO (Student, SUNY Albany): How is the world within reach when a school is going to take away the foreign language department so you can't communicate around the world? It's just saddens me, because I have such a passion for the language and the culture and I want to become a teacher someday.

ADLER: Albany Provost Susan Phillips says up until now, cuts in the humanities had been 4 percent - less than in other areas.

Ms. SUSAN PHILLIPS (Provost, SUNY Albany): The faculty losses, actually, so far, have been much more on the social sciences and professional schools side.

ADLER: And she emphasizes up to this point, no decisions have been made to close down these programs permanently. But that's not how it feels to Victoria Savino, a senior majoring in English, minoring in classics. Reading Latin, she says...

Ms. VICTORIA SAVINO (Student, SUNY Albany): That completely changed my entire mentality for the rest of college. I will now read my children Ovid before they go to sleep before I read them Dr. Seuss.

ADLER: What makes her mad is when she sees campus buildings being renovated that seem perfectly fine.

Ms. SAVINO: And I can't study what I want to study.

ADLER: But Julie Gondor, a senior majoring in public policy and the president of the student assembly, says many students don't understand the complexities. For example, construction is a separate fund.

Ms. JULIE GONDOR (Student, SUNY Albany): I definitely feel for these students that came in wanting to major in these programs.

ADLER: But Gondor says this is a larger political battle that has to go to the legislature.

Ms. GONDOR: My tuition needs to be going back into the SUNY system and into the campus that I'm going to.

ADLER: In New York State and a few other states, the state takes the tuition. Nancy Zimpher, the chancellor of the entire 64-campus SUNY system, says tuition is paid to the state, but it's the legislature that decides how much of it goes to each campus.

Ms. NANCY ZIMPHER (Chancellor, SUNY): They re-appropriate it to us, and in the last session, only gave us 10 percent back. That, to me, sounds like a tax on people who are seeking to better themselves by higher education.

ADLER: Zimpher and New York's governor, David Paterson, crafted a bill that would have allowed the SUNY system to raise tuition, create different tuitions at different campuses, and create public-private partnerships in order to raise revenue. The legislature said no.

Chancellor Zimpher says in the future, students will be able to get the offerings they want at other campuses in the system within driving distance.

But that doesn't answer Victoria Savino, who says she learned the most in a Latin class with two other people.

Ms. SAVINO: But, hey, I'm also in a lecture center, a sociology class, that has 300 people in it. Yeah, that class is really popular, but I haven't learned one thing.

ADLER: Freshman Jessica Stapf won an appeal, met with tons of advisers and will finish her French requirements by 2012.

Ms. JESSICA STAPF (Freshman, SUNY Albany): My dreams mean more than anything else. I'm not going to let them stop me.

ADLER: SUNY is not the only place where the pie is getting smaller. Louisiana State is grappling with severe cutbacks. The governor of Missouri has told the state universities to cut under-enrolled majors.

And perhaps the reason these cuts in the humanities at SUNY have garnered so much attention is because of a fear that these disciplines are less career-oriented than business and technology, less valued in a world dominated by the bottom line.

Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

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