Linguistics Society Lodges Complaint

Criticizes Plans to Replace Dept.

The largest linguistics society in the world is lodging a complaint with University officials who plan to transform the Linguistics department into a committee.

The criticism from the Linguistics Society of America (LSA) arrives at a time when several students and faculty members are voicing grievances regarding the change.

The letter, composed by an LSA committee devoted to preserving university linguistics departments around the country, raises similar objections to those of the students and professors.

"Our position is that this is a very serious mistake on the part of Harvard's administration," Treasurer-Secretary of the LSA Frederick Newmeyer said. "It is not justifiable intellectually or practically."

Newmeyer said that although the study of linguistics influences other disciplines, it is a field which has its own independent academic validity.


"The administration doesn't seem to get it straight," said Newmeyer, who is a professor of linguistics at the University of Washington. "It is true thatlinguistics has implications in other fields butthat doesn't mean that linguistics is not adepartment on its own."

But Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles saidyesterday that the replacement of the departmentby a committee is being done in the best interestof linguistics students in the University.

"After lengthy discussion over several yearswith academic deans, there has been a recognitionthat the department is not serving the students'best interests," Knowles said yesterday.

A recently formed advisory committee, chairedby Professor of Philosophy Warren E. Goldfarb '69,will consider the best options for restructuringthe department into a committee and will presentrecommendations to the Faculty Council in earlyspring.

The recommendations will then have to be votedon by the full Faculty, according to GraduateSchool of Arts and Sciences Administrative DeanJohn B. Fox '59.

"We have many more resources within the Facultyof Arts and Sciences...and many more facultyinterested [in linguistics] than are brought tobear," Knowles said. "We are concerned with usingthese faculty resources as best we can."

But both senior and junior LinguisticsDepartment faculty members say the move willimpoverish linguistics study at Harvard.

"I think it's a grave mistake," ThomasProfessor of Linguistics and the Classics CalvertWatkins said yesterday. "I don't think thecommittee would work as well as the departmentdoes now."

"A field of learning is going to bemarginalized at Harvard, and is going to deprivesome of the best students that Harvard has,"Calvert said.

And Calvert, who is one of the department's twosenior faculty members, said professors feel thedecision was made without their directinvolvement.

"The decision was taken by University Hall,"said Calvert, who said he was informed of thechange at the end of last May.

Knowles said several external and internalcommittees have been reviewing the department inthe last few years, prompting discussion about thechange.

"The whole process was very secretive," saidLinguistics concentrator Ronald A. Fein '94, whoreceived a letter informing him of the change thisfall. "We were kept much in the dark."

Newmeyer said that the LSA may send adelegation to Harvard to encourage theadministration to reconsider its decision.

"We've had experiences in the past aboutadministrations reversing their decisions," saidNewmeyer. "We hope we're successful.