David Gilmour has come under fire in the past few days following an interview with Hazlitt, in which he indicated his preference for teaching the works of heterosexual male authors. The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) has criticized both Gilmour and the U of T administration’s response to the ongoing controversy. Gilmour is a sessional instructor at U of T.
“I’m not interested in teaching books by women. Virginia Woolf is the only writer that interests me as a woman writer, so I do teach one of her short stories. But once again, when I was given this job I said I would only teach the people that I truly, truly love. Unfortunately, none of those happen to be Chinese, or women,” said Gilmour in the Hazlitt interview.
In an email to The Varsity, Yollen Bollo-Kamara, the union’s vice-president, equity, stated: “David Gilmour’s comments were absolutely offensive and unconscionable. The University should take immediate action to ensure that concerns of hundreds of members of the university community are adequately addressed. We all have the right to a safe, inclusive learning environment.”
Scott Prudham, president of the University of Toronto Faculty Association, joined a number of university figures in distancing themselves from Gilmour’s statements: “These comments fail in the most fundamental way to respect and reflect the great cultural and intellectual diversity of this institution, this community, and the Faculty Association itself. While Mr. Gilmour may well choose the books he wants to teach based on his expertise as a teacher and a writer, one would hope he would choose his words more carefully in both capacities, not least out of respect for his colleagues and his students.”
Angela Esterhammer, an English professor and principal of Victoria College, praised Gilmour’s professional pedigree, describing him as a part-time instructor who “brings his professional accomplishments as a Governor General’s Award-winning novelist and film critic to his teaching role.” Esterhammer outlined the fact that Gilmour has since apologized to students and staff, and that many people, including the Victoria College administration, have stated that they do not share Gilmour’s views.
Esterhammer concluded by defending the course offerings at U of T, which she described as “without parallel” for their range and diversity: ”David Gilmour’s seminar ‘Love, Sex, and Death in Short Fiction’ is an optional course that students may take at Victoria College. It is one among hundreds of course offerings in literature at the University of Toronto and its Colleges, which include survey courses as well as small, focused seminars. These course offerings are incredibly diverse as to culture, gender, form, period, content, and approach.”
Thursday morning, roughly 50 students attended a rally at Victoria to show their support.
Andrea Day and Miram Novick, two U of T graduate students who organized the rally, called on attendees to “show [our] support for the omission of unserious people like women, queer folks, and writers of colour (especially Chinese writers) from university syllabi.”
U of T issued a statement Thursday outlining their stance on Gilmour’s statements: “One might hope that, in a university environment, teachers would encourage respectful airing of differences of opinion, and that, by airing their own views in a respectful way, they would encourage students to examine critically their own beliefs as well as those of their teachers and classmates.”
The statement outlined the fact that Gilmour has repeatedly apologized for his statements, and that the university had heard from students, faculty, and staff who were “dismayed” by his statements. “The University and Victoria College will also ensure that students in his class are under no misapprehensions that Mr. Gilmour’s literary preferences may be translated into assumptions about their innate abilities,” it read.
This statement also drew harsh criticism from the students’ union. “We are very disappointed in the statement released by the University this evening,” said Bollo-Kamara, “It is frustrating that the University does not acknowledge the impact that Mr. Gilmour’s words may have on the large part of our population who are women, Chinese, or do not identify as heterosexual.”
With files from Kate McCullough.