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Lecturer “not interested” in teaching works of queer, female, or Chinese writers

David Gilmour’s comments draw criticism from administration, students’ union

By Zane Schwartz
Published: 2:50 am, 30 September 2013
Modified: 12 am, 2 October 2013
Vol CXXXIV, No. 05 under
Students protesting David Gilmour's comments outside Victoria College festooned the statue of Northrop Frye. DENIS OSIPOV/THE VARSITY
UPDATED

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.

  • Greggore

    What Gilmore is guilty of is how he explained his syllabus not what the content is. There are other classes at U of T that have women prof’s teaching women’s only content taken by women, yet where is the article for those classes?

    Gilmore would have done better if he explained that the common relationship for the content that he teaches, is that most of the authors are middle-aged men.

    He has every write to teach what he excels in, and he was honest and straight forward that these are the books that he loves and knows well. Makes sense to me but obviously people are looking for offense.

    If anyone protests his class, they better be sure that there are no classes being taught at U of T that excludes content from men. And there are, many classes.

  • Bahram Farzady

    Some context to the Gilmour quote:

    “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… What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. ”

    He also said he hasn’t found ANY Canadian writers he truly truly loves before he said this. Also, wasn’t Proust gay (he’d mentioned Proust as one of his favourite authors)? I mean, you can’t even agree with this guy. His opinion is internally contradictory. If he has some issue with the force-feeding of mediocre female, Canadian, gay and/or Chinese writers to students, than why didn’t he just say that? I think that was his point, but he went about it in such a round-about way, I’m really unsure. Also, I mean, Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, etc. all of these homosexual guys are not truly loveable authors? Jane Austen? Margaret Atwood (two birds–female/Canadian)?

    Putting his absurd and incoherent opinion aside, if this were some sort of a ‘safe, inclusive learning environment’ issue than only the immigrant, heterosexual, male (non-Chinese) students should feel comfortable in his classroom. Clearly that’s an unidentifiable enough group from his perspective that this is a non-issue (I guess unless they write about their story of coming to Canada from Russia and their lust for women).

    Also, is UTSU wanting to have him fired over this? Do they want to have the administration change his syllabus? Exactly what outrageous violation of his freedoms are they calling for?

  • Tom Lincoln

    This is the biggest non-issue I have ever heard. Seriously, how many of the people who are so offended by this are even in English? They’re offended that a 300 level seminar has a very specific syllabus? That’s the point of seminars! It’s up to the professor what goes on the syllabus. From what I’m reading, people are angry that a single professor in the enormous English faculty says he doesn’t like to teach certain authors. That to me is an indication of a fundamental lack of understanding of just how narrow some of the upper classes get, or why they are that way.
    Professor Gilmour’s class is offering a certain perspective on Love Sex and Death in Short Fiction. It’s as simple as that. There are many perspectives on that issue. Some come from women. Some come from Chinese writers. Mr Gilmour has decided to teach a perspective of a different demographic of writers because those are the ones he likes. There is no inherent problem in that. U of T offers an enormous selection of English courses that cater to just about everyone, while Mr Gilmour is being selective of authors, not the students he teaches. Only then would there be a problem.
    That said, I don’t think anyone would disagree that he could have chosen his words a lot better. From I’ve read he comes across as crass, condescending, and generally disrespectful of the writers he’s mentioned. All he was really saying though was that those writers didn’t fit his syllabus. But again, that shouldn’t matter.
    To try to censor a professor or try to force him to teach certain authors is offensive and dangerous. There’s a reason why U of T has one of the best English departments in the world, and hopefully ridiculous controversies like this will not scare off other great professors.

    • Name

      He teaches 1st and 2nd year survey classes, and the issue is that people who are not white, straight men might find his classes uncomfortable, knowing the severity of his opinions

      • Bahram Farzady

        So, feel uncomfortable. That gets to happen.

      • Marzipan Wiley

        Have we really reached the point where we can’t allow students to feel “uncomfortable”? And why would they? Gilmour didn’t say a thing about hating women or Asians. He said he would teach what he loved. Why would that make anyone “uncomfortable”??? Are we raising a generation of babies or a generation of leaders??

    • Bahram Farzady

      It’s not the biggest non-issue, but it’s up there.

  • Marzipan Wiley

    If a female professor had said, “I’ll only teach the works I love, none of which were written by men,” nobody would say a word. In fact, she’d be lauded by female students — and male students who want to get into those female students’ pants. This is political correctness at its absolute worst.

  • Phyllis

    What Gilmour is guilty of is being offered and taking a job in a foundational program that literally gives its instructors creative freedom to the point where they design the syllabus and its materials to instruct whatever they please. As an alumnus of the program in another stream, my professors were informed of the general theme of each stream and told to teach anything they want in relation to it. Students joining the program are not coming exclusively to take Gilmour’s class nor are they (or should be) entering with the expectation/pretense that he will teach a curriculum catering to their preferences in a non-bias manner. Should they wish to investigate certain aspects of English, Literature, etc., they are in no way bound to this course and are free to enrol in lectures that go into depth on subjects they wish to explore. If they are made uncomfortable they should realize they’re understanding the course as he’s trying to invoke you into telling him what you think (it’s a seminar course where you can tell him any thoughts you want)! If I actually gave two hair-follicles-of-Chekhov’s-beard, I would write a lot more but I just had to vent because seeing the unjustified uproar was just downright ridiculous. People blowing this way over the top should (ironically) grow a pair.

  • Laura

    The point people seem to be missing is that there is no way it’s mere coincidence that a man exposed to so much literature could possibly happen to dislike everything he’s ever read that was authored by a woman or person of colour, with but one exception. There is simply no way.

    It’s nonsense to accept this as a mere “preference” from someone in a literary profession. It is absolutely prejudice, I don’t understand how that’s debatable. Unless anyone would like to admit that they also think women and people of colour are poorer quality writers? (And please, don’t embarrass yourself by admitting that publicly.)

    • Bahram Farzady

      Why don’t you mention Canadian writers, all of whom he also happens to not think are ‘truly truly loveable?’

      He didn’t say he dislikes them. He just said they don’t rise to the level of something you can read and learn from over and over again.

      There’s probably some prejudice there (so? is that illegal?), but as I wrote, I think this was just his way of challenging the promotion of only female, queer, etc. writers over the clearly superior male writers of the last 6000 years (or since whenever writing was invented).

    • Bahram Farzady

      ‘Also, It is absolutely prejudice,’ is a sentence. You divided two different thoughts (i.e. sentences) with a comma (splice).

      Also, that you don’t understand how something is debatable does not mean it is not debatable. If everything we discussed had to fit inside your puny female mind, we’d only ever get to talk about tanning salons and manicures.