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A Faculty Looks Ahead

Arts and Science proposal would enhance undergraduate learning and eliminate deficit, says dean

Photo by Derek Shapton

The Faculty of Arts and Science will host two town hall meetings this fall to discuss an academic plan that proposes to combine several departments into a new School of Languages and Literatures, and reorganize other areas.

Dean Meric Gertler says the measures will help the division eliminate its $22-million annual deficit, and allow it to invest in the learning experience of the faculty’s 26,000 undergraduate and 4,000 graduate students. “This is about enhancing the quality of our programs,” he says.

Released in July, the five-year academic plan has met with some criticism from students and faculty in the affected departments. Groups have started Facebook pages and petitions to oppose changes to the Centre for Ethics, the Centre for Comparative Literature and the East Asian Studies program.

Gertler says these groups will have an opportunity to express their concerns at public meetings in September. He notes that in the past five years, the faculty has added 15 academic units. He emphasizes that the proposal would not eliminate any undergraduate programs. “We are still looking to offer unparalleled breadth to students, but reduce the costs of doing so,” he says.

Resources devoted to the Centre for Ethics, for example, would shift into teaching social and ethical responsibility throughout the undergraduate curriculum. The Centre for Comparative Literature would cease to exist as a standalone centre, but the faculty is proposing to retain graduate education and research in comparative literature. Degrees would be issued by other departments, such as English or French. “We plan to preserve the university’s proud legacy in this field,” says Gertler.

He adds that the faculty’s deficit is forcing difficult choices. “The faculty needs to re-examine the scope of what it does. We can’t afford to do everything, and we certainly can’t afford to do everything well,” he says. In addition to cutting costs, the committee that prepared the academic plan is proposing strategies to generate more revenue. The plan calls for a 25 per cent increase in international undergraduate enrolment by 2015. (International students pay higher fees than domestic students.) The faculty is also phasing in a flat fee structure, which will require full-time students to pay a “program” fee rather than a “per-course” fee.

With these changes, Gertler expects to have the funds to invest in a better learning experience for undergraduates. In particular, the academic plan proposes to create more small-group, first-year programs along the lines of the hugely successful Trin One and Vic One; additional writing instruction; new first-year “big ideas” courses that take advantage of the breadth of the faculty’s course offerings; and more research opportunities and international learning experiences. An expected increase in the number of graduate students will allow for smaller undergraduate tutorial sessions. As well, Gertler says he expects the School of Languages and Literatures to give a higher profile to its component programs and provide its faculty members with more opportunities for collaboration.

After the town hall meetings and further consultation this fall, the dean’s office will draft formal recommendations for U of T’s Governing Council.

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