Russian Lecturer Let Go as Part of Budget CutsBy Hyun Soo Kim
Associate News Editor
As a result of MIT's effort to reduce its deficit, the Russian program will lose a popular lecturer next term. The cut will eliminate six advanced Russian language and literature courses next year and limit the options for completing a Russian concentration, minor, or major.
The Foreign Languages and Literatures Section decided not to renew Elena Semeka-Pankratova's contract because of low enrollments in the Russian program. Semeka-Pankratova taught advanced courses in Russian language and literature at MIT for the past 12 years.
Higher level French classes will also have fewer sections, and one part-time French instructor will be eliminated next year, according to Section Head Isabelle de Courtivron.
President Charles M. Vest appointed a task force to examine academic activities and budgets in late January. The task force directed each school to trim its budget by 6 percent over the next four years.
Most other schools have not made concrete decisions abouting staffing because their budget proposals are still under review.
`Obsolete' courses are cut
"In these times of budgetary crisis, we see student interest and student need and cut courses that have been obsolete and not in demand," de Courtivron said. She added that there is currently a large demand for Japanese language classes.
"I'm not speaking as much for myself. From the beginning, I told her [de Courtivron] of course I feel bad for myself, but more for my students," Semeka-Pankratova said.
"It's true that the enrollment for Russian I for the last couple of years dropped. But the [trend] could not yet affect advanced courses. Last semester, I taught contemporary prose and poetry, a very advanced course, and I had 12 students, which is for the course, a very high enrollment. I now have 23 to 24 students in Russian IV," Semeka-Pankratova said.
She added, "I have a pool of students who take three or four courses with me and go higher and higher."
This semester, she has over twenty students in Russian Novel of the Nineteenth Century (21.317), which will definitely be kept in the program according to de Courtivron.
Students contest reason for decision
Many students interested in Russian strongly disapprove of the department's decision. Helene D. Grogan '94, who is pursuing a minor in Russian studies, has written a petition to challenge this decision. It has not yet been circulated widely.
The Russian major consists of eight culture, language, and literature classes, six of which will be eliminated next year. "There's not much of a minor or major left," said Lyudmila Tsirulnik '96.
"I think that the administration is making a mistake by getting rid of the advanced level of classes. I was thinking of minoring in Russian, but I heard there won't be enough courses to fulfill the minor unless you have already taken some of them," said Rachel D. Caileff '95.
"The department says the classes are under-subscribed, but it is wrong. Semeka-Pankratova has usually six or more people in her classes. She is popular with people taking Russian. ... It is not fair for the Russian department, which just shows what MIT thinks of a humanities major," Tsirulnik said.
"If you make the Russian department smaller, then even less people will take Russian," said Daniel Katz '94, who also said he will not be able to major in Russian.
It would be a major inconvenience to take courses at Harvard or Wellesley because of time and schedule conflicts, said Tsirulnik. "They should really think about the students. It's not just that the most popular teacher is being layed off. The department is not thinking about students' time or how they will get a major that was promised, but not kept," Tsirulnik said.
Lecturer is well-liked
"One consequence I was upset about was that Semeka-Pankratova is essentially out of a job. She is one of my favorite professors at MIT. She brings so much to her classes because she lived in Russia. It'll be a shame if she had to leave," Grogan said.
"She is the only one qualified to teach the classes. She is a native speaker and got a doctorate from Moscow State University," Tsirulnik said. Native Russian students who have an interest in culture or history now have few options, she added.
Semeka-Pankratova has been analyzing contemporary Russian. "The way they speak Russian now in Russia has changed significantly. With the change in political climate, the language changed so dramatically that it takes even me a while to understand what they are writing about. ... Students need to know contemporary language," she said.