Questionnaire on Polish Studies

The Sarmatian Review has initiated an ongoing series of interviews with representatives of the American Polish academic community concerning Polish Studies in the United States. Below we print the comments of three academics: Professor Stanislaus A. Blejwas of Central Connecticut State University, Professor James S. Pula of the Catholic University of America, and Professor Janusz K. Wrobel of St.Mary's College in Orchard Lake, Michigan. Blejwas holds a University Chair in History and is Coordinator of the Polish Studies Program at CCSU. Pula is Professor of History and Dean of the Metropolitan College at the CUA. Wrobel is Associate Professor and Chair of Polish at St.Mary's College.

1. What in your opinion are the greatest achievements of the American Polish community in regard to Polish Studies?
2. What are its greatest failures?
3. In your opinion, is the scarcity of attention paid to Polish and east central European affairs by the US Congress due partly to the lack of financial and intellectual clout which the American Polish community possesses but has not been able to mobilize?
4. In your opinion, is the slimness of Polish Studies in America due partly to the inability or unwillingness of Polish scholars to sacrifice their own personal interests (e.g., the desire not to teach more courses per semester than do their colleagues in Russian) to enlarge Polish offerings at American universities?
5. Is deliberate discrimination of Polish Studies by the university administration ever a factor in limiting Polish offerings at American universities?
6. Is stereotyping of Polish children at American primary and secondary schools ever a problem in making their parents unwilling to bring them up aware of their Polish roots?
7. If so, does this stereotyping affect the children of college-educated parents less than the children of parents with only primary or secondary education?
8. Do you perceive a lack of cooperation between Polish-born and native-born Americans? Are these two groups kept apart by perhaps well-meaning but erroneous calculations of some persons active in American Polish affairs, locally or nationwide?

Professor Blejwas: 1-2. Questions 1 and 2 are formulated without clarifying what is meant by the American Polish community. The questions appear designed to evoke negative responses. Furthermore, it is assumed a priori that such programs are necessary and justifiable and that it is the American Polish community's obligation to financially underwrite them. The American Polish community can contribute politically and economically to the development of Polish Studies in America, especially if it believes, as I do, that there should be a Polish presence in American higher education. However, no one is obligated to do so. If American Poles choose not to underwrite Polish Studies, they ought not be excoriated by emigre nationals for failing to fulfill some vaguely defined ĺ─˙national obligation.ĺ─¨ When the American Polish community is criticized for not underwriting Polish Studies programs, one often feels that they are being rebuked for not establishing sinecures for Polish-educated and emigre academicians.

To turn specifically to Question 1, it can be argued that the greatest achievements are not as numerous as one would wish, nor have some of them survived. The important Jurzykowski Chair at Harvard is not an American Polish initiative, nor is the well known Indiana University Program, which relies upon federal funds and is looking for a private American Polish benefactor to endow the Program's future. The Orchard Lake Schools, the now-defunct Alliance College as well as the colleges established by the Roman Catholic Orders are community achievements, but it is difficult to argue that they established a major bridgehead in American higher education for Polish Studies.


Czeslaw Milosz believes that there is discrimination of Polish Studies by university administrations and by Slavic departments. There is no reason to doubt his assessment. But . . . the market drives universities, and enrollment will drive Polish Studies programs.


Three current community initiatives show promise of achieving a permanent Polish presence at their universities: the Copernicus Chair at the University of Michigan, the Polish Program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and the Polish Studies Program at Central Connecticut State University. The Copernicus Chair would establish Polish Studies at a major American university, while the Milwaukee Program possesses a large faculty base. The CCSU Program, established because of lobbying by the Connecticut District of the Polish American Congress, is twenty years old, and has collected nearly $500,000 in Program Endowment.

