“Students currently in the EAs program will be able to complete their degrees; we will do everything to ensure that.” – Professor Andre Schmid

Q&A with Professor Keirstead

Notice: This Q&A reflects our understanding of the situation at the moment and may be modified in a near future.

1- How will the new changes affect undergraduate and graduate students this year?

No changes this year.

2- If this plan is implemented, how will this affect future undergraduate students who want to study, for instance, Chinese history and culture?

Courses on East Asia will certainly still be offered in the Faculty of Arts and Science. Students looking for Chinese (or Japanese or Korean) history will be able to find such courses in the history department. Of course, different departments have different procedures for controlling access to their classes, particularly advanced ones. Departments often need to reserve spaces in these courses for their majors and specialists, and it may well be the case that there are restrictions and prerequisites that would make it difficult for non-majors/specialists to enrol.

3- Would a U of T student wishing to pursue an academic career in East Asian Studies have enough credentials to do so after the move?

I would think so, though this would, of course, depend on the requirements of the school and of the individual programs within the school.

4- The School for  L&L has the set goal of improving the teaching of languages.  How would  East Asian language classes be bettered through this move?

I cannot see how the teaching of languages would be improved in any way by this amalgamation. Since the East Asia section of the school will have to compete with several other language groups, each of which is backed by larger numbers of faculty, it seems not unlikely that Chinese, Japanese, and Korean will have an even harder time securing the annual budget needed to offer a full program of instruction. Perhaps the Dean has in mind returning the administrative savings to be realized from the closure of the department to the East Asian language program, but nothing has been said about this possibility.

5- How will the plan affect classes specifically dealing with East Asian studies as a field (such as 102, 209, EAS Research Seminar)?

For the coming year, nothing will change. The Dean has pledged that all students currently enrolled in EAS programs will be able to complete their degrees in a timely manner. No details have been offered showing how this might be achieved. I have been in contact with the Assoc. Dean for Teaching and Learning, who tells me that such details would be worked out by the Working Group that will draw up recommendations for the school. As a matter of practicality, something will have to change. Most likely the EAS program will be revised in the coming years to become a more narrowly focused program in East Asian Languages and Literatures.

6- How will this affect graduate students?

Rob Baker, Assoc. Dean for graduate programs, has issued a memo to graduate students informing them of how the changes will affect them. Students who finish their degrees this year will see no changes. Existing students, including students beginning this fall, will “be able to graduate from [those programs] even after the existing departments have been disestablished. Your transcript will indicate the name of the new department [I think he means school, not department] and your current program.” So something like ”PhD in Languages and Literatures, specializing in East Asia,” it would seem.

7- Will Masters students still be able to finish their degree? Either this year, or in two years?

Yes, with the proviso mentioned above.

8- Would PhD students be transferred into a new department or their degree cancelled?

Those students whose supervisors are transferred to other departments. would follow their supervisors (I’m not sure the student would have any choice here). Their program requirements would remain those of the original, now defunct, department.

9- What about newly admitted PhD students?

Same goes for them.

10- How will this affect the close working relationships of professors and their research?

Could easily make it more difficult, with faculty spread across multiple departments and physically separated from one another.

11- Would new EAS faculty and staff be hired, or fired, due to the changes?

No faculty members (i.e., professors and lecturers) will lose their jobs; there will be fewer administrative staff positions. New hiring in the school would be worked out in a manner yet to be determined by the school as a whole. Individual programs within the school would have no authority to hire, nor would budget lines be attached to particular sub-units of the school. I have no idea what this would mean for future hires in the East Asia area.

12- The assistant-dean stressed that only the department will disappear, but not the “program.” What does that mean, and how will this affect EAS students?

We have told the associate dean that this is not a credible position. The EAS program will have to undergo significant changes. Cross-departmental collaborative programs at U of T tend to be much smaller than the EAS programs. For example, Latin American Studies has about 75 majors and minors; Literary Studies about 125 majors and specialists; Women and Gender Studies, a comparatively large interdisciplinary program, about 300.

13- If there is only a “program,” how will this affect professorial research and classes offered? Would the new department of a professor limit what he/she could teach, or allow him/her to teach the same type of classes he/she used to teach?

Research would probably be less affected than teaching. While no one can really force a faculty member to teach something they don’t want to, the small size of the remaining faculty will mean that fewer courses, especially advanced courses, will be offered by the East Asian program in the School of L&L. Faculty moved to other departments will face other pressures. Different departments have their own curricula that will need to be staffed, and they might, for example, require minimum levels of enrolment for a graduate class to proceed. Again, the likely outcome is fewer courses on East Asia, especially upper-level undergraduate and graduate courses.

14- How will the new plan affect resources allocated to classes on East Asia, either within the new school or in another department, such as History?

I have no idea. There has been no word of the resources to be allocated to the school–or to departments who take on EAS faculty.

15- How will this affect the credibility of East Asian Studies at U of T?

I don’t know. My hunch is that EAS will lose considerable credibility, especially as an institution for graduate education. McGill, UBC, and Alberta will seem preferable places to pursue graduate training.

16- Would an East Asian Program at U of T be less credible than an East Asian Studies Department?

Yes. Any EAS program will have to be pieced together from multiple departments, no one body will have the authority to compel faculty to offer courses needed for the program. It will become an ad hoc program.

At the same time, any EA languages and literatures program offered within the school will have such glaring holes (no one in premodern Japanese literature; no one offering modern Chinese literature) that it will not be able to offer a credible program.

17- If so, why would only a program and/or interdisciplinary program not be possible or worth it at U of T?

An interdisciplinary EAS program might well be possible, but it would have to be much smaller than the current EAS major.

18- What does this mean for EASSU (the undergraduate student union)?

There will probably be a single student union for the entire school.

19- What does this mean for the graduate student union, EASGSU?

Same as above.

20- What does this mean for ON EAST and the East Asia Forum, namely the undergraduate and graduate peer-reviewed academic journals?

These will, I think, continue. The funding for these activities does not come through the department.

21- Why are the justifications for this plan illogical?

The stated reasons for amalgamation (low enrolments, small numbers of majors, lack of critical mass of faculty) do not apply to EAS, and the harm done to our integrated approach to East Asian humanities would be serious.

22- Why would the EAS Department’s inclusion into the new school be an anomaly?

We are not a language and literature dept, and even our so-called “literature” specialists were trained in multi- and inter-disciplinary departments. East Asian languages are fundamentally different from most European languages in difficulty and therefore in the amount of time needed to attain reasonable fluency. We do not, therefore teach classes using texts in the original languages, which is a regular practice in the other departments.

23- What makes the EAS Department so different from the proposed EAS program within the School of L&L?

Professors Poole and Feng put it well: “The department is distinguished by its integration of historical, religious and literary studies into one unit.  Scholars working and teaching in the department move comfortably through questions that are associated with history, art history, literature and critical theory.  “Literary studies” in the 21st century are no longer considered a subsidiary of language study, but a realm for philosophical and cultural inquiry more akin to intellectual and cultural history.  The framework of “languages and literatures” is antiquated, describing neither what we do nor, crucially, what our students, both undergraduate and graduate, wish to study.”

  1. Philip Mason says:

    This interview makes me want to cry. They’re axing one of the best programs in the school at a time when East Asia is on a significant upswell in the name of saving money, yet what will be lost in prestige and subsequent potential donors? How many wealthy Asian patrons will now look towards UBC instead?

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