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When the University Trustees voted in March 1994 to close the American Civilization and Regional Science departments due to academic and financial restructuring, administrators said that the change in organization would not necessarily hamper the study of either discipline on the undergraduate level. Organizing the two low-priority departments into interdisciplinary programs, they argued, could best allow for the retention of faculty and dispersement of resources -- while still allowing those interested in Am Civ or Regional Science the opportunity to study within their chosen field. Seven years have now passed since those predictions. And sadly, Am Civ and Regional Science have all but disappeared from Penn's undergraduate academic radar. This week, the task force assigned to evaluate South Asian studies at Penn will release the findings of their semester-long inquiry. And part of those findings, we expect,will be a recommendation to either retain, restructure or eliminate the struggling South Asian Regional Studies Department. Obviously, maintaining a full SARS Department would pose significant challenges for the University and the School of Arts and Sciences. The department has been saddled with some ill-timed faculty departures, and is in dire need of both new professors and additional funding if it is to keep offering its valuable academic program. But those additions, we believe, are just a small price to pay to avoid the kind of academic disintegration that accompanied the Am Civ and Regional Science downsizings. The advantages of maintaining the SARS department are clear -- the discipline would be afforded dedicated faculty, a central advising and research hub and a greater legitimacy among students considering pursuing SARS as a major option. Downsizing or eliminating the department, on the other hand, puts the future of South Asian studies at Penn in danger -- an unfortunate consequence, especially considering the University's sizeable South Asian population. And even though such a move would free up funding and resources for other beleaguered departments, the potential dissolution of another entire discipline of study -- such as that which befell both Am Civ and Regional Science -- is just too much for this University to risk.

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