Sanskrit teaching at Cambridge to end

Dominik Wujastyk ucgadkw at UCL.AC.UK
Thu Oct 19 17:02:52 UTC 2006

Dear Bob (and everyone),

The current decision to abolish undergraduate Sanskrit teaching was made 
by officers of Cambridge University's "The Council of the School of Arts 
and Humanities".  I don't know who abolished the chair at the time of 
Brough's death.

I have myself written a letter of shock and protest, and I addressed it to 
Dr Gordon Johnson, who is currently Director of the Centre for South Asian 
Studies at Cambridge.  See for more 
info. I believe he can be addressed at

     Wolfson College
     Barton Road
     CB3 9BB

I wrote Dr Johnson because his name is mentioned in the press reports. 
(I am told that Dr Johnson is a supporter of Sanskrit teaching at 

It has been suggested to me by a Cambridge insider that letters of protest 
will be ineffective at this point, but might be more effective towards the 
end of the year when attempts will be made to create a new post.

However, my own view is that Cambridge's decision is now in the public 
domain, and that if we wish to respond to the current news, we should do 
so as we feel moved.  We can always write again later.  I do feel strongly 
that authorities at Cambridge should be made aware that their decision to 
cancel undergraduate teaching has caused a reaction in the international 
scholarly community.

Note that the Centre for South Asian Studies, of which Dr Johnson is 
Director, is not the same as the Faculty of Oriental Studies, where 
Sanskrit is ^H^H^H was taught.

The Faculty of Oriental Studies website is at

but it does not say who is the Chairman of the Faculty Board, nor does it
give any details of board members, so it is hard to know to whom to write.
The Oriental Faculty's website on languages,

has already excised Sanskrit from world history.  These people are moving 

Although I currently live in Cambridge, I am not part of the university, 
nor involved in teaching or other activities here.  To be honest, the 
organisation of the university is so labyrinthine that it is very hard for 
an outsider to understand anything, and it is impossible to find the 
actual names of responsible people.  This is probably deliberate.  The 
best information I have been able to put together about the closure of u/g 
Sanskrit here is as follows:

The U of Camb. recently moved over to a new "Resource Allocation Model" 
(or "RAM": see whereby (stage one) central 
funds (quaintly called the "University Chest") are divided between the six 
university "Schools" on a completely automatic basis, and then (stage two) 
the chairmen and committees of the schools use the delegated financial 
authority to decide who will get what. (The six schools are described at; Sanskrit is taught in the Faculty of Oriental 
Studies, part of the school called Arts and Humanities.)

It was obvious to insiders from the start of RAM planning several years 
ago that these changes would cause casualties, particularly among "small 
subjects", and the main RAM report of 2003 ( 
explicitly mentions,

 	The potential threat of a RAM to minority subjects (particularly
 	in Arts and Humanities) and hence to the shape of the University.

This statement is followed by some tangled prose in which a justification
is attempted for doing nothing about trying to protect or even influence
the acceptability of the academic shape of the university. The RAM
Development Group stated that for political and financial reasons,

 	The futility of designing the model to achieve acceptability
 	become apparent.

This is an extraordinary admission!  To design a major financial system in 
such a manner that from the outset it is admittedly not fit for purpose in 
important respects.

So nothing was done to mitigate the damage that was inevitable to minority
subjects (although I note that item 23. in the Report does mention
"Minority Subject Special Funding").

In any case, because of these major changes in funding structures, it is
no longer possible for Cambridge University as a whole to have an academic
policy, favouring this or that subject area for strategic, academic, or
other reasons.  All decisions are made on the basis of finance.  As the
Report states, interestingly,

         2. All income is attributed to Schools and institutions 'as
         earned'. This may not reflect the University's value judgements
         but it does reflect our true sources of income and avoids
         arguments about value judgements.

This statement seems to me to be a knowing abdication of any committment 
to guiding or judging the intellectual value of the university's 
activities.  In other words, the University must be run as a profitable 
business, and must set aside attempts to judge the value of what it does 
to make money.

As far as I can see, the "General Board of the Faculties" is the body
responsible for the academic and educational policy of the University, and
I do not understand the relationship between this Board and the new power
centres of the Schools or the RAM.

In any case, Sanskrit is apparently the first casualty of the new system. 
It has been decided by the officers of the Council of the School of Arts 
and Humanities (a) that the 1.5 posts in SA History be transferred from 
the Oriental Faculty to the History Faculty (where there is no guarantee 
that they will be filled in the SA field); (b) that the vacant Hindi 
lectureship not be refilled; (c) that the Hindi language instructor be 
moved to the Centre of SA Studies to do coaching for anthropologists etc., 
(d) that the two Sanskrit "incumbents" (Smith, Kahrs) be kept on in 
Oriental Studies (but not in either of the two departments that are being 
created, Far East and Middle East) till they retire. No undergraduate 
teaching to be done.


On Mon, 16 Oct 2006, Tenzin Bob Thurman wrote:

> This is truly shocking. And the chair abolished since the time of
> Brough! Who makes such decisions? OIs there anything good that letters
> from outside could accomplish? Anyone in authority who would care about
> the disgrace of a major university in this world abandoning the study of
> Sanskrit? RAFT

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list