Unless new sources of funding are found, the University will cease offering courses in Modern Greek beginning next school year.
A seed grant from the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation, an organization that seeks to promote Hellenic culture in North American universities and art institutions, originally financed the program. The College of Arts and Sciences matched the funding provided by the grant after its expiration, but now plans to end its funding.
“Unfortunately, with only a handful of students, Modern Greek is a program we could not continue to support,” Susan Robertson, director of communications for the College of Arts and Sciences, said in a statement.
Without this funding from the Arts College, Prof. Gail Holst-Warhaft, the director of the Mediterranean initiative in Cornell’s Institute for European Studies and an adjunct professor of classics and comparative literature, said she is doubtful that Modern Greek courses can continue if no other funding is found.
“Modern Greek is the victim of budget cuts across the campus,” Holst-Warhaft said. “The chances of it being taught again without substantial outside funding are small.”
According to Hellenic Students Association President Alex Orfanos ’13, the budget cuts came as a surprise.
“There wasn’t much publicity about the intention to cut these courses,” Orfanos said. “Rather, they were eliminated from the course catalog and this was realized when students … began to plan their schedules for upcoming semesters.”
Robertson said the popularity of other courses was a primary consideration for removing Modern Greek’s funding.
“We’re seeing big increases in enrollment in other languages, like Arabic and Spanish, so they require additional resources. At the same time, the college needs to take a close look at a set of language programs that enroll very few students.” Robertson said. “It’s important to remember, though, that Cornell offers all 15 of the central languages taught at American universities, plus about 30 more.”
Backed by support from the Hellenic Students Association, students have written a petition for the University to reinstate the program’s funding. This petition urges the Arts College to view the recent low level of enrollment not as a lack of interest, but a lack of consistency in the Modern Greek program.
Modern Greek courses, which have been offered under the departments of Classics and Near Eastern studies, have had a consistent student interest, according to Holst-Warhaft.
Prof. Jeffrey Rusten, director of the Department of Classics, also commented on the small but loyal constituencies of Modern Greek.
“It would be very unfortunate if Modern Greek language instruction were to be cut, it has many constituencies: students of European studies, comparative literature, those who visit Greece for archaeology, anthropology, or music, as well as Cornellians of Greek descent,” Rusten said.
The petition also highlights the opportunity for Cornell to retain its Modern Greek program when several other universities are abandoning theirs.
“It is critical that the University provides the continuity of course offerings necessary … and live up to its guiding principle of being an institution where ‘any person can find instruction in any study,’” according to the Modern Greek petition.
However, Holst-Warhaft said she remains skeptical of the ability of the petition to gather support from the administration.
“The idea of a petition was not mine, not because I don’t think the students have a right to demand that Greek be available — I agree with them on that — but because I am convinced that the Arts College will not reinstate Greek as a result of any sort of lobbying,” Holst-Warhaft said.
Though Modern Greek is struggling with funding, the Department of Classics, which teaches Ancient Greek, is thriving, according to Prof. Alan Nussbaum, Greek and Latin linguistics.
“The Classics Department, far from being cut, was authorized to conduct a search for a new member this year,” Nussbaum said, “In fact, we will have one more faculty member next year, and possibly two more, than we have this year.”
The significance of Ancient Greek in many classic texts, in comparison to the minimal population of Modern Greek speakers, explains the contrasting outcomes of the Ancient and Modern Greek concentrations, according to Rusten.
“Modern Greek is the descendant of that language and has much great poetry in the 20th century especially, but today it is spoken by a much more limited number of people,” Rusten said. “But that is no reason to cut it entirely — that is a shame.”
Holst-Warhaft sympathizes as well with the students who will be affected by the program’s dissolution.
“After years of doing battle to keep Modern Greek culture alive on the campus, I wish these students success,” Holst-Warhaft said. “I understand the students’ frustration and I support their efforts to keep an inexpensive and valuable program alive.”