February 16, 2011

At a Loss for Language

Print More

THE COLLEGE OF ARTS AND SCIENCES will no longer offer funding to Cornell’s Modern Greek program, perpetuating the current trend of downsizing small departments to meet the demands of budget cuts. This most recent decision, which follows similar moves towards Russian, Swedish and Dutch programs, raises the question –– as supporters of the Greek program pointed out in their petition –– is Cornell still a place where any person can pursue any study?Historically, the University has strongly advocated the benefits of a liberal arts education. In President David Skorton’s State of the University address this October, he pledged his commitment to a national “campaign” to support the humanities. This campaign is a laudable move towards protecting the fundamentals of a classic, humanistic education, but its goals are evidently not being realized on the Hill. The Sun urged the University to take Skorton’s pledge to heart and reflect its aims with administrative action this fall. It seems, as many have feared, that this commitment was merely empty rhetoric meant to inspire a Cornell community disillusioned by the sweeping effects of budget cuts. We understand that balancing a University budget is an incredibly complex task. Despite the University’s commitment to keep costs to academic programs low, some departments will inevitably face scrutiny and dissolution. It is understandable that colleges would seek to administer budget cuts in a way that would have as low an impact as possible on students. Smaller humanities programs, like foreign languages, that have comparatively low student interest are easily pushed to the margins. This is a dangerous trend in administrative decision-making, and we strongly urge that the trend stop here. It falls on the shoulders of administrators within the College of Arts and Sciences specifically to make certain that Cornell’s commitment to liberal arts education and Skorton’s promise to support the humanities do not fall by the wayside.Arts and Sciences is unique within the University because its curriculum is designed to expose students to a wide array of opportunities and broaden their educational perspectives. Of the seven colleges, it has the most flexibility for students to steer their own academic paths. If pre-professional programs and majors in science, technology, engineering and math remain stable and languages and the arts continue to shrink, the University will be forced to reevaluate its identity in higher education. If the current trend of downsizing continues, Cornell is also in danger of losing prospective students who were attracted by the breadth and depth of liberal arts courses the University offers. While fewer students may enroll in Modern Greek than in Spanish or Arabic, the opportunity to take these classes is one of the University’s greatest strengths. While we applaud efforts to keep the brunt of the budget burden away from the majority of students, administrators cannot analyze a program’s relative success through a narrow scope largely based on numbers. Modern Greek fits in as one important piece of Cornell’s foreign language programs as a whole, which are consistently strong for their academic rigor and variety of offerings. Shrinking this course catalog is a dangerous move that could cost the University more than it ends up saving.