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What’s going on?

On Wednesday, June 23, Prof. Meric Gertler, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science at the University of Toronto, announced to the chairs of the Departments of East Asian Studies, German, Italian, Slavic, and Spanish & Portuguese, that their departments would be dissolved and consolidated into a new School of Languages and Literatures (SLL). The following Monday, the Centre for Comparative Literature was added to the programs to be closed and relocated.

These closures and the formation of the new School are among the recommendations contained in an academic plan for the Faculty of Arts and Science meant to cover the next five years. The formulation of the academic plan began last fall, when the Dean’s office called upon all units in the Faculty to submit their own plans for the five-year period. Context for these plans was supplied by a document issued by the Dean in October. A nine-member Strategic Planning Committee (SPC) headed by the Dean and composed of members of the Dean’s office and representatives of the faculty was struck to evaluate the units’ submissions. This committee met, without further input or consultation, throughout the Winter and Spring, finally delivering its recommendations on July 14, as the Faculty of Arts & Science Academic Plan, 2010-2015. Crucial details, however, are available only in the individual responses sent to departments by the SPC in late June; these have not been made public.

What the Proposal Means

1.  The Department of East Asian Studies will be dissolved. Members of the department who are not specialists in languages and literature will be reassigned to other units. The University of Toronto will lose its only unit dedicated to teaching and researching the great humanistic traditions of East Asia, and the university will become the only major research institution in North America that does not have an autonomous department of East Asian Studies. The U of T will have an institutional profile in this important field more appropriate for a small liberal arts college, not a world leader in research in the humanities.

2.  Existing students will have difficulty finding courses to meet graduation requirements, and future students who might want to study East Asian languages and cultures in an integrated program will not be able to do so. They will have to cobble together a program of study from the occasional offerings of a number of departments.

3.  Donors will not be able to invest in the development of a program in East Asian humanities. With East Asianists scattered across a number of departments, there will be no institutional focus tied to a strong teaching program. Already, major donors have expressed strong reservations, calling the proposed school a “setback” in our efforts to nurture a new generation of East Asian experts.

4.  The proposed school imposes an artificial and Eurocentric division on the study of East Asian humanities. Literature in the East Asian context encompasses history and philosophy and religion, as well as the imaginative texts commonly labeled ‘literature’ in the West. Divorcing the study of East Asian languages and literature from the study of East Asian history, religion, philosophy, and other arts, the Dean’s plans will harm the study of all aspects of the humanities.

“There seems to be an assumption coming out of the Dean’s Office that if the proposed changes go through (and count me in the camp that hopes the Dean has an enlightened change of mind) that somehow the current EAS degree can either be transferred in toto to the new Lang and Lit school or be reconstituted in toto as some sort of collaborative program.  This is simply not the case. While we have no idea what will happen to most of our faculty — dispersal among departments seems to be the most common rumor — the elimination of the EAS Dept. cannot but mean the termination of the undergrad EAS degree as it is now defined.  Perhaps there will be a new EAS Lang. and Lit. degree (though I doubt there are enough faculty to sustain it) or perhaps the Asia Pacific degree (which is already a collaborative/interdisplinary program) will need to absorb more — alot more — students that would otherwise have done an EAS major. Whatever the case, these changes will have a serious impact on future generations of students’ frame for studying EAS. That is part of the result of this plan for reconfiguration.” – Professor Andre Schmid

For the Dean’s full report on the Faculty of Arts and Science Five Year Plan, click here. For the accompanying memo, click here.

To see the full membership list of the Strategic Planning Committee, see here.

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