In Spite of Concerns, U of T Keeps Flirting with SLLUT
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In Spite of Concerns, U of T Keeps Flirting with SLLUT

“I am really looking forward to this,” Meric Gertler, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science, told an audience of University of Toronto students, staff, and faculty Thursday afternoon at the first in a series of “town hall” forums to discuss the widespread changes being proposed in his faculty. It was one of those The Onion–esque moments where the line between irony and sincerity is impossible to discern.
Back in July, during the down time of the university’s sleepy summer session, the Faculty of Arts and Science’s strategic planning committee introduced what is now known, ominously, as The Academic Plan—a set of proposed changes designed to claw the faculty out of the financial mire it finds itself in. At the forefront of the proposed cash-saving measures is the amalgamation of several departments into a single School of Languages and Literatures, bestowed with the acronym SLLUT (School of Languages and Literatures at U of T) by word-witty members of the Centre for Comparative Literature.

In the months since Torontoist broke the story, protest has been widespread. Most vocal has been the outcry from the Department of East Asian Studies, the Centre for Ethics, and the Centre for Comparative Literature; the department is slated for SLLUT-dom, and the centres are each threatened with closure. The Centre for Comparative Literature launched a campaign that has garnered letters from intellectual big-wigs across the world and a petition nearly 6,500 signatures strong.
The message from the students and faculty who lined up for three-minute slots at the microphone last Thursday afternoon was consistently one of frustration. While those speaking up remain disconcerted by the plan’s content, more distressing has been the process, which they said has lacked transparency and adequate consultation with affected parties. Repeatedly, students and faculty at the microphone asked Dean Gertler for hard financial evidence supporting the proposed changes. Many, they point out, have been asking him for these numbers for months without response. “Even on a good day, we receive a lot of mail at the Dean’s office,” Gertler quipped to a chorus of boos.
Gertler maintains that the faculty is open to alternatives to the Academic Plan, so long as those alternatives work within the constraints of the strategic planning committee’s assessment. Not everyone opposes the proposal, he added. “There is a lot of support,” he said. “It just hasn’t come to the fore in a publicly visible way yet.” The difference between a room full of people chuckling and a room full of people snickering is one of tone.
Whatever consultation these town hall meetings offer, it is, quite simply, too little too late. Stakeholders are being asked to make amendments to an already existing proposal, and they must do so without the benefit of the data on which the proposal stands. As long as the faculty provides students with inadequate information, the system within which proposed structural changes are happening will remain closed.
“We have never faced such pressing challenges before,” Gertler said. “The status quo is not sustainable.”
This may well be true: U of T has long enjoyed the comfortable quo of a prestigious status, and without funding, that reputation will not hold. The Academic Plan proposed by the dean’s office is a desperate one for desperate times: what’s insulting is that, behind closed doors, it was re-imagined as something anywhere close to beneficial to the university.
The second Faculty of Arts and Science town hall will be held in the main auditorium at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, 252 Bloor Street West, on Monday, September 27, from 4 to 6 p.m.
Suzannah Showler is enrolled in U of T’s Faculty of Arts and Science, in a department not directly affected by the proposed changes.
Photos by Lodoe-Laura Haines-Wangda/Torontoist