FAQ Rebuttal – Course Selection for Undergrads

Posted: September 9, 2010 in Uncategorized

The Dean’s office has recently posted some answers to student questions about the new Academic Plan on the Faculty website here. These answers seem to have been designed to reassure students while not providing any more details about the plan. The FAQ uses EAS several times as an example in its answers. The following is a rebuttal to the answer to question 6. More will follow, but this one seemed to me to be the most pressing considering its unfounded assurances that students can continue their studies without any change.

Question: I just enrolled in an EAS program. What should I do now?
The Dean’s Answer: You take the courses and follow the program requirements just like before.

Response: Take what courses?

As we have been arguing since the announcement of this academic plan, and as we will continue to do so, there is no reason for any student to believe that the amount and quality of courses offered to them now in the EAS department will continue to be offered once this plan is put into place. If the EAS department is absorbed by the School of Languages and Literatures, our program will be moving to this school with a total of only five members of our current teaching staff. The over 1000 students currently enrolled in the program would be relying on these few instructors, and whatever courses on Asia the other departments decide to offer, in order to complete their degree. Anyone who looks at the 2010/2011 offerings for the EAS department can see a wide variety of courses on East Asia provided to students – courses with highly specialized topics and globally renowned professors. It would be naïve for anyone to believe that this quantity of courses and quality of teaching would remain at U of Toronto should the department be dissolved. After all, why would our East Asian Studies professors stay at this institution, when it has no East Asian Studies department? As our professors leave, so too will the courses they teach and the quality of teaching they provide to students. It is unlikely that the Dean would consider replacing these professors with instructors to teach courses on Asian Humanities subjects, and if he did, we would still be losing quality of education.

Also, even if our professors did remain, how would it be feasible for departments like History, Anthropology, and Religion to possibly absorb all of the courses currently offered by EAS faculty and teaching staff, when those departments are also on a limited budget? We have had no assurance from the Dean that these departments will be required to absorb all current course offerings or maintain the variety and standard students have experienced over the past decades of the department’s existence. In fact, it seems more likely that these other departments will instead be making the course choices themselves. As each department has their own priorities, and due to the Eurocentrism of most Humanities departments at U of T, this would mean far fewer courses on Asia available to students trying to complete their degree.

An important matter to point out, and one which is not addressed in the FAQ, is the issue of independent study opportunities and 4th year research seminars. Current students in the EAS program have a variety of seminars with small class sizes available to them to take in their upper years of study, which allow them to learn skills in critical humanities research. It seems unlikely that specialized seminars such as “Beyond Orientalism” would ever be absorbed by another department, and the number of 4th year seminars on Asian history that are currently offered could not be maintained in the History department without causing a large imbalance in the subjects of study available. Also, currently students who have taken at least five EAS courses have the opportunity to pursue independent study under the guidance of a professor in the department. We have heard nothing from the Dean’s office about what would happen to students who wish to complete an independent study project in EAS if the program were to be dissolved.

Of course, the dissolution of the undergrad EAS program is not desirable for many other reasons, especially due to the loss of focus on critical humanities research on Asia in favour of using language as the primary tool of regional study. If you would like to read more about this issue, it is encouraged that you read our Manifesto and Q&A with Professor Keirstead.

– Julianne

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