LAS dean forms committee to study future of classics program

11:02:31 AM CDT - Thursday, April 07, 2005

By Amy Geiszler-Jones

Ask faculty across the country about what kind of program best comprises a university, and the consensus answer would be the classics.

At WSU, that sentiment is the same. Bill Bischoff, dean of the Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, counts himself among those supporters. That's why, with the upcoming retirement of WSU's lone classics faculty member, he's putting together a committee within the college to study the future of WSU's classics program.

In light of tough budget decisions, Bischoff is asking for input on what to do with a program that is often considered a cornerstone in the liberal arts world.

While the committee considers the program's future following the retirement of assistant professor Patrick Kehoe, a lecturer will teach a limited number of classes in Latin next fall, according to Bischoff.

Since 1974, Kehoe has taught as many as 16-18 credit hours worth of classes each semester, handling both the language and upper level literature courses in Latin and Greek.

The part-time lecturer will teach beginning and intermediate Latin, said Eunice Doman Myers, chair of WSU's modern and classical languages and literatures department.

At its March 28 meeting, WSU's Faculty Senate went on record as saying it supports the continuation of the classics, after Sen. Ariel Loftus told the group that the program's future was under review.

The senate also plans to draft a letter of support, and senate members, along with other faculty, were encouraged to write individual letters of support to Bischoff.

"If you're a university, those classes are seen as the core of a liberal arts education," said Sen. Joyce Cavarozzi. "If faculty don't take on the role of advocating and supporting what we believe as a general academic community, then we'll lose it."

While no one really speaks Latin and Greek anymore, the classics have a role in contemporary education, say its supporters.

"One of the classes that personally helped me the most in English and in taking language classes was Latin," said Myers, an associate professor of Spanish.

A classical education is also often credited with helping people enhance their thinking and imagination. It's also seen as fundamental for history, literature and even the sciences, because many scientific terms are Latin or Latin-based, Kehoe said.

Classics programs have become smaller in recent decades, a reflection of the decline in the offering of classics in high school, according to Tracy Lee Simmons, author of the pro-classics book "Climbing Parnassus."

"In 1962, 700,000 American high-school students were taking Latin; by 1985, that number had dropped to 176,000. Out of more than a million BAs awarded in 1994, only 600 went to classics majors. And these figures tell only a portion of the story," he said in a past interview.

WSU currently offers a classical field studies major. Its major in Latin was suspended a number of years ago.

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