Polish Studies Programs, or at at least a Polish presence in the curriculum, ought to exist at every level of American higher education. There are diverse educational strategies to be considered. Endowed chairs at major universities and colleges are a priority. However, there are also universities and colleges with a strong American Polish demographic base, where a Polish presence in the curriculum (and within the framework of a Slavic Studies major) is important. The relationship of Polish Studies to the curriculum ought to be considered. Do separate programs risk isolating Polish studies intellectually? Third, the debate ought to consider whether every Polish studies initiative must grant a degree, certificate, or diploma. What about the student (of Polish origin or not) who only wants an introduction to Polish culture and heritage? He/she does not need to attend a school with a full-fledged Polish Studies program, but requires an institution where courses are available in the curriculum.

In responding to Question 2, it might be argued that the failure to establish a national strategy for Polish Studies is the great failure of the American Polish community. Could the leading Polish American social, cultural, and economic organizations have agreed upon a priority list - based in part upon considerations of academic prestige, demography, and geography - of institutions of higher education where Polish Studies programs ought to have been established? When a furious discussion was going on over the Adam Mickiewicz Chair of Polish Studies at Columbia University in 1948-1954, the PAC talked of funding Polish chairs at other universities. These goals were not realized.

It may be time to convoke a summit of academicians, business and community leaders, perhaps under the sponsorship of the Kosciuszko Foundation, to see if a realistic, achievable national strategy might be devised.

The Canadian Polish Congress is funding a Polish chair at the University of Toronto. Could the Polish American fraternals and prominent American Poles draw up a list of schools where Polish Studies should be established and funded over a period of years according to an agreed upon schedule.

3. The United States Congress is called upon to attend to every world problem, and in the 1980s it certainly paid attention to east European developments. That attention span could be extended if academicians made themselves available to work or consult with the community's sole Washington lobby, the PAC. Academicians traditionally prefer to maintain their distance from ethnic lobbies, perhaps fearing that their colleagues might call into question their objectivity. Additionally, it does take time away from research and writing. It is not a question that the American Polish community has not been able to mobilize this resource. It is the academicians who appear unwilling to get involved. And it may not only be a question of sacrificing one's time. There are serious questions of bias and prejudicial stereotypes entertained by many academicians about the American Polish community.

4-5. These can be answered together. The ideal is to have a Polish presence in every American college and university. The reality is that university administration look for outside sources to underwrite "specialized" programs. Czeslaw Milosz believes that there is discrimination of Polish Studies by university administrations and by Slavic departments. There is no reason to doubt his assessment. On the other hand, it is unlikely that this is the case at every institution. The market drives universities, and enrollment will drive Polish Studies programs. In this context, interested faculty must be willing to put their assumptions and prejudices aside and become involved in fund raising. Chairs and program endowments do provide relief from enrollment-driven pressures.

6. The accepted wisdom is that stereotyping discourages identification with one's ethnic roots. But it can also provoke a counteraction, witness the rising interest in black and Hispanic studies.

7. My guess is that stereotyping at school affects children of college-educated parents less.

8. What do you mean by ĺ─˙lack of cooperation?ĺ─¨ In what areas? Who is keeping apart from whom? It is not that I do not understand the question; I have not encountered the problem.

Professor Pula: 1. If we define ĺ─˙Polish Studiesĺ─¨ broadly to include any activities designed to promote the study of Polish history and culture, then the "greatest achievements" are no doubt the existence of institutions such as the Kosciuszko Foundation, the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences, the Polish American Historical Association, the several Polish Studies programs at institutions of higher education and the various local Polish cultural organizations, all of which support continuous programs designed to educate people about Polish and Polish American heritage. These formal institutions make lasting contributions to research, the dissemination of information, and the preservation of materials without which any sense of Polish heritage would be either lost or relegated to the confines of antiquarianism.


Under Secretary Riley's new policy on ĺ─˙minority scholarships,ĺ─¨ a Polish American who wishes to create a scholarship program for students of Polish heritage may be prevented from doing so because it would discriminate against federally recognized and sanctioned ĺ─˙minority groupsĺ─¨ . . . . the federal courts have consistently refused to apply anti-discrimination statutes on the basis of national origin.


