Upcoming 30th Anniversary of the Endowed Chair in Lithuanian Studies Profiled Lithuanian Newspaper

The Lithuanian newspaper, Amerikos Lietuvis, published an interview with Collen McQuillen, associate professor in the LAS Slavic and Baltic Department, and Imke Meyer, professor in the Germanic studies department, on 30th anniversary of the endowed chair in Lithuanian studies at UIC.

Below is an English-language translation of the article which appeared in the February 4, 2014 edition of Amerikos Lietuvis courtesy of Giedr? Vencius:

The Bridge Between the University of Illinois and the Lithuanian Community
by Giedr? Vencius

When the Endowed Chair of Lithuanian Studies at University of Illinois in Chicago (UIC) was established in 1984, Lithuania has not yet embarked on its independence movement, and the Cold War between the U.S. and Russia woefully prevented any Lithuanian relations with America. In this context, sponsors and donors in the world Lithuanian community came together to raise funds for the endowed chair. This year the Lithuanian program at UIC celebrates its 30th anniversary, and interest among foreigners in Lithuanian language and culture continues to grow. The Endowed Chair was first held by Professor Bronius Vaskalis, who was succeeded by Professor Violeta Kelertas and Professor Giedrius Suba?ius in 2010. Dr. Daiva Litvinskait? works alongside Prof. Suba?ius teaching Lithuanian language.

The Lithuanian Studies program is housed in the Department of Slavic and Baltic Studies, which in turn is part of the School of Literatures, Cultural Studies and Linguistics. The School is directed by Professor Imke Meyer and her deputy, professor Colleen McQuillen. These women graciously agreed to share their thoughts with the Lithuanian press in America, in order to invite the Lithuanian community members to celebrate the anniversary at UIC and to build a much-needed line of communication between the University and the Lithuanian community.

GV: The year 1984 was very difficult for Lithuania politically, but nonetheless it was in this year that the Lithuanian endowment at the University of Illinois at Chicago was established. Could you return to this period at least briefly in your thoughts?

IM: At that time your country went through a period that, at the very best, we could call difficult. It's hard to imagine that during the Cold War era, when Lithuania was not a free country, a Lithuanian Studies program was opened in America. With Lithuania as an independent nation, now more than ever before we understand how having the opportunity to study Lithuanian language and culture helps students to function in a global world.

GV: How do you view the role of less-commonly taught languages and cultures within the School?

IM: The School of Literatures, Cultural Studies and Linguistics, which includes the Lithuanian program, is a whole new body which itself is still developing. We house a range of departments and programs of study that focus on classical and modern languages, cinema, religion, and international studies. All this gives the students a new perspective.

CM: We understand that the moment when Lithuania regained its independence played a crucial role in the country's history and culture. We do not live alone and the past and present are important to us. We care about the relationship between the communities represented by our students and the University.

GV: The Lithuanian culture course that has been offered since the beginning of the
Lithuanian program has continued to grow significantly in enrollment. What factors enabled this development?

IM: The students’ interest in and awareness of Lithuania has likely been aided by the
fact that the Baltic state regained its independence, the map of Eastern Europe has changed, and a new page in history has been turned. It is therefore not surprising that the rate of interest among students has grown, and we hope that in the next thirty years we will continue to see such a trend of growth.

CM: Student interest in the Lithuanian culture course is constantly growing, but do not forget their interest in learning the Lithuanian language. UIC is one of a very few universities in the United States that offer Baltic languages, which is a point of attraction for students.

GV: What is your evaluation of the programs that the Lithuanian endowment offers?

IM: As my colleague said, Lithuanian language is an intergral part of our Central and Eastern European Studies program and it plays a very important educational role in bridging cultures.

GV: We are very happy that you decided to organize the 30th anniversary celebration of the Lithuanian endowment. Can you share what you are planning?

IM: Yes, everything is already being discussed. The celebration will be held in the UIC Student Center East, Illinois Rooms B and C, 750 S. Halsted St. Chicago, and it will be on Monday, March 3 at 3:00pm. We invite the donors, their family members, and members of Chicago’s Lithuanian community to participate in the celebration.

CM: We will prepare an exhibit describing the history the Endowed Chair. The Lithuanian community contributed very generously to establish the Chair. No matter the size of each individual donation, we are sincerely grateful to all, without exception.

IM: We appreciate this opportunity to make contact with Lithuanian community and we hope that our relations will continue develop over time. In the past, the community members came together to support us; now we invite them to celebrate with us.

UIC is hosting an anniversary celebration event Monday March 3 at UIC Student Center East starting at 3:00 p.m.  More information about this event, as well as how to RSVP, can be found right here.