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Wednesday, April 24, 2024
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Letter to the editor: The administration at the University at Buffalo is gutting the humanities

Editor's note: The following is a transcript of a speech given by a student in the Classics Department during a protest that took place on March 13. The speech is being published as a letter to the editor at the request of the student who delivered it. This letter remains in the condition in which it was sent.


Dear Editors,

We would like you to know what was said at our peaceful sit-in yesterday:

“My name is Tina Bekkali-Poio; I am a PhD student in Mediterranean Archaeology in the Classics Department at the University of Buffalo. I am speaking on behalf of the students in Classics, both graduate and undergraduate, at this University.

We find ourselves in a grave situation.

We are not here to defend the existence of our field, but what is happening to our department should be a red flag for all those who believe that the existence of the humanities is foundational for education and society at large.

Make no mistake, the Administration at the University at Buffalo is gutting the humanities.

Make no mistake that this is their plan– that this has been their plan.

The plan of the UB Foundation

The plan of the UB Administration

The plan of the UB President Satish K. Tripathi

The plan of the UB Provost, A. Scott Weber

The plan of the UB Dean of the College of Arts and Science, Robin G. Schulze,

the plan to diminish the humanities departments at The State University of New York University at Buffalo.

What we are doing here today is the result of the lack of transparency that runs rampant throughout this University.

What we are doing here today is calling you to action.

We need you to not only listen, but to hear every word we say.

This is a call to action.

To our faculty of the Department of Classics we say, we urge that you not take our decision to exercise our constitutional right to protest personally.

We have been left with no other option.

We are begging you for transparency.

We are begging you to stand with us, to fight alongside us.

We want to tell you what the administration has been doing to the Department of Classics; what they are doing to many of, if not all, the humanities departments at UB.

We, the students of the Department of Classics at the University at Buffalo are willingly putting ourselves into the line of fire to warn you.

We are standing here today urging you to stand with us.

We are standing here today to call you to action.

We want to tell you what is happening in our department and at this University.

We can only tell you what we know, what we’ve heard, what we have gathered from UB Hub and from personal emails to our students—undergraduate, graduate, including ABDs.

As of now, like other humanities, the Department of Classics is on a hiring freeze,

As of now, the Dean of the College of Arts and Science, Robin G. Schulze, is not allowing our department to hire adjunct faculty next year.

As of now, the Dean of the College of Arts and Science, Robin G. Schulze, is trying to cancel upper-level undergraduate courses.

As of now, our department faculty is unable to teach any Graduate courses in Fall 2024— there are no Graduate courses planned for our department in Fall 2024.

The Dean of the College of Arts and Science, Robin G. Schulze has demanded the department speed up time to completion, to get current graduate students out as fast as possible.

We believe that the Dean of the College of Arts and Science, Robin G. Schulze along with the Provost, A. Scott Weber, the President Satish K. Tripathi, and the Administration of the University at Buffalo wants to exterminate our department and do so as quietly as possible.

It may be easy for them to justify the elimination of Classics,

we are a small department.

But hear us when we say that we will be a catalyst.

What is happening to us will happen to others.

Look at us.

Hear us.

We are a red flag.

Do not let anyone gaslight you into thinking that this situation is not grave.

Do not let anyone gaslight you into thinking that what is happening in the Department of Classics at the University at Buffalo— what is happening to us— is not symptomatic of something much larger, something much more detrimental to students, to education, to New York State, to the country.

We are a part of an observable pattern.

This is happening across the United States.

Kansas Reflector reports:

SUNY Potsdam cut 9 programs, art history, chemistry, dance, french, philosophy, physics, spanish, theater and music performance.

91.7 WVXU News, NPR:

In 2024 at a meeting with the Board of Trustees at Miami University in Oxford Ohio they “shared details about the university’s ongoing plan to shrink the humanities”.

Eliminate Latin American Studies

Consolidating Foreign Language Degree Programs

“Squishing” the Department of Geography

According to the New York Times:

West Virginia University has drastically cut the humanities; they laid off 76 people— 32 of whom were tenured faculty; they cut 28 academic programs- the majority of which were the humanities.

In 2023, other public institutions have gone the same route, including:

University of Alaska

Eastern Kentucky University

North Dakota State University

Iowa State University

and the University of Kansas.

Furthermore, the New York Times reported that within these Universities:

“Many courses on the endangered list are also dissonant with an expanding conservative political agenda.”

This is a national trend.