2. The greatest failure of the Polish American community is its general lack of support for efforts such as those mentioned above. The major Polish American fraternals do little on the national level to support Polish studies at colleges or universities, places where serious research and writing occur and where the study of Polish history and culture can be sanctioned as a legitimate activity. The Polish American community ranks low in its willingness to purchase books on Polish heritage, or to support Polish studies through the establishment of college-level programs, scholarships, or other incentives for young people. Of all the Polish cultural clubs in the United States, less than three dozen belong to the umbrella American Council for Polish Culture, and recent data indicate that only one in twenty Polish Americans belongs to any kind of Polish American organization. The success of other groups in obtaining the creation of culture-specific programs at major universities has not been at all mirrored by the Polish American community, which seems content to see its tax dollars used to support other groups. Certainly the lack of substantial Polish studies programs in traditional Polish areas such as Chicago, Buffalo, Detroit, Cleveland and New York is nothing short of scandalous. But, if they are not demanded by the general public they will not be established.

3. In a word, yes. Aside from occasional ĺ─˙nationalĺ─¨ or ĺ─˙regionalĺ─¨ meetings to deplore the status of Polish studies in America, the leading Polish American organizations have done little to create an atmosphere in which Polonia can speak with a united, or even an audible voice. While other groups lobby effectively for public tax dollars to establish research centers, cultural programs, and endowed chairs at colleges and universities - programs that are important not only for their contributions to knowledge, but for the legitimization that they provide to Polish-oriented intellectual activities - Polish American groups appear content with an occasional photo opportunity, a campaign-year speech, or the appointment of a "leader" as an alternate delegate to a national committee. A centralized lobbying office in Washington, DC, supported by state offices in areas where Polish Americans constitute a significant proportion of the population, is essential if Polonia is ever to demand its rightful share of its own tax dollars. Similarly, to attract the support of Polish Americans, organized Polonia must refocus its efforts more toward the political concerns of Polish Americans and away from its sometimes exclusive focus on short term aid to Poland.

For example, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley recently announced a new policy regarding ĺ─˙minorityĺ─¨ scholarship programs. Under the new policy, colleges and universities will run the risk of violating federal anti-discrimination laws if they offer ethnic-specific scholarships unless they can demonstrate that the scholarships are designed to "remedy past discrimination" or "achieve a diverse student population" (ĺ─˙Riley Issues Policy on Minority Scholarships,ĺ─¨ Higher Education and National Affairs, 21 February 1994, p. 1). Although the criteria cover both race and national origin, in practice the federal courts have consistently refused to apply anti-discrimination statutes on the basis of national origin. Thus, the new policy may well mean that a Polish American who wishes to create a scholarship program for students of Polish heritage will be prevented from doing so because it would discriminate against federally recognized and sanctioned "minority groups." Organized Polonia should take the lead in opposing this biased policy, but thus far there has been a startling lack of concern. If organized Polonia does not stand up for the rights of its members, who will?

4. One cannot make a broad generalization that encompasses everyone. In some cases the unwillingness of individual professors to actively promote and develop existing Polish Studies programs has led to their reduction or outright cancellation. In many other cases, enterprising faculty have been very effective in creating and building programs. As indicated above, I believe that one of the major problems is that Polonia and its leaders have not demanded equal access to public funds. If the major state university systems, using public funds, can create ethnic-oriented studies programs for some groups, why cannot the same be done for Polish Americans? The answer is that Polonia has not organized and focused its political potential to accomplish this end. Individual faculty cannot generally ĺ─˙demandĺ─¨ increased funds or the freedom to offer additional Polish studies courses. An atmosphere must be created where the appropriate political figures and university administrators feel that it is in their best interest to do so. This can only come from organized lobbying efforts.

5. I do not believe there is any nationwide conspiracy to discriminate against Polish Studies. There is however a general feeling that there is no great demand for these courses, and often one hears voiced the sentiment that faculty engaged in Polish studies are in too narrow a field. This remark would not be made about those in Women's Studies, African-American Studies, Irish Studies, or other such programs because there are active lobbies and professional groups that support, encourage, and even demand these programs. Rather than take the easy route of ascribing the lack of Polish Studies programs to discrimination, Polonia and its leaders need to take the more difficult proactive path of insisting on the creation and support of these programs, and then supporting the programs themselves.

