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June 13, 2013

Provost considers fates of 3 graduate programs

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences recommendations on the future of graduate programs in religious studies, German and classics are under review in the Office of the Provost.

University Senate President Thomas C. Smitherman told Faculty Assembly last week: “The final decision from the [Dietrich school] councils was the closing of the religious studies graduate programs, the suspension of admissions to the classics and German graduate programs.”

University spokesperson John Fedele, Pitt’s senior associate director of News, told the University Times that the three proposals were received by the provost’s office on June 6.

“Following standard procedures, the proposals are being reviewed internally. The proposals will then be brought to the University Council on Graduate Studies for review, most likely at their September meeting,” he said. After UCGS review, the provost makes a final determination.

Departmental listings indicate religious studies has 14 graduate students, German has 11 and classics has eight.

Religious studies chair Linda Penkower told the University Times the termination of the two graduate programs in religious studies would take effect at the end of academic year 2022, one year beyond the statute of limitations of the last graduate student currently in the program.


A decision in early 2012 to suspend admissions to the three departments’ graduate programs came under University Senate scrutiny amid concerns that University planning and budgeting system processes and academic program review guidelines were not followed and that department chairs were not given the opportunity to defend their programs prior to the suspensions. (See June 14, 2012, University Times.)

Smitherman provided a brief review for Faculty Assembly: “At the request of the University Senate, aided by a letter from the local chapter of the American Association of University Professors [see May 17, 2012, University Times letters], the entire process of the decision-making that had not strictly followed due process was halted and a full review was undertaken to ascertain that at least in retrospect due process was followed.”

Smitherman commented, “Obviously, all of us wish this had been prospectively done, but I think we can all be grateful and thankful that even in retrospect it was finally accomplished with attention to proper process.”

John Lyon, chair of the German department, asked Smitherman for clarification. Lyon said he remained unclear about the process, adding that although the chairs of the affected departments submitted written proposals to the Dietrich school administration, they had not been invited to make presentations before any Dietrich school committees.

Smitherman said the Dietrich school council and its planning and budget committee had reviewed and approved the dean’s recommendations regarding the three departments.

John J. Baker, chair of the University Senate budget policies committee, added that BPC “can ask for a review of what happened, but probably not till September.” Among BPC’s responsibilities is ensuring that University planning and budgeting system processes are followed.

Lyon told the University Times he remains concerned that University processes were not followed. “It raises serious questions about faculty governance,” he said, adding that the process was not transparent in that it did not include dialogue with the individuals affected by the recommendations.

He said he is not aware of any process for revisiting the suspension decision, nor had he been informed of any criteria or benchmark that would merit lifting the suspension. “Keeping the program suspended is no change to what happened in April 2012,” he said. Without the ability to accept new graduate students, “the program will basically atrophy.”

He said, “We are committed to getting students through the program,” adding that the department also has been involved in developing a proposal for a new PhD program in studies of European culture.

“It would allow students to work in German, but not exclusively,” he said, noting that the envisioned program would include faculty from multiple departments including language and cultural departments.

A formal proposal to the provost on the new graduate program could come in the fall, Lyon said.

Chairs of the other two affected departments remain opposed to the recommendations involving their graduate programs.

D. Mark Possanza, chair of classics, told the University Times that the dean’s proposal to suspend indefinitely the department’s graduate program “is de facto termination: No students and no funding mean no graduate program. And no graduate program means the loss of the invaluable contribution of our graduate students as teachers, young scholars, mentors and all-around energy boosters in the life of the Pitt community.”

Possanza told the University Times that the issue comes down to resources: “Whether there will be in the future an equitable distribution of resources for all units in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences to maintain disciplinary depth and strength and to promote the intellectual range and diversity of A&S, or whether a policy of reallocation, driven by unstable rankings and the unreliable criteria of the ranking authorities, and the realignment of the University’s academic priorities to make itself competitive in the education marketplace will be the determining factors that radically reshape the mission and structure of our University.”

Penkower told the University Times: “The Department of Religious Studies remains opposed to the move to terminate our two graduate programs and laments that the administration is taking a rather reductive and short-term view of what is essential in education and to society. Especially in today’s world, advanced training in religion matters. Rather than slash and burn humanities departments in the current economy, the University should be entering into a larger dialogue with us about job opportunities in the humanities that go beyond classroom teaching and academic research.”

A Dietrich school spokesperson told the University Times that Dean N. John Cooper is out of the country. He could not be reached for comment before the University Times went to press.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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