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.