Autumn 2010 / Life on Campus
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.


Reader Comments

# 1
Posted by Darcy on September 21st, 2010 @ 6:33 pm

This article rightly states that many students and faculty have criticized this new plan, however it neglects mention any of their arguments — the only voice we hear is the Dean’s. This is an egregious oversight, in my opinion. As an aside, the protest is not merely among students and faculty “in the affected departments” — in fact, general disapproval of the Dean’s proposal has spread internationally. Those who would like to hear the other side of the argument can check out the web pages the writer mentions. Since no links to those sites were provided, here they are:

http://savecomplit.ca/Home.html

http://saveeastasianstudies.wordpress.com/

http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/centre-for-ethics.html

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=140492929295640

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Save-Comp-Lit-at-U-of-T/128346170533811?ref=ts

# 2
Posted by Ryan on September 22nd, 2010 @ 6:36 am

It should be noted, regarding the dean’s comment that the academic plan would “retain graduate education and research” in comparative literature, that not a single specialist in comparative literature sees the plan’s “collaborative option” as viable. This is true not only at U of T (where comp-lit members are accused of merely trying to save their positions) but among comparatists around the world. The Dean has received hundreds of letters, from virtually every major figure in the discipline, explaining to him that his proposal is ill-considered and unworkable—that he has failed to understand the disciplines he is rearranging. He continues to ignore all counsel from specialists and professionals. (These letters are available on the web site http://www.savecomplit.ca.)

He also received an open letter signed by more than 40 of his own program directors in Arts and Sciences, explaining that town halls were not considered adequate consultation and outlining in great detail a proposal for meaningful consultation. The letter was never answered, and the Dean has now proposed…town-hall meetings for consultation. This is an outrageous gesture. (The open letter can be read at http://www.academicplan.ca.)

The fact remains: The dean’s academic plan faces nearly unanimous opposition across Arts and Sciences (not merely among the affected departments). The fact remains: Not a single intellectual figure at U of T has publicly endorsed the plan, while numerous figures have publicly denounced it. Please attend the town halls (however inadequate they may be as consultation forums) and demand that the dean listen to his constituency.

# 3
Posted by Ryan on September 22nd, 2010 @ 8:52 am

The article also fails to mention that the University of Toronto Faculty Association (UTFA), which represents teaching faculty from all disciplines, has filed a grievance against the Arts and Sciences administration for its violations of university governance principles. Information about the grievance can be found at http://www.academicplan.ca.

# 4
Posted by Paula on September 22nd, 2010 @ 1:56 pm

Not only has the dean’s academic plan met with much more than “some” criticism (see the approximately 6,400 signatures on the “Save CompLit” petition, http://www.savecomplit.cam, not to mention the letters and other petitions), but the plan provides no details as to how the programs will be maintained in this new format. Courses that are unique to the affected centres will not be replaced or reformatted, as far as the plan details show. Students in those centres are uncertain as to their potential new degree-granting programs, and questions such as “Will the new department ask students from the former centres to satisfy their program requirements as well as the original program departments” remain unanswered.

If the new School of Languages and Literatures will “give a higher profile to its component programs,” why is it that the decision to exclude other departments from the School will “preserve the university’s proud legacy in this field,” according to Dean Gertler? As the other comments to this article express, experts in the fields affected expect that the amalgamation will in fact diminish U of T’s research capabilities and its reputation internationally.

While this article mentions the town halls as consultation, it fails to mention that certain aspects of the academic plan seem to have already been implemented. Latin American Studies, for example, currently stands without a director, although the plan is technically yet-to-be approved.

Information has been scarce, especially information pertaining to the budget. Hopefully the consultation process will shed light on some of the reasoning behind the academic plan and take into account the many voices that have been raised since its release in July.

# 5
Posted by Lukasz on September 24th, 2010 @ 8:57 am

I don’t see how closing these graduate units – whose students work really hard on passing on their knowledge and research enthusiasm onto undergraduate students they teach at the university – will improve the “learning experience for undergraduates.” Maybe it will also improve the weather in Toronto. Why not? Everything seems possible when we apply chaos theory to academic planning…

# 6
Posted by Athena Lam HBA%202009 on September 30th, 2010 @ 12:25 pm

I have been waiting for this article ever since I heard friends still at U of T mentioning it in June. Unfortunately, the article is biased and disappointing.

I graduated with a specialist in East Asian Studies (EAS), and proudly acknowledge that U of T is tops in Canada in this field, and definitely a leader in North America.

The acting chair of the East Asian Studies department states that EAS is beset with none of the challenges facing the other departments to be amalgamated (EAS has strong undergraduate enrollment and may well by the largest EAS programs in North America.) See this link for the chair’s full letter to the dean of arts and science about the academic plan: http://academicplan.ca/2010/08/18/letter-from-prof-thomas-keirstead-to-the-dean/

Amalgamation is a budget issue. How can one ever suggest that budget-cutting is beneficial to the affected departments?

The university’s first priority should be to serve as a world-leading academic institution. Its strength lies in the diversity of its offerings and the depth of each individual department. The School of Languages and Literatures is an umbrella term that will benefit none of the member departments, and instead set them against each other to vie for limited resources. If the departments wanted to cooperate, they would do it themselves. Indeed one of the great things about U of T is its interdisciplinary offerings.

This amalgamation suggests that the university no longer values all of its academic departments. It seems to no longer care about comparative literature — one of the pillars of the U of T brand, thanks to Northrop Frye. It seems to no longer cares about EAS, which leads the development of EAS in North America and produces a steady stream of innovative scholars.

It seems to no longer care about academic diversity or the departments that don’t generate as much income as the professional schools, such as Rotman, pharmacy, and medicine. Has the university become a fully business-minded institution? It’s worth bearing in mind that U of T is heavily government-funded. It has a responsibility to taxpayers.

I give U of T full credit for equipping me with superb academic and life skills and broad-based knowledge. But I have no intention of associating myself with an institution that values budget over academic calibre.

I find the university’s administrative decisions increasingly unilateral and insensitive to the academic community it is supposed to be serving. U of T administrators might want to take a look at what the university is appreciated for: a world-class library collection; a vast diversity of programs, including pioneering niche programs such as Sexual Diversity Studies, the Munk School, incredible resources for students such as the Athletic Centre and Hart House, state-of-the-art research and innovation, and high-calibre faculty. These are the reasons I went to U of T, and why I would recommend U of T to others.

I hope the administration will seriously reconsider the amalgamation of these departments. Either find more funding, or scale back on things such as marketing to high schools. U of T will always have enough undergraduate applications if it is renowned for its quality.

# 7
Posted by Holger on October 6th, 2010 @ 1:36 am

“It seems to no longer care about academic diversity or the departments that don’t generate as much income as the professional schools, such as Rotman, pharmacy, and medicine.”

This is a common, if understandable, misconception. Neither Rotman nor the Faculty of Medicine are net contributors to the university’s budget, but receive money to sustain their operations. The same is true of the law school and a number of other professional faculties. The point about responsibility to taxpayers, on the other hand, is well taken, and particularly pertinent here given that it is faculties such as Arts and Science that generate the most revenue, including government funds.

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