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    « How Well Do You Know the Constitution? | Main | Civility and Suicide »

    George Philip’s Awesome Impactfulness

    After suffering a 30-percent reduction in state funding, SUNY Albany plans the elimination—sorry, “suspension of new admission”—of some humanities departments. Its president, a graduate of the institution, published an op ed piece whose abominable style undoes his argument.

    While most of the actions will affect the nonacademic side of our enterprise, unfortunately, UAlbany’s academic program will be further impacted. Among these actions is the suspension of new admission to five degree programs — classics, French, Italian, Russian and theater — pending further consultation with faculty.

    George M. Philip, president State University of New York at Albany

    Passive voice, the innocent bystander figure

    When you don’t want to take the blame, use the passive voice. Not “We cut the departments” but “the departments will unfortunately be further impacted.” On the other hand, when you want to sound like an intelligent, educated person in charge, use the active voice.

    Style makes the man; in this case it undoes the man.

    At any rate, the arguments over cutting humanities seem to miss the main point. These subjects suffer from a serious branding problem. Academics call them “humanities” (a word that implies a secret stalking horse for atheism); or, even worse, “liberal arts,” which might train young minds to drive Priuses or raise local organic radicchio.

    Instead, why not brand these departments with “Leadership”? That’s what the original liberal arts were: they prepared the “liberally” (free) born for membership in the elite.  Put French, Italian, and Russian under “International Leadership,” and merge theater with public speaking. Add a strong dose of rhetoric, and by golly you have genuine preparation for people who want to make an, um, impact.

    Next step: teaching SUNY Albany’s current leader to write a decent sentence. Yeesh.

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    Reader Comments (24)

    You undoubtedly also spotted a euphemism or two, Fig.
    October 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLoftig
    Yes, what would a college president do with euphemism? Otherwise, departments would be eliminated instead of admission-suspended!
    October 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    Instead, he's terminating them with extreme passiveness.
    October 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCara
    Fig, why DO people use "impact" instead of eliminate, harm, kill, affect, or whatever?
    October 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGenevieve
    I suppose "impact" sounds more impactful. While sounding powerful, "impactful" also happens to be usefully vague. It can imply any of the synonyms you mentioned, Genevieve.
    October 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    While you're making fun of the poor president, students are losing the chance to learn French. This is serious business, Figaro, and you shouldn't be joking about it.
    October 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTracy
    I like the way the prez says in his op ed that the humanities "support" the research efforts. It's more like the government and industry do that supporting--unless they're letting humanities majors clean the science lab bathrooms.
    October 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRobert
    Let's make Figaro president of SUNY Albany!!! Leadership here we come.
    October 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSandra
    While I appreciate the sentiment, Sandra, the only thing worse than my living in Albany would be my running an academic institution. Disaster on all fronts.
    October 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    And what's with the "UAlbany" without the hyphen? To aid in search engine optimization, I suppose, but it sounds hick.

    Y'all binny!
    October 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStoke
    Very nice. "To binny" might be to eliminate humanities the way they're doing at Y'albany.
    October 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    Tracy, I'm perfectly serious. It's a subject that demands an articulate president, and a properly branded education.
    October 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    If the theater dept's worth its salt it will stage some interesting protests
    October 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRenee
    This might be an opportunity for online courses or tutors to teach those languages to students. Maybe older students.
    October 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKen
    Good point, Ken; but the liberal--I mean, leadership arts' chief problem is that they're not so much about education as validation. It's the degree that counts. And if students can't get "credit," they won't take the courses. I imagine you thought of that, or you wouldn't have added the older students.
    October 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    Love it! (And anyone who wants to eliminate theatre....well, let's just say it pisses me off!) By the way, I'm teaching speech/debate and now the state of TX wants to make it a tech class that can be taught by anyone with computer tech certification. ?????
    October 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSusan
    Well put, Mr. Heinrichs!
    October 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrion
    That's Mr. Figaro to you, sir. Thank you nonetheless.

    Susan, the idea of computer geeks teaching theater seems...thrilling somehow. Like, Aristotle's Poetics are really a set of algorithms.
    October 19, 2010 | Registered CommenterFigaro
    I can't say I'm surprised about the elusive and convoluted syntax. This is yet another example of AdministrativeSpeak in Higher Ed.
    October 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterQuintilian B. Nasty
    Yet some administrators do elusive and convoluted with some skill. I once worked at Dartmouth, where the president could elude and convolute rather gracefully, with nary an "impact" or logical lapse.
    October 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro

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