6. People may react in various ways to perceived discrimination. One effect might be to cause people to conceal or ignore their Polish heritage. Another result might be to develop sufficient concern that people are willing to speak out and demand an end to discrimination.

7. Rather than offering unsupported opinions, I would like to suggest that this question would make an excellent topic for a graduate student to explore. What is needed is accurate statistical evidence as a basis for legitimate conclusions.

8. On the basis of my observations of the none-too-frequent interaction of Polish-born and American-born Polish Americans, I would say that the difficulties are born of traditional struggles for recognition and control. Each group holds preconceived expectations of the other, and when these expectations are not fulfilled each becomes at the least disappointed and at the worst antagonistic. What is needed on both sides is an understanding that not everyone may have the same specific needs or wish to contribute in the same way to the same causes, but overall it is beneficial for organized Polonia to develop goals that will allow everyone to participate equally in setting agendas and contributing to the general welfare of the Polish American community.

Professor Wrobel: 1. Given the circumstances, the very existence of Polish Studies in the United States can be considered an achievement. However, neither the size nor the number of Polish Studies centers reflects the size and strength of the American Polish community. It appears to me that the best job in Polish studies is being done outside academia, in schools of Polish language for children and in Polish scouting organizations (ZHP).


Parents seldom encourage their children to take Polish courses, believing that other courses are either more needed or more marketable.


2. The most disadvantageous problem for Polish Studies is that they are part of departments dominated by Russian or German Studies. Within Slavic Studies, Polish presence is marginal, as witnessed at conferences dealing with Slavic topics. Three factors seem to be of relevance here: (1) A lack of significant financial and "moral" support from both the old and new Polonia; by "moral," I mean a lack of audience for Polish studies in Polonia circles, a lack of book buyers, a lack of those attending lectures etc. Most recent Polish immigrants (the new Polonia) are focused almost exclusively on assimilating themselves into the new environment. The old Polonia are sometimes unable to shift interest from folklore to serious intellectual matters related to Polish identity. (2) The negative stereotypes of the Polish people do not help to attract audiences in broader society. (3) In 1939ĺ─ý1989, Poland was an occupied country, and Polish history was accordingly seen, and presented to Americans, through the eyes of the conquerors. This did not create favorable conditions for interest in Polish affairs. Solidarity was the first major positive event in Polish history of the last 60 years. It attracted tremendous interest worldwide, and it created a great deal of good will toward Poland. This is valuable capital to build upon, and it should be handled with respect and care.

3. I agree that the American Polish community does not lack either financial or intellectual strength. I also agree with the opinion that Polish Americans have not yet been able to utilize their potential strength.

4-7. I do not have sufficient evidence of deliberate discrimination of Polish Studies by university administrators to venture an opinion. If the courses in Polish Studies attracted more students than is the case now, the area would be strengthened. A limited number of students of Polish background who take Polish Studies courses is related to the attitude of parents. My experience indicates that parents seldom encourage their children to take Polish courses, believing that other courses are either more needed or more marketable. Only half of my fourteen students who major or minor in Polish at St. Mary's are of Polish origin.

It seems to me that the major reason for the students' reluctance to take, or to ask for, Polish courses is their parents' refusal to acknowledge their Polish roots while assimilating in American society. I do not think that negative stereotyping which Polish Americans sometimes have to face in school is an important factor, especially in the case of children of college-educated parents.

8. The Orchard Lake Schools were established by Polish Americans, and they provide a good example of cooperation between the old and new Polonia. However, in a number of Polish American organizations such cooperation is not always apparent. Resentment against the new Polonia on the part of the old is sometimes caused by the latter's difficult and painful experiences at the beginning of their American life. Sometimes it appears that they would like for the better-educated new Polonia to go through the same hardships. A distrust of Poles raised in Soviet-occupied Poland is another factor.


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