In a memo dated August 16, 2013, Dean Lesley Cormack of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Alberta announced plans to suspend twenty undergraduate programs and concentrations (listed below), with new admissions to be halted immediately. These suspensions are in response to a reduction in government funding of $56 million for the university.
While we appreciate the challenges involved in responding to budget cuts imposed from above, we are concerned by the rationale for choosing the programs to be cut, and by the consequences of cutting these particular programs. The Dean's memo states that "“student demand for programs should be the principal resource allocation determinant.” This language, while claiming to put the interests of students first, actively disempowers undergraduates, by using the decisions of previous undergraduates artificially to narrow the options available to tomorrow’s students. While small majors may seem economically wasteful, the reality is that faculty in such majors often teach large numbers of students outside the major, and studies at other institutions have repeatedly shown that humanities programs generate tuition revenue well above their costs, and are often among the most profitable for the institution as a whole. A more thorough review of the real costs and benefits of different programs is urgently needed before these changes are implemented.
While the suspensions of these programs will affect relatively small numbers of students directly, these cuts will likely lead to significantly fewer course offerings at the advanced level in the fields affected. This will have consequences for many students outside these majors -- a student interested, for example, in contemporary Russian politics will find it harder to become proficient in Russian, while a student interested in the history of Christianity will have reduced opportunities to learn Latin and Greek. Proponents of these cuts have suggested that universities today cannot afford to do everything well, but the reality is that humanities fields are closely interlinked, both in terms of scholarship and of teaching, and so cuts in one discipline affect all disciplines.
We urge the Dean of the Faculty of Arts to reconsider the plans to suspend these twenty programs and concentrations, and to work with faculty to preserve these important fields of study at the University of Alberta, and to give U of A undergraduates the choices and freedom they deserve.
List of Majors and Concentrations to be suspended:
Combined French and Italian
Combined German and Scandinavian
Combined Italian and Spanish
Latin American Studies
Middle Eastern and African Studies
Russian Language and Literature
Combined Russian and Ukrainian
Scandinavian Language and Literature
Ukrainian Language and Literature
Computing Science Route
Composition & Theory
BFA- Drama Major:
More information about the proposed suspensions may be found here: