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Decades of Uncertainty: A visual history of the linguistics major through the Spec archives

Decades of Uncertainty

A visual history of the linguistics major through the Spec archives

October 17, 2019

For the first time in 36 years, Columbia will be offering a major in linguistics. The major was first approved in 1965, but faced decades of uncertainty due to budget shortages, internal disunity, and understaffing. Here’s a visual history of the major since 1965.

February 1965

The linguistics major is first approved for Columbia College students.

October 1965

The linguistics department decides to postpone the availability of the major until “given the appropriate personnel and budget.”

Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Thomas S. Colahan

February 1967

In the fall, Barnard will establish a linguistics department and open a major.

Between 1965 and 1971, four faculty depart from the linguistics department at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

February 1971

November 1971

An inter-faculty committee on linguistics is formed to study and resolve the understaffing issues in GSAS.

February 1972

The committee’s suggestions are approved by George K. Fraenkel, the dean of GSAS. They include a significant reduction in the linguistics department’s funding in the face of a University budget crisis.

1981

Columbia College eliminates its linguistics department.

1983

Columbia College discontinues its linguistics major. Barnard is now the only school that offers an undergraduate linguistics program.

October 1984

Citing “limited resources,” Barnard's Faculty Planning Committee, a group of faculty members charged with studying the college’s academic affairs, decides to eliminate the tenure-track position of Robert May, a former assistant professor in linguistics. He teaches three linguistics courses at Columbia and Barnard.

February 1985

The FPC proposes to disband Barnard's department of linguistics.

The fate of [Barnard’s] linguistics department will affect more than just Barnard.

 

—Barnard Dean of Faculty Charles Olton

Barnard teaches four of the eight required courses for an advanced degree from GSAS. The department also runs a joint B.A./M.A. program with Teachers College.

February 28, 1986

Spectator writes in a staff editorial, regarding the FPC’s elimination of May’s tenure-track position,

In an effort to save the sum of an assistant professor's salary and a few office-support costs, the school has undermined its academic and intellectual integrity.

February 1965

The linguistics major is first approved for Columbia College students.

October 1965

The linguistics department decides to postpone the availability of the major until “given the appropriate personnel and budget.”

Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Thomas S. Colahan

February 1967

In the fall, Barnard will establish a linguistics department and open a major.

Between 1965 and 1971, four faculty depart from the linguistics department at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

February 1971

November 1971

An inter-faculty committee on linguistics is formed to study and resolve the understaffing issues in GSAS.

February 1972

The committee’s suggestions are approved by George K. Fraenkel, the dean of GSAS. They include a significant reduction in the linguistics department’s funding in the face of a University budget crisis.

1981

Columbia College eliminates its linguistics department.

1983

Columbia College discontinues its linguistics major. Barnard is now the only school that offers an undergraduate linguistics program.

October 1984

Citing “limited resources,” Barnard's Faculty Planning Committee, a group of faculty members charged with studying the college’s academic affairs, decides to eliminate the tenure-track position of Robert May, a former assistant professor in linguistics. He teaches three linguistics courses at Columbia and Barnard.

February 1985

The FPC proposes to disband Barnard's Department of Linguistics.

The fate of [Barnard’s] linguistics department will affect more than just Barnard.

—Barnard Dean of Faculty Charles Olton

Barnard teaches four of the eight required courses for an advanced degree from GSAS. The department also runs a joint BA/MA program with Teachers College.

February 28, 1986

Spectator writes in a staff editorial, regarding the FPC’s elimination of May’s tenure-track position,

In an effort to save the sum of an assistant professor's salary and a few office-support costs, the school has undermined its academic and intellectual integrity.

June 1986

May leaves Barnard for a tenured professorship at the University of California Irvine. His departure forces the cancellation of an introductory course that served to generate interest in linguistics among undergraduates.

 

It leaves Joseph Malone, a tenured professor, as the sole linguistics instructor at Barnard.

A letter to the editor from Elizabeth Dissin, BC ‘89

December 1986

The FPC turns down Malone’s request to hire a nontenured instructor to replace May.

 

Recounting a December meeting with Barnard Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty Charles Olton to Spectator two months later, Malone said,

[I] had the conversation with [Olton] saying if Columbia got a guy, the program [Barnard's undergraduate major] would be okay.

January 1987

Marvin Herzog, the chair of the GSAS linguistics department, files a request with Columbia’s Planning and Budget Committee for a new linguistics professor to teach the courses cancelled after May’s departure.

Malone said that he hopes Columbia will hire a full-time professor, so Barnard can “take a ride” on the Columbia department.

Friday, February 20, 1987

P&B authorizes Herzog to hire an adjunct professor.

Monday, February 23

Barnard faculty vote to eliminate linguistics as an official major.

