U of T Plans to Amalgamate its Languages and Literatures - Torontoist

U of T Plans to School its Languages and Literatures
Last Monday, as the University of Toronto re-opened in the wake of the G20, departments and centres across its Faculty of Arts and Science returned to the bureaucratic version of the relationship death knell "we need to talk". They learned that if a recommendation being made by the faculty’s Strategic Planning Committee went through, departments across the humanities would be dissolved within the year, with a lucky few to be resurrected, franken-style, under the monolithic umbrella of a single "School of Languages and Literatures."

The proposed School of L&L would amalgamate the current departments of East Asian Studies, Italian Studies, Germanic Languages and Literatures, Slavic Languages and Literatures, and Spanish and Portuguese. The Centre of Comparative Literature, which currently offers MA and PhD programs, would be embedded in the school and redefined as a collaborative program, unable to grant degrees independently. The Centre for Ethics and The Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies, a research centre and graduate collaborative program respectively, would be abandoned entirely.

None of this is a done deal, though it is being presented that way by those who have brought the recommendation forward. In September, the Faculty of Arts and Science plans to hold a series of town hall meetings, consulting with faculty, students, and other stakeholders. Then, according to the faculty's timeline, the departments affected will figure out how to dissolve and amalgamate themselves by December so that their proposal can be hustled up the U of T bureaucratic ladder by July 2011...

The Centre for Comparative Literature arguably stands to suffer the most from this proposal, losing its degree programs entirely. The centre, established over forty years ago by Northrop Frye, offers a unique program that "enables the kind of research that is genuinely comparative or interdisciplinary, research that does not fit neatly into any of the traditional disciplines," says Neil ten Kortenaar, the centre's chair. Comp lit students and faculty are adamant that a collaborative degree—like a minor, but at the graduate level—is an empty, conciliatory gesture on the Strategic Planning Committee's part...

Oversights like these are illogical at best. Many students whose departments are being incorporated worry that the School of Languages and Literatures intends to focus on language to the exclusion of literature, that this is part of an overall movement away from critical and theoretical thinking in favour of more pragmatic interests within the humanities. Some are concerned that the School of L&L is being created as a place to groom diplomatic, internationally relevant skills such as translation rather than as one for cutting-edge scholarship.

Gertler says this is "completely false. It is far too premature to judge what the school will focus on." Still, the fact remains that the proposed School of Languages and Literatures—coupled with the outright axing of the Centre for Ethics and the Centre for Diaspora Studies —will have a profound effect on the study of humanities at the University of Toronto. Far from promoting diversity, the School of L&L risks homogenizing the way that languages and literature are studied, making it difficult for students and faculty alike to meaningfully pursue scholarship that falls outside very narrowly defined categories.


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