Winter 2013
Letters to the Editor

Readers weigh in on education, intrafaith dialogue, and women’s contributions to the university

Quiet Pride
The Autumn 2012 issue was one of your best yet. I particularly enjoyed the Q & A with U of T’s new chancellor, Michael Wilson (“Blue and White Pride”). Mr. Wilson served well as the Canadian ambassador in Washington, and I’m sure he will serve U of T with the same good sense and quiet pride.

The Q & A about the War of 1812 with UTM history professor Jan Noel was succinct yet impressively broad in its scope and references. I was raised on Laura Secord (both the chocolates and the history), but I hadn’t thought that a British loss in the War of 1812 might have made me an American. Noel is correct that pondering past experiences and their significance deepens our own understanding of the world.

The Sage of Bay Street,” by John Lorinc, about economist and strategist David Rosenberg, is an outstanding and cautionary tale. Let’s hope Canadians are paying attention.

Lynne Calderwood
MA 2000, Cambridge, Ontario

Education Should Be a Right
President David Naylor has completely missed the point of the Quebec student protests over university tuition. And to argue that low tuition fees restrict access is disingenuous (“Accessible Excellence,” Autumn 2012).

Education should be a right of citizenship. Countries with fully state-funded education, which in most cases also includes a living stipend, have rigorous entrance exams to ensure the best, brightest and most motivated students gain admission regardless of social status.

With regards to Mr. Naylor’s story, I am glad that Wendy Cecil obtained her degree, but what an appalling example. Does Mr. Naylor really want to turn the university into a Dickensian institution where student opportunities are at the capricious whim of alumni donations or the passing humour of an administrator? Does he really think the best way to give underprivileged students access to higher education is to have them come, cap in hand at the end of each year, asking “Please sir, can I stay in school?” This is outrageous!

Federal transfers and provincial allocations for education have been on the wane for years. Mr. Naylor should be lobbying hard to reverse the trend until the goal of fully state-funded education, with rigorous entrance criteria, is achieved – not only for the benefit of the students and society, but also for the schools themselves. With increasing reliance on corporate and alumni donations for funding, the integrity of the university, already tarnished, is further diminished.

Martin Gagne
BASc 1984, Toronto

Tuition Reductions Not an Answer
The question with respect to tuition fees and accessibility to higher education is whether we want to go with our gut – mine used to say that lowering tuition fees would improve accessibility – or use the best available evidence to inform policy (“Accessible Excellence”). If we agree that accessibility, high participation rates and social mobility are valuable goals, and we look at the best available evidence, then we are likely to come to the same conclusion that the university has come to – that is, tuition reductions are not necessarily the answer.

Obviously there is a limit to how high tuition should go, and in programs such as medicine there is no relationship between participation rates and tuition fees.

But for undergraduate programs, the policy of maintaining a reasonable tuition fee while ensuring adequate loans and grants for those who come from families with limited financial means is the most sensible option.

Irfan Dhalla
Professor, Department of Medicine,
University of Toronto

Intrafaith Dialogue Needed
The new Muslim Studies program described in “Leap of Faith” (Autumn 2012) will doubtless serve to aid the growth of interfaith tolerance between Canadian Christians and Muslims. From a global perspective, however, it is tragic that no such initiative is being undertaken between Sunni and Shiite Muslims; the welfare of millions, and the stability of the entire Middle East and much of Asia is at stake.

Paul Van Loan
BA 1957, MA 1958, Santa Cruz, California

Islam and Secularism
With respect to “Leap of Faith,” about a new Muslim Studies program at Emmanuel College, it seems to me that the more pertinent conversation should be between Islam and secularism. We are, after all, a predominantly secular society, and Islam’s agenda is political, not simply religious. I therefore do not see the overriding significance of an “interfaith” dialogue and what this is supposed to accomplish.

Mike Scapillato
BA 1972 UTSC, Toronto

In Praise of Librarians
I greatly enjoyed reading “The Feminist Revolution at U of T” (Summer 2012). I understand that it is not possible to include all of the achievements of women as students and faculty members over the years. At the same time, it appears that women associated with the Library School, now the Faculty of Information, are rarely mentioned. Winifred Barnstead and Bertha Bassam, the first two directors, have had a lasting impact on the development of librarianship (a “woman’s profession”) in Ontario. Nonetheless, their efforts in providing employment opportunities for women outside of teaching and clerical work are rarely acknowledged in discussions of women’s history at the university.

Agatha Barc

Masters of Language
When I was growing up in Toronto, the Fryes were quite often at our house – my father taught philosophy at Victoria College from 1945 until his death in 1965. Northrop Frye, whom you featured recently (“Frye’s Anatomy,” Spring 2012), seemed austere, although not unfriendly. However, his wife, Helen, was wonderful and took an interest in my struggles at high school. I always felt better after talking with her.

Jeffery Donaldson, one of Frye’s former students (now a professor at McMaster University), has created a beautiful description of the scholar in his poem “Museum,” from the collection Palilalia (2008). Read it and come away simply in awe of what language in the hands of a master can do.

Allan Irving
PhD 1983, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania

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