The Future of Languages at the University of Toronto: Summary

Posted: July 20, 2010 in Uncategorized

The Future of Languages at the University of Toronto: A series of open faculty discussions

Meeting # 1
Thursday, 15 July 2010 — 12:00-2:00 pm
Bancroft 200B

Meeting summary.

This first in a series of meetings arose spontaneously from concerned faculty was called
on late Monday afternoon, 12 July. An open invitation was extended to all interested
parties. The Dean of Arts & Science released his Academic Plan on 14 July. Information
had been piecemeal before this point: bits of the overview document had been
characterised and hinted at in the days just beforehand; and individual units had
received particular recommendations from the Strategic Planning Committee (SPC) on the afternoon of 28 June 2010.

We were warmly welcomed by colleagues from Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations. But the co-convenors underestimated the interest. Bancroft 200B proved far too small, with people standing even in the corridors by both doors. The extent and range of faculty and student participation was impressive — especially given the date in the middle of summer and the short notice — suggesting a high level of concern.

Our next meeting will be hosted by East Asian Studies:
Monday, 26 July 2010 — 12noon ? 2:00 pm (brown bag lunch).
the Purple Lounge, 14th Floor, Robarts Library.

After a brief welcome and introductions from co-convenors Kenneth Mills (History) and
Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi (Historical Studies & Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations)

It is impossible to record what every speaker contributed over the course of a lively two hours, but we attempt the following fair summary.

General consensus emerged around the following points:

1. The SPC’s deliberation process, the resulting Academic Plan from A&S, and proposed
disestablishments and movements of scholars and teachers, have developed completely without collegial consultation with unit chairs, directors and other key stakeholders, eroding trust, inviting speculation and energising opposition. There is reason for concern that the promise of ?town hall meetings? and working groups in the autumn will not equal consultation and open-ended discussion, but rather a campaign for implementation.

2. Much rests on the proposed School of Languages and Literatures, even though it lacks an intellectual foundation and a rigorous academic rationale. When fourteen units of different size and scope at our university currently integrate language study in their
programmes, why has an assemblage of six been recommended for the proposed School? And to what ends? Moreover, colleagues and students could not determine the purportedly “clear terms of reference and objectives for the new School provided by the Strategic Planning Committee” (AP, 16) which are to guide an autumnal working group on the School.

3. Departments and units focussing on regions of the world and traversing them offer
invaluable multidisciplinary approaches and integrative models of teaching and research, less fettered by national and methodological constraints. To dismember the likes of East Asian Studies, Diaspora and Transnational Studies and the Centre for Comparative Literature (and they are not alone at UofT) is to threaten what they contribute, and to depart from how leading-edge intellectual work emerges across many humanities and social science fields. To pretend that such fields have seeded the humanities and social sciences so successfully as to have become “unnecessary” is: to pretend a series of “missions accomplished” when, in fact, there is so much gradual and careful work to do; and to underestimate the fragility of knowledge and the continuous, gradual often unexpected ways in which teaching and scholarship develop.

4. The proposed restructuring in Arts and Science ought to concern the Provost and
Governing Council. It reverses a renown for the kinds of diverse offerings, specialised
learning and international width and depth long been associated with the University of
Toronto, and befitting one of the world?s major institutions. Damage to the national and international reputation of the University of Toronto is risked. Retention and
recruitment of top faculty, including endowed chairs, and students may suffer.

4. A financial emergency is said to motivate moves, but detailed budgetary discussion
with stakeholders remains absent, leaving faculty, students and supporters legitimately
wondering what drives the particular decisions, and precisely where the proposed
restructuring saves money, and where it will end up costing A&S and the University
dearly. Are the funding models that see a percentage of revenue generated by
undergraduate enrolments to support professional faculties under review? Are they related to the academic restructuring recommended by the SPC? And if so, how?

5. What about our beloved libraries which, like the study of languages, rest at the
foundation of truly international scholarship? Is collection development, and are the
informed presence of specialised bibliographers in the best research library in the
country, and one of the best in North America, threatened by the restructuring proposals and their concomitant narrowing?

6. Do the proposed changes create environments in which a significant number of faculty and graduate students (especially but not exclusively those newly appointed and newly admitted) cannot thrive as scholars in their research and teaching?

7. It was agreed that we should both meet again and step up our publicity in the interest of safeguarding the University of Toronto as a public institution with a noble governance tradition — a tradition of leadership and planning in which the Provost and Dean of Arts and Science do not expect major decisions about entire units, broad intellectual projects and student experience to be made by a small group and without consultation of chairs, directors and other key stakeholders.

Our goal is a movable feast of open and strategic discussion in different host units.
Stay tuned, and thank you for your generous ideas and energy.

Please make every effort to attend to spread the word about our next meeting, hosted by East Asian Studies, with warm thanks to Tom Keirstead:
Monday, 26 July 2010 — 12noon ? 2:00 pm (brown bag lunch).
the Purple Lounge, 14th Floor, Robarts Library.

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