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October 24, 2013


envelopeTo the editor:

In 2010 SUNY-Albany shocked the U.S. academic world by dropping five of its humanities departments. Granted, the action now being considered at Pitt is different in several ways, including the fact that it involves graduate programs rather than departments, and only one of them — religious studies — is currently to be terminated rather than suspended (as would be German and classics). Nevertheless, if Pitt goes through with its current plan this will also lead to more bad publicity across the U.S. academic world. This publicity will be especially negative because Pitt doesn’t have to do this. These are discretionary cuts, made to shift resources from humanities departments to other departments, as the planning document for 2013 “Focusing for the Future” and the recently posted minutes of the Dietrich school planning and budgeting committee meeting of March 4 indicate. (See the University Times letters from May 17, Nov. 21 and Dec. 6, all from 2012.)

These suspensions were made without the transparency that the detailed faculty participation required by our planning guidelines would have given, without the benefits of outside reviews of the programs that would have compared, for example, their students’ time to degree with those elsewhere in similar departments, and without consideration of the relationships between these graduate programs and undergraduate teaching, and between them and other programs in the University. In many cases the statistics used to justify these decisions have errors or seem inappropriately chosen.

At the September open meeting of the University Council for Graduate Study, one faculty member after another rose to speak of the devastating impact of these suspensions and this termination on faculty and students in other areas of study, giving examples such as the importance of German for training art historians, religious studies for educating students in anthropology and area studies programs, and classics for the CPAS  (classic, philosophy and ancient science) program that links it to philosophy and history and philosophy of science. German, classics and religious studies are excellent departments at Pitt, as Dean (N. John) Cooper himself acknowledges. Many of us have a community that extends beyond our own departments and involves sharing in the expertise of others, something Pitt encourages by funding programs such as the Humanities Center. We have been happy to have a religious studies department that can bring in speakers to help us understand many different aspects of the unexpectedly increasing influences of religion in today’s world, and a German department that is concerned both with Goethe and also with the way contemporary German writers and filmmakers deal with immigration.

There is a network of interchange at Pitt which operates among departments within the humanities, and between the humanities and many social scientists, as well as between undergraduate and graduate programs and in other ways within departments, and when a few threads are pulled out, much more unravels, even in financial terms. The administration’s plan that religious studies hire an NTS (non-tenure stream) faculty member who can teach undergraduate courses in many different specialties is unworkable. With the German graduate program on its way out, what happens to the extensive funding that has been received from the German government? The cut seriously threatens the new PhD program in film studies, and a European studies program inevitably weakens when there is no graduate program in German. The money contributed to endowed chairs in these three departments will not be spent to best advantage if the holders of those chairs can’t regularly teach graduate courses. In addition to these and other bad effects, decision-making processes that lack faculty involvement and transparency weaken trust and commitment to the University. And growing awareness of the vulnerability of humanities departments at Pitt works against recruiting the best candidates for jobs and fellowships in these departments and in other departments here as well.

Faculty in the humanities do not typically bring in federally financed research and development funding, it is true. But they give Pitt’s educational offerings a larger spectrum which contributes to understanding between people of different cultures. They help the Dietrich school’s announced goal of promoting “diversity and the understanding of diversity among faculty and students,” for this is a matter of curriculum as well as of demographics. To dismiss the importance of the hard-won accomplishments of these three departments is unwise. It is not good publicity for Pitt to look as if money is its highest concern. Pitt is a lesser university when humanities graduate programs are cut or suspended. Along with many colleagues, we urge rescinding of the suspensions and the termination and the policy of reallocating graduate school resources presented in “Focusing for the Future.”

Over 60 members of the graduate faculty have signed the petition to Provost (Patricia) Beeson, which this letter follows with a few minor revisions. If any other members of the faculty want to add their names, please email me at

Marianne Novy


Department of English


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