Mark our words when we say that the defense for the diminishment of the humanities at the University at Buffalo will be to claim low enrollment both in the humanities and the University at large, to claim high attrition rates, budget cuts, deficit.

They will claim that the University is meeting the demand of students, who expect to enter the workforce after graduation, who expect something back for their investment in their education.

We are not here to blame incoming undergraduate students for not wanting to go into crippling debt.

But we are not to blame.

The humanities are not to blame.

It is not the job of the humanities to make good, ethical, external monetary investments for this University.

It is not the job of the humanities to ethically and justly manage the College of Arts and Science.

That is the job of Robin G. Schulze.

It is not the burden of the students and faculty.

It is the burden of the Administration.

The blame should be on the Administration.

Do not let anyone gaslight you into thinking that the situation at the University at Buffalo is not grave.

If the administration wants to paint us as liars

We request that they do so through actions rather than words,

If the administration wants to paint us as liars

If the administration wants to destroy our future, our reputations at this University and in our field,

we request that they do so on and after April 1st when the NY State Budget is signed into law by Governor Hochul.

For far too long, our department, we, have been complacent.

The epistemological–historical theme of Classics at large lies in complacency.

You see, the themes, the history, the archaeology, the subjects taught in the Department of Classics have traditionally been manipulated to justify fascist regimes.

To justify enslavement.

To justify intolerance.

To justify oppression.

To justify gender inequality.

To justify xenophobia.

To justify racism.

To justify white supremacy.

And traditionally, Classics has been complacent.

But the students of the Department of Classics at Buffalo are not complacent.

The new generation of scholars in Classics across this country is not complacent.

The future of this field is not complacent.

The very word complacent derives from Latin, con placere.

In Latin, the verb placere means to please, to be pleasing.

We ask you, in regards to the gutting of the humanities at the University at Buffalo, what is your, our complacency pleasing?

We ask you, who does our complacency please?

We ask you, who does it please to eliminate the diverse in depth study of humanity at the University at Buffalo?

We ask you again, who does it please to eliminate the diverse in depth study of humanity at the University at Buffalo?

The University at Buffalo no longer fosters education, no longer fosters its students.

The University at Buffalo is no longer an institution of higher learning.

The University at Buffalo is a corporation.

The Administration has made it impossible for the Department of Classics and other humanities departments to thrive. To create updated programs that foster the needs of students, of society: the need to dismantle the manipulations of our fields.

The administration is complacent.

So, we ask you, what is our administration pleasing?

We ask you, who does our administration please?

We have allowed the Administration of University at Buffalo to divide us both physically and ideologically:

Humanities vs. finance

Humanities vs. STEM

Us vs. them.

But this division is a lie.

The University at Buffalo, at best, is short-sighted; at worst, it is falling prey to a flawed system and ideology of education in this country.

If you want to live in a world where people have access to the very things being developed by the good students of STEM– for these advancements to be accessible to all

You need the humanities

If you want to live in a world where everyone, everyone, has access to affordable healthcare– if you believe that healthcare is a human right

You need the humanities

If you want people all people to have the right to bodily autonomy

You need the humanities

If you want to live in a world where people are not systematically oppressed based on their gender or non gender conformity

You need the humanities

If you want to live in a world where people are not systematically oppressed based on their race

You need the humanities

If you want to live in a world where people are not discriminated against based on their faith or non faith

You need the humanities

If you want to nurture and celebrate the diversity of our international community

You need the humanities

If you want to live in a world without genocide, where no more MEANS no more

You need the humanities

If you want to live in a world where people all people have access to higher education– if you believe that education is a human right

You need the humanities

You need the humanities.

The burden of the nationwide drop in enrollment in higher education institutions should not, can not be placed on the students and especially not on the humanities.

At this moment in our history, the importance of the humanities should not, can not be quantified.

More than ever, our country needs, our world needs the humanities.

We are a generation that has known nothing but crisis.

We need the humanities.

Faculty and students at the University of Buffalo and beyond,

we beg you, we urge you to not be complacent.

We must start now.

The right thing is never the easy thing.

The right path is always uphill.

But we beg you, we urge you to climb with us.

We Call You to Action.”


All my best,

Tina

*Note that CL305, a writing intensive course that fulfills the Writing 2 requirement, is taught by graduate students.

**The Dean has restored one upper-level undergraduate Latin course that will be cross-listed with a Graduate Course; this does not change our stance.

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