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Former Celtic Chairman Not Returning to Harvard

By Kristin A. Goss

The University has failed in its attempt to bring back the former Celtic Department chairman who last spring unexpectedly returned to Ireland after just 10 months at Harvard, temporarily stalling what officials had hoped would be a smooth period of rebuilding for the tiny department.

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences A. Michael Spence said John Collins, who last May resigned his tenured professorship and returned to University College Cork, cited "personal reasons" for deciding not to come back to Harvard.

The University had been negotiating with Collins throughout the fall, and both Spence and Department Chairman John Kelleher said in October they expected Collins to return next year.

Collin's acceptance would have doubled the number of senior faculty members in Harvard's smallest department, the only one of its kind in the world.

No Professors

If no appointments are made within the next several months, the department will by the end of the term be left without any junior or senior professors. The 70-year-old Kelleher, professor of Irish Studies, will retire July 1.

Collins, who received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1972, was to have occupied the Irish Studies chair and then coordinated the search for a scholar to fill the department's other tenured position, the Robinson Professorship of Celtic Language and Literatures. That post was vacated when former Chairman Charles W. Dunn retired in1984.

Collins, an Irish literature specialist,resigned last May for a combination of personaldifficulties, which were said to have includedhousing expenses.

Spence said the reasons for Collins's decisionnot to return are "largely personal, although Idon't mean to dismiss the difficulties he had lastyear."

Collins in November said he would prefer not tocomment on his negotiations with Harvard or theiroutcome.

Spence said he does not know what thedepartment's next move will be, but that he hopesto know more after meeting with the specialcommittee.

"There's definite talent out there and adefinite commitment on the part of the departmentto recruit some of that talent," said JohnArmstrong, a lecturer in the department.Armstrong, who was retained after his juniorfaculty contract expired, is considered acandidate for the Robinson chair, Kelleher saidlast fall.

The official search for a scholar to fill thatpost was to begin after a department chairman wasselected.

The department, with 13 graduate students andone undergraduate special concentrator, hopes toexpand its course offerings into the CoreCurriculum, but has been reluctant to do sobecause there have been no faculty members sure toremain at Harvard for an extended period of time.

As of July, all three senior members will haveleft within two years, and untenured facultymembers traditionally face uncertain futures.

Scholars say that the small field has a hugenumber of unexplored areas for research, and thatHarvard's Widener Library has the best Celticcollection in the world. Harvard's is the onlydepartment in the world to teach all three Celticlanguages--Scottish, Irish and Welsh, Kellehersaid.

This unique quality makes Harvard distinct fromother institutions, including Boston University,which have Irish Studies departments, Kellehersaid.

The Celts were the first non-RomansChristianized and the first people to becomeliterate and write in their own language, theprofessor said. He added that some of the world'soldest written records, documents from the seventhcentury, have been found in Ireland, and thatCeltic scholarship can "offer a tremendous view ofthe past."

Kelleher said, as part of the department'srebuilding process, scholars hope to introducemore Celtic-related courses into other Harvarddepartments, such as Folklore and Mythology andEnglish

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