Second Letter to the provost

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.


First letter to Administrative staff

April 21, 2009

Dear Dean Jaffe and whomever else it may concern,

While my experience at Brandeis was a mixed bag, it was largely good; the brightest spot for me was the Classics Department. Most of what I learned at Brandeis stems from that department and to a person I have them to thank, for their efforts, encouragement and support, that I shall be attending graduate school in the same field this coming fall.

Yesterday I learned disturbing news. This department to which I owe so much is on the ropes once more. The last time this occurred I was but a freshman and taking courses based solely on interest; the major came later, but it was possible because the department survived.

What made the Classics Department unique and what fostered such a great atmosphere stems from the professors. As the CARS report states, each of these educators works overtime, teaches a range of subjects and are always available for student support. The department as a whole puts forth so much, with lecture series’, fellowships, events and opportunities for student research to be presented. Overall, these efforts create a community unlike anything else I have seen at Brandeis. Academics are the primary goal, but the department is so much more than just that, which ultimately creates the active, open citizens that Brandeis both desires and prides itself upon.

By and large I agree with the findings of the CARS report, but then the only negative finding is that the structure is imperfect. I shall not proceed along the findings point-by-point, but rather focus on the two that I disagree with. First, it is not irony that prompts the decision to reduce the faculty, but hypocrisy. Second, and stemming directly from the first, three USEMs from four professors is outstanding and nothing I have heard of suggests that other departments do likewise. These professors have put everything they have and then some into making Brandeis a better place and ensuring that the students receive the best education possible.

Further, a high portion of the Classical Studies majors produce senior research theses and the professors in question unerringly support them in their production. Just in my graduating year, 2008, two of the students produced theses, two were Eunice M Lebowitz-Cohen Fellows, two worked in the CLARC research center as fellows and one more ran an independent study in that same artifact collection. Each of these projects, as well as an abandoned thesis was overseen by a faculty member in the Classics Department. As stated in the CARS report,the reward for activity and fostering an air of learning is disbandment and staff reduction.

I do understand that in this time of economic hardship action must be taken, and therefore have come up with an alternative: make the Classics Department the focal point of the humanities at Brandeis. Let this department remain and instead of shipping off the faculty members to other departments, associate other faculty with it. The CARS report suggests expanding Classics as a field; this sounds wonderful, but instead of simply ‘Ancient Studies,’ keep it Classics, but offer a language and literature track, a history track, an art and archeology track, a culture track, et cetera. Let Classics serve as a hub for the other majors, a place where the study of Plato will serve as a literature course, a politics course, and a culture course. By associating other departments with Classics, you will not only fulfill the mission statement of the department itself, but also make it more interdisciplinary and raise the class sizes by making the humanities and some social sciences more closely knit. The converse, a merge and scattering of the faculty virtually ensures that this diverse field will fade away and instead of more Classics majors and students, there will be fewer.

To close, I was honored to be a Eunice M Lebowitz-Cohen fellow of 2007-8. Since having that unique opportunity to research and design a class on a field that I was unable to study at Brandeis, I have wanted nothing more than to return the favor. My goal is to give back to the Brandeis Classics Department in some tangible way, ideally through the creation of a fellowship or lecture series to give interested students a chance to research or learn about a topic they would not otherwise learn of. I may only have begun my life after school, but down the road I would repay the considerable debt I feel towards the department. If the department ceases to exist, I will regretfully be unable to fulfill my goal of giving back to Brandeis Classics, wherein I feel my obligation to the university lies.

Regretfully yours,