Crisis in the Humanities: UAlbany

Rebecca Theadore, a senior history major, scans through books on the third floor of the University Library. She’s frequented the library for research materials.
Tyler A. McNeil / Minerva Daily

This article is part of a four part series on the humanities at UAlbany. Also see: Pt. II, Pt. III, Part IV.

That’s where the jobs are.

Rebecca Theadore heard this often and she hated it. She hated when family members told her that the humanities were dying. She hated when she was told about her cousin’s success in engineering.

Theadore never envisioned a future in STEM. Her grades in math and science courses at Bethlehem High School often straddled the low 80s.

Enter 2017. She’s a history program senior minoring in documentary studies at the University at Albany. Accepted into the UAlbany history department’s master’s program, she’s looking to save enough money within a year to finance her graduate endeavors.

Where is she?

Now she faces a different bundle of problems typical within the humanities beyond perception: Theadore doesn’t know what type of program she’ll come back to in 2019.

“It could be worse within six months or six years or even one year,” said Theadore. “I just don’t know anymore.”

Will enrollment, tenure-track faculty, and funding continue to fall? She will know in a year’s time.

“IT COULD BE WORSE WITHIN SIX MONTHS OR SIX YEARS OR EVEN ONE YEAR. I JUST DON’T KNOW ANYMORE.”

THE HUMANITIES CRISIS

This year, Theadore had an American history professor to help her with her senior capstone project. Problem is, she has concentration in global history.

Her project was about the role of women in the French Revolution and due to the professor’s lacking specialization in world history, she sometimes couldn’t help Theadore with research.

UAlbany’s history department has struggled to replace global history faculty retirees in recent years. With enrollment often a factor in program financing, vacant positions remain unfilled throughout the humanities.

Tapering tenure faculty numbers and enrollment slumps threaten the humanities division at UAlbany and across the country.

Humanities enrollment over the decade trickled further than any other division in the College of Arts & Sciences. The number of tenure-track faculty, professors required to take on a handful of responsibilities beyond teaching, have declined.

Stellar believes academic expansion in CEHC and CEAS will cushion existing programs in due time.

Many universities use high interest grant programs to keep arts and humanities afloat.

James Stellar, university provost and vice president of Academic Affairs, believes academic expansion of two new schools, the College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security & Cybersecurity, and the College of Engineering & Applied Sciences will cushion existing programs in due time.

Many universities use the same model: support high interest grant programs to keep arts and humanities afloat.

However, UAlbany administration says it will take time and some within the humanities don’t believe. Frosty tensions have built up between the division since UAlbany President George Phillip cut a group of departments and slashed the classics department following a budget crisis in 2010.

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James Stellar, provost & vice president for academic affairs (left) at a strategic planning committee “roadshow” in January. Tyler A. McNeil / Minerva Daily

For Henry Curtis, a doctoral philosophy student, the university appears to be in a tug of war between STEM expansion and humanities, emphasizing more work as a research university rather than a liberal arts institution.

“It’s nice, it’s good, and it’s something we should encourage to retain our school’s status as a research institution,” said Curtis. “But practically on the ground level for people like us, theoretically it should be distributed among the students but practically it does nothing.”

Next: What’s considered ‘humanistic’?