The University of Toronto Students’ Union has weighed in on the ongoing David Gilmour controversy. Gilmour has come under fire over the past 48 hours following an interview with Hazlitt in which he indicated his preference for teaching the works of heterosexual male authors. Gilmour is a sessional instructor at U of T.
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 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, who is an english professor as well as the 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 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.”
This morning, roughly 50 students attended a rally at Victoria College to show their support: “for the omission of unserious people like women, queer folks, and writers of colour (especially Chinese writers) from university syllabi.”
The University of Toronto 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, it concluded:
“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.”
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