Mac to host talks on future of Russian Department

By By April Dejarlais and Diego Ruiz

Next week, Macalester students and faculty will discuss the future of Russian Studies at Macalester in a series of three town halls. These will be a part of the full review which Macalester’s Educational Policy and Governance Committee (EPAG) is undertaking of the Russian Studies major. EPAG revised its process of discontinuing academic departments last year, and the Russian department is the first to come under consideration. The new discontinuance process can be triggered by a proposal submitted by the Provost, the Allocations Committee (responsible for distributing faculty positions), any academic department, or a current EPAG committee. EPAG then does a full review, and recommends either retaining or eliminating the department. The faculty can override EPAG’s recommendation with a two-thirds supermajority vote. The proposal to review the Russian department was submitted by the Allocations Committee, EPAG chair and political science professor Patrick Schmidt. 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.” EPAG is early in the process of evaluating Russian’s status as a major at Macalester, and will continue to gather information all semester. EPAG will not make any recommendation regarding the department until “all the evidence is together in one place,” Schmidt said. The Russian department has submitted applications to search for new professor positions to the Allocations Committee for the past five years and has been ultimately denied. In 2006 former Provost Diane Michelfelder to accept the Allocations Committee’s recommendation. In a memo from 2006, Michelfelder (who is now a professor in the Philosophy department) explained her rationale for awarding the search despite the Allocations Committee recommendation. “Ultimately, I was persuaded that the clear programmatic vision as set forward by RS in its allocations request made the need for an external analysis of the program unnecessary at this point in time,” Michelfelder wrote in 2006. “Also factoring into my decision was the continued growth of Russian Studies majors since 2000 as well as course enrollments…and the critical role that foreign/modern language/literature/culture plays in the formation of students as active, global citizens.” However, in 2008, current Provost Kathleen Murray called off the search as it was scheduled to start. Murray said that she arrived when the search was about to start – and as the economy went into a freefall. While 17 searches were slated to occur, many were deferred and two were eliminated, including the search for a Russian Studies faculty member. The other search called off was for a joint Political Science and Economics professor. “When Russian Studies made the request the next year, they were turned down by both allocations and me,” Murray said. “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. “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,” Murray said. With the retirement of current Russian Studies professor Gitta Hammarberg at the end of this year, the major will fall below 1 full-time equivalent (FTE) faculty. A 2003 report by Hammarberg with Hilde Hoogenboom said “we hope to explain the differences in learning outcomes between a 3 and a 2 FTE scenario, and why 2 FTE, to say nothing of 1 FTE, may not be good enough for Macalester students.” The Allocations Committee has first- and second-order criteria when deciding whether to approve or deny applications. First-order criteria consists of subsections regarding liberal arts academic excellence, while second-order consists of factors like student demand, past departmental success and future prospects and relationship to other departments. Because the Allocations Committee has denied Russian Studies new tenure-track positions, “the faculty, ourselves, has created the conflict,” Schmidt said while addressing faculty at October’s meeting. To pinpoint exactly what Macalester would save by discontinuing the Russian department has yet to be determined. A small college such as Macalester is in a “continuing discussion of what we should teach,” Schmidt said, and cannot continue adding to departments without discussing where to “trade-off.” There will be a town hall-style meeting for students concerning the Russian department on Oct. 20th at 7:00 p.m. in Olin-Rice 250. Meetings for faculty will be held in the same place, on Oct. 17th at 4:30 p.m. and the 19th at 12:00 p.m. Schmidt implored the faculty to not just defer to EPAG’s recommendation, but to play an active role in the debate at town halls. “I am not looking for a fight, but I am looking for the faculty to play a part on both sides of the issue,” he said.