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.