2010 Villain: The University of Toronto
Illustration by Chloe Cushman/Torontoist.
Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains—Toronto’s very best and very worst people, places, and things over the past twelve months. From December 13–17: the Villains! From December 20–24, the Heroes! And, from December 27–30, you can vote for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.
The University of Toronto started playing its cards wrong back in May. Without consulting faculty, staff, or students, the school’s administration announced, via memo, that it would be shutting down the downtown campus for a full seven days for the G20. Rather than taking the opportunity to be a site for debate, dialogue, and intellectual rigour in a time when this city could have used some, U of T backed away from being what a university ought to be.
One ill-advised choice anticipated another. As the university re-opened its doors, the Faculty of Arts and Science sent an email to a slate of centres and departments in the humanities, informing them that their future would not look as they’d expected.
Following up on a year-long planning exercise that had tarried in delivering its verdict, the FAS rolled out The Academic Plan—a strategy to chip into the faculty’s woeful fifty-five million dollar debt by lassoing the departments of East Asian Studies, Italian Studies, Germanic Languages and Literatures, Slavic Languages and Literatures, and Spanish and Portuguese into a single School of Languages and Literatures at U of T. The idea: the Babel-style school—later graced with the acronym SLLUT—would save cash by sharing courses, profs, and administrative overhead (read: cut jobs). Also included in the plan was a proposal to shutter the Centre for Comparative Literature founded forty years ago by Northrop Frye under the pretence that it would be embedded in SLLUT as a neutered, not-quite-degree-granting entity. The Centre for Ethics and the Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies were also given the kibosh.
The U of T community quickly realized that the proposal was a totally crap one, not least because it held to conservative, retrograde notions about interdisciplinarity and the role of the humanities. Protest was widespread and, ultimately, effective. As media interest in the story grew and an increasingly long list of bigwigs wrote letters and put their names onto petitions, U of T began to backtrack. They held two “townhall meetings” in which they opened the floor to concerned students, faculty, and staff. While those meetings were mostly exercises in deflection on the part of FAS Dean Meric Gertler, the administration ultimately did the right thing and returned to the Plan in search of other ways to handle the faculty’s financial problems.
We grant that desperate financial times call for, at the very least, the consideration of desperate measures. U of T, then, erred in manner more than deed: the lack of transparency surrounding its planning process, the hubris with which it laid out this Plan in the first place as though it was indisputable, the dishonesty with which it back-pedalled away from that word-is-law attitude later, and, finally and most offensively, its obstinate insistence that these changes were made in the name of academic excellence rather than a deplorable lack of capital, all served to turn U of T’s misstep from a blunder into a debacle. As the university considers service cuts in order to tackle its overall shortfall of $1.1-billion, we suggest that the University of Toronto fill up on a little humble pie over the holidays.
Suzannah Showler is a graduate student at the University of Toronto in a department that would not have been directly affected by the former Academic Plan.