Tuesday, February 24

Apparently unaware of the vote, Malone tells Olton and Spectator that he thinks Herzog’s authorization means the Barnard major could be continued.

The confusion leads Spectator to publish opposing stories days apart.

GSAS soon disbands linguistics as well.

There is a question of where we should put our priorities. We don’t want to be mediocre in areas we could be truly distinctive in.

 

— Jonathan Cole, former Vice President for Arts and Sciences

December 1988

Cole and Gillian Lindt, the Dean of GSAS, suspend the GSAS linguistics department, saying that it was fragmented and disorganized.

February 15, 1989

The three professors in the department tell Spectator they will retire within a few years, after current students complete their degrees.

June 1986

May leaves Barnard for a tenured professorship at the University of California Irvine. His departure forces the cancellation of an introductory course that served to generate interest in linguistics among undergraduates.

 

It leaves Joseph Malone, a tenured professor, as the sole linguistics instructor at Barnard.

A letter to the editor from

Elizabeth Dissin, BC ‘89

December 1986

The FPC turns down Malone’s request to hire a nontenured instructor to replace May.

 

Recounting a December meeting with Barnard Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty Charles Olton to Spectator two months later, Malone said,

[I] had the conversation with [Olton] saying if Columbia got a guy, the program [Barnard's undergraduate major] would be okay.

January 1987

Marvin Herzog, the chair of the GSAS linguistics department, files a request with Columbia’s Planning and Budget Committee for a new linguistics professor to teach the courses cancelled after May’s departure.

 

Malone said that he hopes Columbia will hire a full-time professor, so Barnard can “take a ride” on the Columbia department.

Friday, February

20, 1987

P&B authorizes Herzog to hire an adjunct professor.

Monday, February 23

Barnard faculty vote to eliminate linguistics as an official major.

Tuesday, February 24

Apparently unaware of the vote, Malone tells Olton and Spectator that he thinks Herzog’s authorization means the Barnard major could be continued.

The confusion leads Spectator to publish opposing stories days apart.

GSAS soon disbands linguistics as well.

There is a question of where we should put our priorities. We don’t want to be mediocre in areas we could be truly distinctive in.

— Jonathan Cole, former Vice President for Arts and Sciences

December 1989

Cole and Gillian Lindt, the Dean of GSAS, suspend the GSAS linguistics department, charging that it was fragmented and disorganized.

February 15, 1989

The three professors in the department tell Spectator they will retire within a few years, after current students complete their degrees.

1991

1993

1995

1997

1999

2001

2003

December 2004

Boris Gasparov, Alan Timberlake, and Aili Flint, instructors in various languages departments, write a proposal to reestablish an official linguistics concentration.

Still, a linguistics concentration requires a student to create an independent course of study and have it approved as a major by Academic Affairs.

March 2006

A special concentration in linguistics is approved.

May 2007

Alan Timberlake, then head of Columbia’s linguistics program, petitions the university administration to allow a general linguistics major. However, because the sustainability of the program was doubtful, the request was rejected.

March 2009

Two Columbia College students graduate with majors in linguistics.

 

They are the first to do so since the 1980s.

April 2012

However, Timberlake and Gasparov’s imminent retirements make it doubtful that the department will ever be unsuspended.

October 8, 2019

For the first time in 36 years, Columbia will offer a major in linguistics starting spring 2020 following a notice of approval by the New York State Department of Education sent late on the night of Tuesday Oct. 8.

1991

1993

1995

1997

1999

2001

2003

December 2004

Boris Gasparov, Alan Timberlake, and Aili Flint, instructors in various languages departments, write a proposal to reestablish an official linguistics concentration.

Still, a linguistics concentration requires a student to create an independent course of study and have it approved as a major by Academic Affairs.

March 2006

A special concentration in linguistics is approved.

May 2007

Alan Timberlake, then head of Columbia’s linguistics program, petitions the university administration to allow a general linguistics major. However, because the sustainability of the program was doubtful, the request was rejected.

March 2009

Two Columbia College students graduate with majors in linguistics.

 

They are the first to do so since the 1980s.

April 2012

However, Timberlake and Gasparov’s imminent retirements make it doubtful that the department will ever be unsuspended.

October 8, 2019

For the first time in 36 years, Columbia will offer a major in linguistics starting spring 2020 following a notice of approval by the New York State Department of Education sent late on the night of Tuesday Oct. 8.

Staff graphics reporter Seyla Phan can be contacted at seyla.phan@columbiaspectator.com.

Graphics deputy editor Jason Kao can be contacted at jason.kao@columbiaspectator.com. Follow Spectator on Twitter at @ColumbiaSpec.

linguistics undergraduate major new major Robert May Joseph Malone
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