Grievances continued to be voiced by students and faculty at the second town hall hosted by the Faculty of Arts and Science. The event, held by Dean Meric Gertler, was organized to solicit feedback on the 40-page academic plan published in June.
In similar fashion to the first town hall held on September 23, Gertler opened with a presentation on his 2010-2015 plan before inviting questions and comments from the half-full auditorium at OISE. The queue for questions formed before the event started. Guests discussed the process that led to the plan’s creation, the proposed School of Languages and Literatures, and the fate of interdisciplinary and regional studies.
Faculty and students who attended criticized the proposed plan for being launched without properly consulting faculty, staff, and students. Mohammad Tavokoil, faculty member of the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, claimed that disrespect for shared governance has eroded faculty confidence of the university.
“[This process] has undermined the authority of the chairs and the program directors, has demoralized the faculty, and has created a great deal of uncertainty amongst our students, staff, librarians, and donors,” said Tabokoil.
Gertler responded by saying he viewed the discussions that began in September as “an opportunity to rebuild the kind of community spirit and trust within the faculty, so that people do feel that they are fully engaged in the process of plan-making.”
Gertler reaffirmed that initial timelines set forth in the plan would be delayed and that his faculty will give the consultation process “as much time as is needed in order for people to feel that they have had adequate opportunity to express themselves.” Gertler invited suggestions for alternatives to make the faculty “avoid having to make the same structural changes” proposed in the plan.
UTSU VP University Affairs Maria Galvez criticized the consultation process. “Asking for, listening to, and then ignoring our concerns is not what I would call consultation,” she said, mirroring UTSU President Adam Awad’s statement from the previous town hall that the lack of student consultation was insulting.
In response to Galvez, Gertler claimed consultation already took place during this spring’s department-planning process. “When departments were being asked to formulate their own plans, there was a very important bottom-up consultation process that each unit engaged in and we made it very clear…that it was incumbent on them to consult widely.”
Most of the opposition voiced surrounded the proposed amalgamation of area studies departments.
“Not a single one of the departments…recommended for disillusion had suggested in its [department planning] that a School of Languages and Literatures was a good idea,” responded German department chair John Zilcosky. Chairs of each department slated for the school (Comparative Literature, German, East Asian, Spanish and Portuguese, and Slavic studies) sent an open letter to the faculty after learning about the proposal.
Zilcosky further criticized the faculty for only informing departments of the proposed plan in June. “The chairs, and in fact the entire departments, only heard about this proposed school for the very first time in late June, when we chairs were called to the dean’s office and informed that we would be part of a working group to recommend how to implement the structure of this school.”
“So far, there has been no demonstration that the so-called School of Languages and Literatures is intellectually and academically compelling. Moreover, there has been no demonstration that the new school is viable economically or budgetarilly [sic],” said Ken Kawashima, undergraduate co-ordinator for East Asian Studies.
“I don’t think that the consensus is clear that the notion of such schools is by definition intellectually bankrupt,” said Gertler amid heckles from the crowd. Gertler was noncommittal as to whether the proposed school would ever be implemented. “There is…every possibility we will never have a School of Languages and Literatures if we can find other ways for the faculty to meet these particular needs and goals.”
“You may be surprised, Dean Gertler, to note how many students in this university — and how many of your colleagues — are sincerely of the opinion that if there is a budgetary crisis here, then the best way to address [this is by looking at] what many people [see as] an overly top-heavy administration,” said John Noyes, faculty member of the German department. Noyes was amongst a group of faculty who defended autonomous interdisciplinary programs while taking aim at the size of the U of T’s largest faculty.
Kawashami took a more radical view, accusing the plan of attempting to marginalize students. “We can only conclude that the real intent of the plan is to create new administrative structures that will justify the already excessive number of administrative staff in the dean’s office, promote directors, diminish the authority of departmental chairs, sideline and marginalize faculty staff, librarians, and students, and ultimately accelerate a monopolization of administrative authority based on vertical power structures.”
Gertler was quick to defend the size of his faculty. “If you look at the numbers and make comparisons to other public sector agencies and the private sector, you’ll find that this institution is incredibly thin and incredibly lean.
“We’d like to have a leaner operation, not one that has more layers…the whole rationale was trying to find ways to minimize the amount we spend on administration and maximize the amount that goes into the classroom.”