If you listen, you will hear Russian’: In defense of Russian Studies

By Paul Dosh

The following piece is an approximated transcript of Professor Paul Dosh’s remarks at the faculty meetings Tuesday, February 14th, 2012 Good afternoon. I’m Paul Dosh from Political Science and Latin American Studies. I’ve come prepared to offer a motion to reject EPAG’s recommendation that the Russian Studies major and minor be discontinued, but as a prelude to making that motion, I’d like to share a few remarks regarding what has led me to this decision. First, allow me to acknowledge the great amount of effort that my colleagues on EPAG have put into their review. I am especially grateful to Patrick Schmidt for the integrity with which he has led this process. Let me share with you why I respectfully disagree with EPAG’s recommendation. I disagree with it as a political scientist; I disagree with it as the director of Latin American Studies—an area studies program; and I disagree with it as a faculty member concerned with what is best for the curriculum and the College as a whole. As a political scientist who specializes in comparative politics, I am concerned that discontinuing the Russian Studies major will cause us to miss out on distinctive opportunities. Last week, Russia and China intervened to veto a United Nations resolution against repression in Syria. Russia, one of the two largest nuclear powers, continues to develop and deploy new nuclear weapons, and proliferation experts fear this threat more now than during the Cold War. And the price of oil remains high, allowing Russia to continue to re-establish its economic clout. All of this is suggestive of why, for comparative politics specialists, post-Communist countries remain one of the most important regions in the world. The National Science Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, and Political Science programs at major universities continue to prioritize and generously fund research in Eastern Europe. But to pursue these opportunities, language training begins at the undergraduate level, because on the streets of at least 12 countries totaling 275 million people, if you listen, you will hear Russian—an official language of the United Nations. In its 2003 proposal to eliminate Russian, EPAG stated that the Russian program was less likely to grow in the period from 2004 to 2014 than it did from 1993 to 2003. This conclusion was fact-based and reasonable; by 2003, Russian had reached the low-point of its student/faculty ratio, and nationwide interest had dropped. Yet EPAG’s analysis was mistaken. The faculty voted to keep Russian and since 2003, despite diminished FTE, Russian has more than doubled its student/FTE ratio and has raised its enrollments dramatically, not only in English-language courses, but also in Elementary Russian. According to EPAG’s report, in Russian Studies the rate of student utilization of faculty FTE is on par with or exceeds the four-year averages of Asian Languages, French, German, Hispanic Studies, Classics, Theatre and Dance, Art, Music, Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and Religious Studies. By this measure, Russian appears as sustainable as these ten other departments. Russian has raised student interest despite the absence of external support and little or no administrative support. As the current EPAG report notes, few students come to Macalester intending to study Russian and few have any high school training in Russian—or Arabic; or Linguistics—yet once on campus, these programs successfully attract student interest. As a part of the Latin American Studies program, I have worked to entice students to our major. I’m proud of our progress, but it’s challenging, despite the fact that Latin American Studies is blessed with an abundance of young tenure-track professors—a crucial resource for which there is no substitute. Given this, when I look at the Russian statistics in the EPAG report, I think “what a bargain!” Here’s a program that for years has lived under a guillotine, repeatedly denied that precious commodity of energetic full-of-fresh-ideas tenure-track faculty. And in the face of that threat, this resilient program has rebounded and appears self-sustaining. In fact, by one of EPAG’s measures, our Russianists outperform peer colleges more than any other department at Macalester. Despite punishing obstacles, our Russian Studies colleagues have done a remarkable job serving our students. I am proud of them and I want my students to continue to benefit from their perseverance. Thank you for listening, and with that, I move that the faculty reject EPAG’s recommendation to discontinue the Russian Studies major and minor. Paul Dosh is a professor of Political Science and Latin American Studies. refresh –>