First of all, we would like to congratulate you on your appointment as WSU President and wish you many years of successful, fulfilling and exciting work!
With this letter we would like to bring to your attention a very serious and important matter to the Polish American community.
Recently an offer of funding for the Polish lectureship at WSU was rejected. This offer was made to the university jointly by the Kosciuszko Foundation and the Polish National Agency for Academic Exchange (NAWA).
Both institutions secured the funds needed to sponsor the Polish lectureship at WSU, starting in 2024/25. The offer was the result of discussions which started in fall of 2022; the chair of the CMLLC Department, Prof. Vanessa DeGifis, supported the project.
We are writing to you to express our deep concern and disappointment with the rejection of this offer, as well as our hope that the university administration will rethink this decision and consider accepting the offer.
We are quite puzzled by this decision also because we are aware that universities have financial challenges, and that often it is the humanities that suffer the biggest cuts. “Less Commonly Taught Languages”, such as Polish, are even more acutely affected by these financial challenges. WSU is a very good example here, as, since 2019, three full-time Slavic faculty members who either retired or left were not replaced, leaving the university without any full-time faculty in the Slavic area, and Polish and Russian being taught only by part-timers.
As much as we appreciate the fact that the Polish language is being taught at WSU, we know that a part-timer is not in the position to sustain the program or make it grow. We are aware that the pandemic, overall lower university enrollments, as well as some institutional changes within the university, among other things, contributed to lower numbers of students taking Polish.
These numbers, however, have fluctuated over the years and we believe that they will increase.
One of the reasons for this optimism is the importance of Poland as a geostrategic partner of the USA. Especially given today’s political situation, with the Russian-Ukrainian war raging for nearly two years, Poland has become an even-closer ally and valued partner of the USA.
In addition, last October with a record-high voter turnout of over 74 percent, Poland, which was the first country in the Eastern bloc to end communism in 1989, has shown the world again that democratic change is possible.
Many of us call WSU our alma mater. We are proud that WSU has a beautiful Polish Ethnic Room which since 1986 serves students and community. Polish Studies, as a part of the WSU Slavic Studies program, for decades educated students and the community not only about Poland but also other Slavic and European countries. This included organizing study abroad trips and many cultural events across the WSU campus. Especially popular were 15 study abroad trips to Poland which offered students, in their own words, an “opportunity of a lifetime”. Among other events were panel discussions, film screenings, celebrations of such milestones in human progress as the work of Marie Skłodowska-Curie, or the very first free democratic elections in a communist state, and numerous dance, food, and egg-decorating workshops, to mention just a few things.
As members of the Polish American community, we are deeply concerned that without a full-time faculty member teaching Polish, all of this will be greatly reduced, and that WSU’s diverse population of students will not get the education or the exposure they deserve. Especially given today’s political situation, a deeper understanding of this part of Europe, provided by the Polish Studies, is particularly important.
We would like to know why a university with such a long tradition of teaching Polish, and whose mission is to serve the diverse population of our state that includes over 800,000 Polish Americans (it is the third largest Polish American community in the US), decided to forgo a rare and excellent opportunity to have a full time faculty member teaching Polish language and culture funded by an outside entity.
We hope it is not too late to reverse this decision and we would like to urge the Administration to do so. For our part we promise to do our best to help in student recruitment and continue to support the university.
For your information, lecturers that NAWA provides for American universities are experienced university educators, full of energy and ideas. Once employed at WSU, such a person would be a great asset to the Slavic and Global Studies Programs, and the university community at large.
Furthermore, once the program is in place, NAWA and the Kosciuszko Foundation are interested in maintaining it long term, so there is no problem with sustainability in the foreseeable future. In addition to covering the cost of the full-time lecturer, close relationships with both institutions (NAWA and KF) will also mean scholarships for WSU students, and opportunities of participation in studies abroad, among others.
We hope that our voice, representing Polish Americans that for decades have been working to make Michigan and the nation a place with opportunities for all, will be heard.
Thank you very much for your consideration of this matter, we appreciate it very much.