Save Classics at Michigan State University

On October 30, Michigan State University Provost Kim Wilcox recommended the elimination of the Classical Studies Major as well as several other programs as part of a budget reduction plan that he presented to the Board of Trustees. Provost Wilcox admitted on October 30 that he did not know what, if anything, would be saved by cutting programs, and Dean Karin Wurst, has only referred vaguely to the "Current economic climate" as justification for eliminating the program.

This is disturbing given the urgency of realizing actual savings in the budget, because nothing is saved by eliminating Classical Studies.   Please sign your name to this petition to save Classical Studies at Michigan because if it can happen at such a great state institution, it can happen anywhere.

We, the undersigned, realize that the budget challenges facing the University are indeed severe, but cutting Classics will not result in any budget savings, and it is detrimental to students, to faculty and to the reputation of the University itself.

As regards funding, there are no administrative costs for Classical Studies, no dedicated support staff, no graduate students, no temporary instructors, no lab or material costs, and the current faculty will remain on staff.  In essence you are advocating a faculty shuffle that will only result in disenfranchised faculty members and disgruntled students who no longer have credits in an acceptable major.

With respect to the student body, in a recent e-mail to MSU's current majors, Dean Wurst claims that in the last five years MSU has had only a total of 11 majors.  The current Classical Studies major did not exist five years ago.  It was first offered in January of 2006 and students did not begin enrolling in significant numbers until fall of that year.  In fact, there is an average of 24 majors enrolled each of the past three years, and the department has graduated six majors in each of the past two years.  These numbers are above average for other programs of comparable size in our College.

Dean Wurst has also claimed that the courses are too specialized and that they do not reach a broad student audience.  This reflects a profound misunderstanding of the nature of Classical Studies and the typical enrollments in these courses.  For example, CLA 160, which is offered this semester, has 160 students with 47 different majors represented from across the University. This would seem, by any definition, to be a "broad" audience.  They offer three or more civilization courses each semester and enrollments typically range from 30 to 200, with only a small minority in Classical Studies.  All of the courses that support the major attract a diverse student audience and have strong enrollments, as shown by the fact that we have an average of 34 students per class (including the upper-level language) in the current academic year.

Dean Wurst has told the faculty that after the elimination of the program they will all be assigned full-time to general education. This means that of the entire faculty in programs that may be affected by proposed cuts the Classics professors will be the only ones not allowed to teach in their discipline.  To deny a person from completing the job that he or she was hired to do, especially in academia, especially when hired to work with undergraduates in that field, effectively neuters that professional's career and makes faculty in every other department wary of their position.  This will create tensions among the faculty and will result in a much less friendlier community on MSU's campus when faculty members must battle each other to keep what job they have.

The elimination of the Classics program along with all Greek, Latin and Classical Civilization courses not only makes no sense in budgetary terms, not only harms a student's ability to study what he or she wants, and not only devastates faculty, it also strikes at the heart of the mission of MSU as a land grant institution and nullifies MSU's own mission statement.

In 1855, the Michigan legislature passed Article 13, Section 11, which founded the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan.  Article 13 became the model for the Morrill Act, signed by President Lincoln in 1862, which established MSU and other Land Grant institutions.  Section 4 of the Morrill Act authorized the sale of public land to create endowments for states to establish colleges of agriculture and the mechanic arts "without excluding other scientific and classical studies and including military tactics."

"Classical studies" in this context can only refer to Latin and Greek and related fields, and it is the only discipline in the humanities named in the act. This wording was part of an addition to original version of the Morrill Act that had been vetoed by President Buchanan in 1859, and it shows that Lincoln and other supporters of the Act recognized that the discipline of Classical Studies is essential part of the educational goals the public land grant schools, and this continues to be recognized by land grant universities across the country.  Cutting Classics clearly contradicts the Morrill Act, and it would give MSU, "The Pioneer Land Grant University," the embarrassing distinction of being the only Land Grant University in the Big Ten and in the CIC that does not offer Classics.

Eliminating Classical Studies (among other programs) goes directly against the Mission Statement, renders MSU effectively non-inclusive, and threatens whatever "Ctraditionally strong academic disciplines" related to the liberal arts.  Classical Studies is at the heart of any liberal arts education (as it was Classics that began the liberal arts). 

No more will MSU be able to remain at the forefront of interdisciplinary studies "to address society's rapidly changing needs" because MSU is cutting out all other disciplines. 

No more will MSU advance knowledge and transform lives because you are depriving outstanding training to promising and qualified students to prepare them to contribute to our society as educated citizen leaders, because you are disallowing the research of your professors to reach the highest possible caliber and therefore will not reach solutions to expand human understanding and make positive differences in the world, and because you are cutting off any outreach, engagement, and economic development activities, all innovative, all research-driven, associated with these disciplines which would lead to a better quality of life around the world.

You are doing this. But you can also prevent this.

The economy poses serious challenges to universities across the country, especially so in Michigan.  In the case of Classical Studies, however, MSU seems to have lost sight of budgetary goals as well as educational values. The hasty and unnecessary elimination of Classical Studies undermines the University's claim to be a center of learning and a leader in global education. There is nothing to be saved by cutting Classical Studies, but much to be lost by our students, by our faculty, by the University itself, and by countless generations hereafter all for no reason.

Respectfully we ask that you strongly reconsider your decision and rescind it.
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