After 36 years at the College, Professor Jane Knox-Voina's retirement this semester is a blow to the Russian department, but it is far from fatal.
Knox-Voina and Associate Professor of Russian Raymond Miller have vigorously campaigned over the years to sustain the department despite concerns over low enrollment numbers.
"There was always the realization that we were one of the smallest departments and if we didn't have our numbers up, that the future might not be as optimistic as we would like to have it," said Knox-Voina in a phone interview with the Orient.
Both Knox-Voina and Miller appear confident, however, that the department will endure for the foreseeable future.
"The way I see it, it's going to be pretty much the same," said Miller. "I'm going to continue to try to aggressively to promote not just Russian language and literature, but the area studies component," he said. "That's basically all I can do."
Miller also said he was glad for the developing image of Bowdoin as a school with strong language studies.
"I think kids who are interested in languages are seeking the College out," he said.
While Knox-Voina somewhat ruefully noted the national trend of colleges and universities cutting Russian programs, Miller said that Bowdoin's peers have not done so.
"Every single one of the colleges that Bowdoin compares itself to... has a Russian program with a major," he said.
Knox-Voina described her effort to maintain high enrollment numbers as "an uphill battle always."
"We go in cycles," she said. "In the early '90s, we were down to three or four" in first year Russian. "With the help of many people including our TAs and of course Professor Miller—he's a very strong force in the department—we were always able to kind of keep the boat from sinking."
Knox-Voina said that she has had numerous discussions with the dean's office about enrollment levels.
"I can't tell you how many times this year I would go in and I would get a discussion about numbers," she said. "It's not just this dean, it was with previous deans that we had this discussion many times since I came in the '70s."
With her retirement, Knox-Voina is handing off her crusading role to Miller.
"It's really up to the person who takes my place to work to help Professor Miller get the numbers up," she said.
Knox-Voina's position will initially be filled by Kristina Toland, a post-doctorate scholar.
"The post doc next year is going to be a good advertisement in her own right," Miller said. "She is a native Russian herself, she's teaching in Central Asia right now, and she's a trained artist doing a lot of interesting sort of cutting edge stuff."
"She's going to be teaching the 20th century culture course in cinema and also an advanced Russian course," said Miller.
Miller also intends to rehire Michael Klimov, a language teacher who lives in Bath and has previously taught at Bowdoin.
"He filled in for our teaching fellow a couple years ago when she was on maternity leave and the students really loved him," he said. Miller believes that it is just a matter of paperwork to have the dean's office approve hiring Kilmov.
Both Knox-Voina and Miller believe that finding a tenure track professor for her position in the future will not be a particularly difficult task either.
"I always thought of course I could be replaced," said Knox-Voina.
Miller stated, "Ideally I would love to hire someone who basically fits her profile, and from just a perusal of graduate programs there are a surprising number of people out there."
Miller said that he has been cooperating with the academic affairs office to find a replacement for Knox-Voina.
"I've gotten nothing but support from the dean's office in this process," he said. "They've given me everything I've asked for so far."
Miller also stated, "I don't see us as a huge expense, and we're providing a service to the College. And considering how small we are, I think overall the College is getting pretty good return on its dollar."
"We're the only department that regularly offers courses on what is essentially half of the Eurasian continent," he added.
The office of academic affairs was unavailable for comment before this issue went to press.