Due to dwindling enrolment, the South Asian Studies undergrad program is moving in with its graduate counterpart at the Munk Centre’s Asian Institute. Longer-term plans include eliminating SAS majors and specialists.
Starting September, the course-code prefix NEW for South Asian Studies courses offered from New College will be replaced by SAS. The change comes with a shift in the program’s priorities.
“This is a good time to rethink what we want the program to do,” said Chelva Kanaganayakam, program director of Munk’s grad program. “We feel the program should make [students] more competitive in the workplace.” He said the program should take the market into account.
“Undergrads who take this program are not necessarily going to do South Asian Studies as a career. They aren’t going to do an MA and a PhD in SAS and become professors. They might join an NGO, or a bank. What do they need?”
Kanaganayakam’s answer: a program that is “smaller and more robust.” With limited resources, some courses will have to go. Introductory Sanskrit will be axed next year. Intro to Bengali is on the chopping block after next year, pending community funding.
“Given our resources, do we put that money into languages, or do we offer more broad-based courses on certain topics that will lead to a coherent program?” asked Kanaganayakam.
“It has now become increasingly clear that South Asia is an important player in global economics […] I wonder, if students were given courses that dealt with current economic, political, and social concerns, would they respond to those courses more favourably?”
Kanaganayakam expressed hopes that better-attended courses will convince the community to come forward with funding for more courses. But for now, a draft of the centre’s four-year plan states that the major and specialist programs will be eliminated between 2011 and 2014. Such a move will require approval from the Faculty of Arts & Science Council.
The Peace and Conflict Studies program is also moving to Munk, though its offices will stay at University College for now.
Migration to the Munk Centre won’t solve SAS’s basic problem of not having its own department. The 25 South Asianists on campus are paid by various departments, whose priorities they have to consider ahead of the SAS centre.
SAS offers few courses itself, its major and specialist requirements comprising mostly courses from outside departments. Equity Studies, African Studies, and Caribbean Studies, which are among the programs that will remain at New College, face the same restrictions.
Alissa Trotz, director of Caribbean Studies, said that these programs all lack recognition from the Faculty of Arts & Science as “theory-producing” areas.
“Shoestring funding exists for programs like ours that are at odds with the demand for courses, which could be greater if we had more resources,” said Trotz.
“With the current financial climate, I don’t think we can go to the university and ask for more resources,” Kanaganayakam said. “It would be futile to even attempt something like that.”
For now, the rest of the New College programs are staying put. “We work well with our colleagues at the Munk,” said Trotz. “But Caribbean Studies is quite happy in New College at the moment. The kind of social justice and equity concerns that are at the heart of the New College intellectual mandate are also central to the Caribbean Studies program.”