Our Position Now, and What We Need to Do for the Future

Posted: November 12, 2010 in Uncategorized

For anyone who hasn’t seen this yet, the Dean released a memo last week in which he officially stated that his proposal of the School of Languages and Literatures (Working Title!) has been scrapped. According to his memo, after being “deeply engaged in wide consultation” (ie, overwhelmed by massive and enraged opposition), he has realized that it is “likely that the Faculty will be able to reach its academic objectives without proposing the creation of a School, leaving the six units intact as standalone departments/centres, but with much closer working relationships than before.”

In return for keeping our departments, the Dean expects each program to fulfil the following “academic objectives”:

1) increase undergraduate enrolments in those units that have the capacity, while providing some relief to other departments in the humanities and other sectors of the Faculty that are experiencing severe enrolment pressure;
(ii) stimulate greater cooperation and collaboration across departmental boundaries in the teaching of languages, literatures and cultures, in order to enhance the learning experiences of students in relatively small departments, take advantage of creative synergies, and make more effective use of teaching capacity;
(iii) encourage the sharing of best practices between these units with respect to graduate recruitment, admissions, scholarship applications and program management to foster stronger graduate programs and greater student satisfaction; and
(iv) explore opportunities for reorganizing administrative support to improve levels and quality of service.

As with the original Academic Plan, all these points are vague and the details remain “to be determined”, however one thing we do know is that EAS, as the largest program of them all with over 1000 majors, minors, and specialists, is not expected to bring in larger enrolment numbers. In regards to point number two, there still remains no intellectual rationale behind the expectation that EAS should have collaborative relationships with the other departments that had been involved in the proposal. What exactly these “creative synergies” would be is still a mystery, and how faculty from these departments could somehow overlap to “make more effective use of teaching capacity” has yet to be explained. Are our Japanese professors expected to teach Portugese? Should faculty members specializing in Slavic literature start teaching students about Korea? Also, the third and fourth points are incredibly broad and hardly novel suggestions – after all, why is it only the six departments/centres that are expected to do this? Should sharing tips on how to recruit graduate students and how to manage the administrative tasks of a department not already be common practice?

It is incredibly frustrating for all involved in the opposition that the Dean is taking entirely all of the credit by appearing to have gone out of his way to engage in “wide consultation”, which in reality was the work of students, faculty and staff who spent hundreds of hours opposing the plan. On a personal note, his claim that a part of the process of academic planning was consulting with students still grates my nerves. After all, the East Asian Studies Student Union would surely have been a good place to start if he wanted to consult with students from the undergrad programs affected – and yet we were never contacted by the Dean, and not given the opportunity to meet with him. As far as I understand, consultation with ASSU was also incredibly minimal, and grad students unions were similarly ignored. When did this consultation occur? It surely wasn’t at the two town hall meetings, at which only a few people got to speak, and everyone was cut off before any actual discussion could occur between the Dean and the audience. Nor at the meetings with the departments, which were (as far as I know) only one per department, lasted only two hours, and really seemed to be just an opportunity for the Dean to announce his plans to the faculty. Maybe he’s referring to the single academic planning meeting held last November for students to attend, which was held under the guise of a chance for students to voice concerns about their programs and things they wanted to change – but in retrospect seemed to be just a way to legitimize a plan already in the works that wasn’t even mentioned to those students present.

Or maybe he means the thousands of petition signatures received, the letters written (from not only members of UT but alumni, distinctive scholars, heads of other universities, and even parents of students they hoped would still be able to attend the program in the future), the emails sent (both to the Dean and to hundreds and thousands of acquaintances and colleagues to spread the word and call out for solidarity in opposition), both individual resistance and groups uniting together via various different means (whether on facebook or wordpress, in the dialogue on academicplan.ca, or the meetings of the Future of Languages and Literatures group), the protests held…

Is this what he expects to happen for “consultation” to occur? Does this mean that every time he makes a proposal of this kind, all affected members are expected to join together in a massive movement to rally against his plan? Surely it would seem more logical if instead, meetings were held with representatives of those affected. And it’s not like there aren’t easy avenues for him to find those representatives. Unions and associations like UTFA, CUPE 3902, United Steelworkers 1998, the GSU, UTSU, the course unions, etc all exist because we are elected to represent the members of the University that the Dean should have been consulting with. And yet, as far as I know (do correct me if I’m wrong here), none of those unions were contacted either prior to or after the announcement of the proposal so that consultation could occur. Instead of being approached for our opinion, we had to come to him with it, through endless petitions and emails, protests and rallying. The amount of grief and frustration that everyone involved had to go through to have our voices heard by the dean is completely unacceptable, especially when he claims that a consultative process was followed and that it is the reason why the school of languages and literatures is no more.

It was not the dean that consulted with us, it was us who were forced to try to voice our opinion in creative ways as we spent months of our time trying desperately to save our department, time that should have been spent focused on the academic endeavours we came to this school to engage in (both faculty and students alike). If we had been consulted properly before the Dean announced his plan, he would have found out that there would be widespread opposition, and it would have saved not only us but also him an incredible amount of time and energy. Let’s just say that last November at that student academic planning meeting, if we had known that he was considering shutting down our department and sending our faculty members to History or Anthropology or Philosophy, we wouldn’t have been complaining about waitlists and lack of course variety. We would have been protesting.

For this reason, we should not be thanking the Dean for “consulting” with us, and deciding not to carry out with an unpopular and widely opposed plan to disestablish world reknowned departments and form a collaborative school with no intellectional rationale, that was unlikely to bring in any money for the university. Instead, we should be demanding better and more democratic consultation in the future – consultation that includes the representative unions of those affected, and that occurs before a plan is officially announced, which would save everyone the pain and trouble of having to fight for their department.

Faculty department meetings and two town halls should not be the only requirements needed in order for a Dean to disestablish departments at this university. We need to change the way decision making happens here, and ensure that our programs aren’t in danger in the future of being removed from our course calendars without proper consultation. Students, faculty, and staff members are the foundation of this university, and we should be demanding policies that ensure transparent and democratic decision making about issues that affect our education, our jobs, and our future. We must not accept the status quo, or we will be doomed to find ourselves in a similar position again in the future. Right now, nothing is stopping the Dean from creating a new Academic Plan next year that proposes the disestablishment of any number of departments. We have only prolonged the lifespan of our department temporarily. We must safeguard the quality of our education by stressing the need for real change and demanding required consultation for any such future planning procedure. If we do not take action now and form a collective movement to call for democratic decision making at this university, then we have not really saved EAS. Without the guarantee of proper consultation in the future, the EAS department is still, undeniably, in danger.

– Julianne Kelso

PS. To read the whole memo from the Dean, see here.

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