Once & Future

Charlotte Ashley – Book seller, collector, writer, editor, historian

July 13, 2010

This Isn’t Specifically About Books

If you are at all connected to Academia in Toronto, you might have read one or both of these two reports about the University of Toronto’s proposal to amalgamate a number of their programs into one big “School of Languages and Literatures”.  We’re told this is some kind of utopian idea which will save $1.5 million while losing nothing but “administrative costs”.

U of T has been amalgamating classes and programs for some time now, and let me tell you what it looks like at ground zero:  Fewer classes are offered with higher enrolment caps.  Fewer professors teach with the help of more TAs (graduate or, sometimes, keener undergraduate students).  Imaginary degrees are offered which you can make up out of classes from diverse departments, but rarely can a cross-disciplinary degree student get space in other-department courses.  Money is the problem; no money to hire faculty or run departments so we all have to make do with fewer teachers, bigger classes, and slave-waged TAs and sessionals.  What can you do?  No money means no money.  Right?

I have been an undergraduate at U of T on and off for 11 years now.  When I first enrolled in 1999 I took JEF100, “The Western Tradition”.  There were, at best, 30 students in my class.  I would attend tutorials once a week with 6-10 students.  There were many sections of the class available, each taught by a professor aided by at least 1 TA.  The school year was 26 weeks long, excluding exams.

This year U of T is offering instead ENG150, “The Literary Tradition”, capped at 480 students.  Tutorials will likely be capped at 40 students, and headed by teaching assistants.  Two sections are offered, both taught by the same professor who will be assisted by a small army (12-14) TAs.  The school year is now 24 weeks.

11 years.  This has happened across the Humanities at U of T.  There is a book to be written (and there are books being written) about what’s happening to Humanities departments across the Western world, but right now I just have one question:  where did the money go?  Why, inside of 11 years, has the money directed to a course like JEF100/ENG150 been cut (it looks to me) to a tenth of what it was?  Tuition is higher than it was in 1999.  Enrollment is up.  Where has the money gone? WHERE IS THE MONEY???

4 thoughts on “This Isn’t Specifically About Books”

  1. B.Kienapple says:

    To be honest with you, I did my English BA at U of T and was not impressed. The classes were mostly huge, the material extremely dusty. I took only ONE class that incorporated modern literature. Perhaps this has changed in the five years since I graduated. Really compelling discussion was rare. U of T felt sometimes like a commuter school – kids came down from the boroughs, went to their classes, and got the hell out. U of T needs to stop cutting corners and start re-investing in the quality of their education.

    1. Charlotte says:

      Indeed! I know so many people – students and faculty – who feel the reputation of U of T is completely overstated, but the suggested response is to just go to another school. Trent, Mount Alison – somewhere with small class sizes and a good liberal arts reputation.

      But U of T has the resources to be *great* in the Humanities, and so many students and researchers come here for those resources. I’d love to see a focused effort to fight U of T administration on this. After all, we’re the stakeholders, the fee-payers.

  2. I think Trent used “its money” (wait- some of that was MY money, wasn’t it?) to launch Roberta Bondar into space- or maybe it financed her trip to the polar ice cap. At least she took a photo to donate to the Alumni House, right? I don’t think I’ve seen a single picture of Bonnie Patterson’s poodles, which were pristinely groomed by student finances.

  3. Nathalie Foy says:

    “Unbefuckinglievable” is what I said when I opened the Globe yesterday. Is nothing sacred?!

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