Dear Dean Cormack, President Samarasekera, and Minister Lukaszuk,
I am an alumna (BSc ’04, BA ’07) and current graduate student in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Alberta writing to share my thoughts on the proposed Faculty of Arts program cuts. I have realized for months that the Government of Alberta’s 2013 budget could not help but mean that tough choices would have to be made by my alma mater in order to meet the budget imposed upon the U of A, and all summer I have been dreading finding out which courses and jobs would fall under the knife. I had already lamented the fact that new students would likely not get the chance to enter my current program (MA in Ancient Societies and Cultures), which I’ve said time and time again is the best program ever for being both one of the very few of its kind in North America and the only program in the department that allows a Classics student to fully explore an ancient world topic in an interdisciplinary manner. I was also already coming to terms with the fact that a PhD version of my program would not be materializing in the near future due to the freeze on new programs, meaning that I would have to bring my treasured time at the U of A to a close after three degrees.
I never dreamed, however, that entire undergraduate programs might get cut. It seems that the Faculty is proposing to cut majors that allow a student to study Latin and Greek. How can this be? Aren’t Latin and Greek cornerstones of a liberal arts education? The study of ancient languages has waxed and waned in popularity since the Renaissance, but I thought it was a safe assumption that any respectable university that offered degrees in the humanities would give students the opportunity to translate for themselves their school’s motto and fraternity/sorority names, not to mention being able to learn how to write truly proper English, increase their vocabulary exponentially, learn the history of why our society is the way it is (and how to change it), and critically evaluate what they are being taught. And yet, because the programs that allow for students to study Latin and/or Greek are currently in the ‘waning’ part of their cycle, future U of A students will have limited or perhaps no more access to such programs. Is this right?
While I hope I do not need to specify all the reasons why a variety of available programs in the humanities is necessary to create future generations of independent, innovative, and critically-thinking members of our communities, I do want to share what the suspension of one of the programs would’ve meant to me if it had been carried out in 2005 (that is, at the beginning of the period upon which Dean Cormack is basing her proposed suspensions).
In my last year of my BSc at the U of A, I decided on a whim to take a 100-level Latin course and a Classics course in Latin literature, a whim encouraged by my boyfriend, who had recently graduated from his BA in combined Classics, Greek, and Latin (the other Classics program being proposed for suspension). I enjoyed myself so much in those courses and was elated to get an award for receiving the highest grade in the Classics course. I then graduated, moved to Vancouver, and got married. However, I couldn’t stop thinking about pursuing a Classics degree.
I couldn’t find a job with my BSc without getting at least an additional certificate from a technical school, I hadn’t enjoyed the fiercely competitive and memory-based nature of the sciences, and I didn’t feel that my strengths would be best used and further developed if I continued on that track. On the other hand, I had never encountered such enthusiastic professors as those from the Latin and Classics courses I had taken (Ron Kroeker had been my Latin prof, and Kelly MacFarlane my Classics prof), and, as an avid reader and freelance editor, I couldn’t fathom not having studied Latin. Also, I hadn’t had the chance to take courses from the other professors I had heard so much about, particularly Selina Stewart, Margriet Haagsma, Frances Pownall, and Christopher Mackay, and I thought that the opportunity to study under them would be of immense value to my future, whatever that would be. And so, with the U of A allowing a BA in Classical Languages to be done as an after degree, in 2005 we moved back to Edmonton: I started my second Bachelor’s degree, and my husband became a permanent resident.
After I completed my BA in 2007, I worked to put my husband through his Master’s in Library and Information Studies at the U of A. When he finished and got a job, I returned to the U of A to begin my MA, funded by a SSHRC, an award made possible equally by the reference letters from my U of A Classics professors and the superb courses those professors had taught me, which amongst other things gave me the tools to write a solid enough research proposal to win one of the very few SSHRCs available to external applicants. One year into my MA, I currently have a 4.0 GPA and will be funded by a QEII scholarship for my second year.
But consider: what if my undergraduate program had been cut due to the low enrollment of 2005? As I knew only a major in classical languages would’ve adequately prepared me for a graduate degree in Classics, I wouldn’t have chosen another program at the U of A, and thus I wouldn’t have moved back to Alberta. Subsequently, my husband wouldn’t have become a permanent resident, nor would he have completed a second degree at the U of A. Neither of us would be tax-paying Albertans eight years later, nor would we be contributing to the Albertan economy as renters, consumers, or workers. We both would’ve likely completed degrees in the US, and therefore we would’ve contributed our intellectual accomplishments not only to non-Albertan but non-Canadian institutions.
In short, I may have been one of “10 or fewer students” enrolled in my program from 2005-2007, but what dollar value should be placed on what the existence of that program did for keeping two well-educated people in Alberta? Surely it is higher than whatever is gained monetarily by cutting the program I majored in? Assuming that there is a similar story behind each of the “10 or fewer students” in each of the 20 programs being cut, does it not then follow that the rather grave societal loss of potential students and citizens be considered over an uninformed number? Is the U of A really willing to eliminate thought-based programs on the basis of impersonal numbers when the inevitable result will be a reduction in the number of thought-based members of the community? I realize that the final decisions that are made will be unfortunate no matter what, but there must be a better decision-making process that will have a lesser impact on the future of our school and our province.
Stefanie Kletke (BA in Classical Languages ’07)