EPAG report recommends discontinuing Russian Studies

By Diego Ruiz

Macalester’s Educational Policy and Governance committee (EPAG) issued a report on Sunday recommending that “the college should discontinue the major and minor in Russian Studies” and no longer have Russian language classes, placing the future of the field at Macalester in jeopardy. Six of the seven faculty members on EPAG and both student representatives signed on to the report. Sonita Sarker, professor in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and English, was the lone voting EPAG member to disagree with the recommendation for discontinuance. The issue will now go to the faculty, who will discuss the matter at their next meeting on Tuesday. Jim von Geldern, the chair of Russian Studies, wrote in an email that there would be a motion to challenge the recommendation, triggering a vote on the future of the major in March’s faculty meeting. Two-thirds of the faculty would need to vote to overturn EPAG’s recommendation in order to keep the major. If Russian Studies is ultimately discontinued, students at or above sophomore standing who have already declared majors or minors would still be able to complete their academic plans. The report advocates keeping enough resources in Russian Studies to allow these students to complete their majors or minors. The report also leaves open the possibility of English-language Russian Studies classes comprising an alternative academic arrangement, such as a concentration. “Our curriculum can continue to express a significant commitment to the region and the field [of Russian Studies] without the presence of a major, in alternative forms which can and should be nurtured through the efforts of the faculty and the administration,” EPAG’s report stated. The report said that its recommendation was based on “a wide array of evidence, input and perspectives on the past and future prospects for the field in general and at Macalester.” Drawing on extensive data about Macalester’s Russian Studies program and comparisons with other similar schools, the report stated that Russian language should no longer be taught at Macalester because “the costs of maintaining a high-quality, interdisciplinary major department in Russian Studies, including Russian language instruction, are very high when balanced against other areas of the curriculum competing for investment,” and that “greater investment in Russian Studies beyond its current level of support would be unlikely to generate broader student interest in the field.” The report also said that the Russian Studies review process has brought up other issues with which the faculty will continue to grapple, such as the role of small departments, evaluation of the two-year foreign language requirement that has been in place since the mid-1990s and continued tweaking of the new departmental discontinuance policy. Kate Hamilton ’13 and Yeukai Mudzi ’12, EPAG’s student representatives who both signed on to the report, said they would likely hold a forum for students about Russian Studies sometime next week. Additionally, students may attend the Tuesday faculty meetings, where the Russian Studies issue will be discussed. The Allocations Process EPAG’s report states that the question of whether to continue Russian Studies “has been one of the most divisive we have faced over the last decade.” The debate has centered on allocations, which is the process of choosing which departments get to hire new professors. In a typical year, the administration decides how many new positions – called “lines” – will become available. Departments that want to hire new professors submit requests for the limited number of faculty lines to the Allocations committee, which is made up of the faculty members in EPAG. (Student EPAG representatives do not participate in Allocations.) The Allocations committee then makes recommendations to the office of the Provost as to which departments should have searches for new faculty. The Provost is the dean of the faculty, and has the final word in many academic and administrative decisions. It is up to her to either accept the recommendations of the Allocations committee or to start searches for positions in other departments. Departments do not automatically receive a new position when one of their faculty retires, which is how Russian ended up on the chopping block this year. Russian has submitted multiple proposals over the past 5 years to convert current visiting full-time professor Julia Chadaga’s current position to a tenure-track position and add another position, but it was not recommended by Allocations. The Allocations Committee did not recommend the Russian Department’s requests for additional faculty to the Provost’s office in 2007. While then-Provost Diane Michelfelder started a search for a Russian faculty member in spite of the Allocations Committee’s recommendation, the search was suspended and later called off in 2008 by current Provost Kathy Murray amidst economic difficulties. Subsequent allocations requests for the Russian major were denied by the Allocations Committee in 2010 and 2011. “I was in my first year, things were uncertain at that moment in time, I felt that we should at least give it another look given that there had been this history,” said Murray in an interview last October. “And sure enough, when it came back allocations made the same recommendation again [to not give a search to Russian] and I accepted that recommendation,” said Murray. With the retirement of Prof. Gitta Hammarberg at the end of this year, Russian Studies would have only 0.4 full-time equivalent tenure or tenure-track faculty, well below the minimum of 2 which the college considers to be the smallest possible size for a functioning department. (This number is a fraction of a whole faculty member because it represents von Geldern, who is split between Russian Studies and International Studies.) This looming drop in the number of full-time-equivalent Russian faculty triggered the review under the college’s new discontinuance policy, passed by the 2010-2011 iteration of EPAG. Under the new discontinuance policy, instead of a majority of the faculty, departments need a two-thirds vote in their favor to overturn an EPAG recommendation for discontinuance. A Mac Weekly piece submitted last February by then-EPAG student representatives Gerbrand Hoogvliet ’11 and Taren Kingser ’11 said that the process is a “fair procedure that makes sure the merits of the department are recognized, but also appreciates the school’s need to be flexible and that there are opportunity costs to maintaining any department.” This new policy has particular salience for Russian Studies, which came close to elimination after a recommendation for its discontinuance from EPAG in the 2003-04 academic year. Then, the faculty voted 64 – 52 in favor of keeping the Russian Studies major. That majority allowed Russian Studies to continue in 2004 but would fall short of the two-thirds supermajority that Russian needs to last beyond this year. refresh –>