Academic ‘crisis’ averted

A plan to dismantle Northrop Frye founded Centre for Comparative literature has been shelved–for now

Students and faculty at the University of Toronto are celebrating after an annoucement that plans to dismantle the prestigious Centre for Comparative Literature may be reversed. Over the summer, the Faculty of Arts and Science released an Academic Plan that would have seen several departments and centres either closed or stripped of their autonomy. Those proposals are now being given a second look. The Centre was founded by Northrop Frye in 1969.

Among the proposed changes in the Academic Plan was the creation of a new School of Languages and Literature that would have housed six previously autonomous units, such as East Asian Studies, German and Spanish and Portuguese. The proposal had drawn international criticism in part because it included the disestablishment of the Centre for Comparative Literature. Students would have still be able to study each language, but not under the auspices of an independent department.

On Wedenesday, Meric Gertler, Dean of Arts and Science met with the chairs of all the units that would have been affected by a new school of languages, and agreed to explore other options. Although some reports suggested that the initial proposal has been taken off the table and that departmental independence has been officially preserved, Gertler says the results of the meeting were more nuanced than that. “It’s a bit premature to say definitively that we have found another model,” he said.

For now the units have been tasked with developing plans for boosting undergraduate enrolment in the languages, finding ways to pool teaching resources, improve graduate student recruitment and streamling administration costs. If the faculty’s goals can be reached without creating a new school of languages, then units are likely to keep their autonomy. “This is exactly the type of discussion we were hoping to have,” Gertler said.

Neil ten Kortenaar, director of the Centre, is optimistic about the future of comparative literature at U of T. “I’m glad that the languages are being listened to and that the tension is over,” he said. Similarly, Jonathan Allan, a PhD student in comparative literature is thrilled by the announcement. “After all this fighting, it’s great to see the dean listened to people in the languages.”

John Zilcosky, chair of the German department, is also confident. “My sense leaving the meeting is that our departmental status has been preserved,” he said.

Students and faculty had launched a campaign opposing the Academic Plan that included soliciting letters from academics around the world, circulating a petition that had over 7,000 signatures, and designating certain people responsible for keeping in touch with news media. The University of Toronto Faculty Association called the situation a “crisis” and had filed a griveance against the Plan.

In August, Allan was worried that closing the centre would handicap him on the job market, as his degree would have come from a program that technically was no longer in existence. Today, he is more confident. “This will bode well for those of us who are about to graduate from comp. lit. It shows that we are successful in academics, but also in university politics,” he said.

The Centre for Ethics and the Centre for Transnational and Diaspora Studies were also put on the block, but now look as if they will survive, but will have to streamline their budgets.




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