Russian May be Cut
September 23, 2004 7:00 PM
Katerina Siskron, director for the Russian Program at SF State has just returned to her office with a stack of envelopes, seven high.
“Every day we get letters of support for our program,” said Siskron. “It’s like getting fan mail, or something.”
When the CSU was forced to return $23 million to the state of California this past April, one of the proposals made by Paul Sherwin, dean of Humanities and the Humanities Council, was to save the University a mere $15,000 annually by altogether eliminating the Russian B.A and M.A from their curriculum.
Since then, the potential elimination of the Russian degree has been a hot issue, not only for SF State faculty members, but also the San Francisco community at large.
SF State’s Russian Department website hosts a page where concerned students and community members may sign a petition to save the Russian Program. More than 600 signatures in support of the petition have been received in the past month.
Paul Sherwin, dean of humanities presented a proposal on Sept. 22 to SF State’s Academic Senate in support for eliminating the Russian B.A and M.A
In the proposal, Sherwin said, “(The Russian program’s) scholarly achievements are modest; the undergraduate program is hardly distinctive.” Sherwin also said, “the program lacks the breadth, depth, and innovative vigor that characterize the other programs throughout the College of Humanities.”
But Svetlana Kristal, Russian lecturer said, “The Russian language is spoken all over the world; 300 million people speak Russian either as their first or second language. Eight percent of people in the Bay Area speak Russian. It deservers to be preserved.”
According to the 2000 U.S census, 8.3 percent of the United States population spoke Russian. “We still, to this day have a fast-growing community of Russians in the Bay Area,” said Kristal. “We come in second after the Chinese.”
But according to Sherwin’s elimination proposal, “links to the Russian community are not as strong as they once were.”
“That’s because the Cold War ended years ago,” Kristal said. “Of course they didn’t want to cut our program during the Cold War. But, now that the United States are friends with Russia, they want to cut our program.”
According to a study recorded by the CSU Academic Resource, the average Russian class size is about 13, compared to the 28-student average for the rest of the College of Humanities. Additionally, only eleven B.A degrees were awarded to Russian majors over the past five years, and five M.A degrees in Russian.
However, the Russian Bachelor’s Degree offered at SF State is the only one in all of northern California. The Master of Arts in Russian is the only one of its kind statewide.
According to Midori McKeon, chair of the Foreign Language Department, “Russia plays one of the key roles in the world’s war on terrorism and is an important partner of this nation in commerce, international politics, and scientific ventures.
Because of the Russian program’s potential elimination, Siskron said she was “only able to accept 10 of the 14 Bachelor degree applicants this semester. But even those students had to put ‘undeclared’ as their major. “We had to deny all 5 of our Master of Arts applicants,” Siskron said.
Amber Clark, 23 is a Russian studies major and Secretary/Treasurer for the Russian Club at SF State.
“The Russian program has a lot to offer,” Clark said. “The study of Russian literature really helps to humanize their culture. There is such a stigma on other cultures here in the United States, especially if we are, or have been, at war with them in the recent past.”
Clark is one of many students studying Russian to broaden her knowledge and understanding of other cultures. Clark said that it is easy for us to get stuck inside our own culture, and a program such as that of the Russian one can help students separate a culture’s true identity from what is being shown in the news on TV and in newspapers.
“Sometimes all we know of a culture is what we see in the news,” Clark said.
“And sometimes what we see in the news can generate fear and fear is what starts wars,” she said.
On October 6th, as per the request of both the Russian faculty as well as McKeon, a rebuttal will be presented to Sherwin’s elimination proposal before the SF State Academic Senate. On October 12th, a decision will be made whether or not to eliminate the B.A. and M.A. in Russian.
Siskron will use both the letters of support, as well as the online petition, showing the overwhelming support for the program. If you’d like to add your name to this list, go to http://www.sfsu.edu/~russian/
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