April 24, 2009
Dear Provost Krauss,
Yesterday I mailed off a physical letter voicing my concerns over the proposed readjustment of the Classics Department. After attending the forum yesterday to hear CARS members discuss what is proposed and to respond to concerns, I felt compelled to write again. At the risk of redundancy, I first want to press home some lingering concerns, specifically ones brought up at the forum and not addressed, or not addressed satisfactorily. Second, I want to voice a concern over the manner in which Dean Jaffe addressed some of the concerns, as well as his demeanor.
The forum members brought to light many convincing arguments and examples in which American Studies and Afro-African American Studies are taught as interdepartmental programs across the country. One of the members was an American Studies professor and it was a convincing display. The same could not be said of Classics. When suggested that this was breaking up a department that functions well together, quite possibly putting it into a department that does not cooperate in the same fashion, the response was that Classics would make them get along. I felt that this flippant response did not address the issue that the move is breaking up a department that functions.
The only response to concerns over external funding reduction based on the status of the Classics Department, and the ability to draw students was: “we considered that.” Such a response does not address the concern, nor does it enlighten the people concerned. Further, the reduction of Classics sends the wrong message to other departments because if Classics is doing everything right and is still in danger, then what does that do for less successful programs.
Lastly on this point, there was a lot of talk about raising the prestige of the recipient departments, but not about the prestige of Classics or of the Humanities at a whole. In my physical letter I outlined a suggestion to make Classics the hub of the Humanities. Would it not be possible to associate many outside faculty and even some new hires with Classics? In this way the Brandeis Classics department could keep the core group of four people, but have a much higher profile through multiple associated faculty. Without changing any course offerings, such a system could associate Professors Visvardi, Kapelle, Levy, Meyer and perhaps a few others.
I did not attend the first forum and was a few minutes late to the one yesterday, so I do not know all of what transpired, but I felt genuinely insulted by the manner in which Dean Jaffe responded to some of the questions about Classics and in particular from the UDR Alex Smith. I felt that he was callous and unresponsive to answering legitimate questions about the department and the current structure, but instead simply offered flippant responses. Perhaps the concerns had been addressed elsewhere, before, or with other people, but as someone who had not been to the first event, I had not heard the answers. For a university that claims such diversity and is proud of its progressive and active student body, I was immensely disappointed to walk away from the meeting feeling that it was nothing more than a sham, a way to placate the students by appearing to listen to their concerns, yet not really offering answers or explanations. If the questions had already been answered sufficiently, then no question would be repeated.
I, and many other alumni, feel that if Brandeis would like to remain a premier Liberal Arts University, it must retain a Classics Department. I understand that times are tough, but at present “The Arts” do not seem to be a priority when it comes to the College of Arts and Sciences. As someone who was quite proud of the education I received in the Humanities, this is a true disappointment.