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January 9, 1997

Language departments not being merged, but cooperative ventures under discussion to save money

To help cope with tight budgets and possible cuts in faculty, the chairpersons of Pitt's foreign languages departments are working on a plan to combine some of their units' activities.

"Basically, the FAS [Faculty of Arts and Sciences] dean's office has asked us to come up with creative ways of improving our efficiency, especially administratively," said D.L. Ashliman, Germanic languages and literatures chairperson.

"It may involve a structural reorganization. It may mean more interdisciplinary activities," Ashliman said. "The one thing we've been told will not be happening is that there will not be a merger of the various foreign language units into a big, single department." Frank Giarratani, FAS associate dean for Faculty Affairs, concurred. "There is no merger of the [foreign languages] departments being contemplated," he said.

Despite such assurances, rumors have been flying since fall that the FAS dean's office plans to forge a "superdepartment" combining seven departments: Classics, East Asian languages and literature, French and Italian language and literature, Germanic languages and literatures, Hispanic languages and literatures, Linguistics, and Slavic languages and literatures. Those are the units involved in the current discussions.

"I even got a call from someone at Duquesne University the other day, who said, 'I hear you're dismantling the German department,'" Ashliman said.

University Senate President Keith McDuffie, who is a professor in Hispanic languages and literatures, said a number of faculty members — from his own department as well as others — have mentioned the rumor to him.

Giarratani acknowledged the rumor but called it "a gross distortion of some very preliminary discussions" at a recent meeting of the FAS planning and budgeting committee.

"Essentially," Giarratani said, "the administration of FAS is working with the FAS planning and budgeting committee and the language department chairs to talk about ways in which those departments might improve what they're doing in scholarship and pedagogy by consolidating programs in some way — and that's programs, not departments.

"That means Ph.D. programs, M.A. programs, the possibility of developing more joint programs, sharing administrative staff and office space, etcetera," he said. "One thing we've told the department chairs is, 'Every dollar we spend on the administrative infrastructure of your departments is a dollar we can't spend directly on students and faculty." According to Giarratani, the discussions involving the language departments are part of FAS's ongoing, long-range planning process — not the result of a potential FAS budget shortfall this year.

As part of the planning process, FAS reduced its total number of faculty by about 50 to 550 last year and reallocated the savings in payroll to academic programs.

Future cuts in faculty are "highly likely," Giarratani said. And because most of the FAS language departments are so small, the loss of even one tenured faculty position could threaten the existence of that unit's graduate program, he pointed out.

"We're moving into a world where we will probably have fewer tenured and tenure-stream faculty members in the arts and sciences than we presently do," Giarratani said.

"To provide those departments with the flexibility they need to respond to that challenge, they're going to have to start thinking cooperatively so they can continue to participate in doctoral level study. That's really what's behind this initiative." The exception is Hispanic languages and literatures. "The Hispanic department can participate in any consolidation [with the other language departments] it wishes to, but in their case it will be optional. The reason for that is because they [the Hispanic department] have achieved a certain degree of national prominence — that, and their size," Giarratani said.

From September 1986 through August 1996, the Hispanic department produced 43 Ph.D.s. During that same time period, 28 Ph.D.s produced by the other FAS language departments combined, the associate dean noted.

"Whatever the outcome of this [intradepartmental] cooperation is, the Hispanic department will continue to offer a Ph.D. program," Giarratani said. "And that may not necessarily be true of all the other [language] departments." Three other language department chairpersons returned calls from the University Times but declined to comment until consolidation discussions are further along. They were David J. Birnbaum of Slavic languages and literatures, Daniel L. Everett of linguistics, and Dennis Looney of French and Italian language and literature.

— Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 29 Issue 9

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