VOLUME 32, NUMBER 15 THURSDAY, December 7, 2000
ReporterThe Mail

Lack of European-history program mars UB

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After 35 years of service at UB, I would like to reflect on the development in this time period of the university in general and specifically of the history department, of which I was a member.

I came to the university in 1965 at a time of great excitement and expectation. UB had just become a part of the new SUNY system, New York's attempt to establish a major public university. Departments were built up with national and international reputations, such as English, Philosophy and Psychology. The history department offered nationally recognized doctoral programs in Modern European, American and East Asian history.

In the 1970s, the turn came-which Mark Shechner in a recent article in The Buffalo News described as the dismantling of UB, which also was the dismantling of the SUNY system. While New York State in the 1960s was near the top among the 50 states in terms of the proportion of tax money going to higher education, by the late 1990s, it was in 50th place.

Within UB, the administration shifted resources from the liberal arts to schools and departments that generated money. Between 1972 and 2000, the full-time history staff was reduced from 38 to 19. Whole fields were eliminated. Only two fields retained sufficient strength to offer meaningful doctoral programs: namely, American and modern European history.

Between 1990 and 2000, the modern European field-within which German and Central European history enjoyed an international reputation-was dismantled. All three British historians now have retired; a search has been authorized for a tenure-track assistant professor to replace them.

Similarly, the German field, with my retirement in 1997 and William S. Allen's retirement in 2000, has been reduced to one assistant professor yet without tenure. Neither field will be able to train doctoral candidates. The German language-and-literature program that was essential to our graduate program in Central European history has been dissolved.

An important part of the doctoral program in German history was the support it received from institutions and funding agencies in Germany. A cooperative arrangement was established in 1974 with the history department at the Technical University of Darmstadt, which enabled our graduate students to spend a semester or a full year in Darmstadt before they began their dissertation research. Darmstadt charged no tuition and even provided a modest cost-of-living stipend. Our doctoral students at the dissertation stage regularly succeeded in obtaining the competitive fellowships from the German Academic Exchange Service. In 1999-2000, we had four doctoral students in Germany funded by German agencies; at present, we have two students in Germany. There will be none in the foreseeable future. The Darmstadt exchange program as it affected history-it continues in the hard sciences-was effectively destroyed by the UB administration three years ago when it decided that UB students going to Darmstadt would have to pay full tuition at UB while away-incidentally, without the tuition waiver for which they would have been eligible had they remained as TAs in Buffalo.

But the department, too, bears a good deal of responsibility for the destruction of the modern European program. Of the 10 appointments made since the late 1980s, only one on the junior level was in modern European history; the others were in American history or in pre-modern cultural studies, the latter an area with few students and few possibilities of jobs.

One offer actually was made two years ago to a senior German historian, who turned it down. The search has not been reopened.

On the other hand, the placement record for doctoral students in German history has been good.

I always have been an outspoken advocate of the expansion of history from traditional Euro- (and American) centric perspectives to critical comprehensive approaches, including the non-Western world. Nevertheless, the European tradition is an integral part of this world and no university that lacks a broad program in European history can provide a serious education to its students.

Georg G. Iggers
Distinguished Professor Emeritus
Department of History

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