'Down the hall' from David Gilmour - Macleans.ca

‘Down the hall’ from David Gilmour

Emma Teitel goes exploring at Victoria College


News of David Gilmour’s proud indifference to ideas and people unlike him has rocked the Canadian Twittersphere.

Gilmour and his off-the-cuff paean in Hazlitt to macho men of letters earned him attention in the American press and incited the wrath of Jezebel writers and academics eager to point out that the Canadian novelist does not have a PhD (because a doctorate, as we all know, is the prerequisite to a sound and tolerant mind). After that first cringe-worthy interview, Gilmour did himself no favours by attempting to clarify his remarks in the National Post. Again he insisted that those interested in reading the works of women, gays and Chinese people go “down the hall.”

“I don’t love women writers enough to teach them. That’s all I’m saying,” he explained. “What I teach are guys. If you want women writers, you go down the hall. … I have a degree in French literature, and I speak French fluently, but I don’t teach French literature because I don’t feel it as deeply and as passionately as some of the other teachers here. So I actually send people down the hall to somebody who can teach it better. The same thing goes for German writers, for women writers, for gay writers, for Chinese writers.”

Down the hall … it’s a big theme in Gilmour’s worldview. It’s also, I’m assuming, as a gay female writer, where he thinks I belong.

So who exactly is down the hall? I decided to find out.

On the third floor of Victoria College’s Northrop Frye Hall, Gilmour teaches a class called Cultural Forms and their Meanings: Cinema, Literature & the Modern Mind. The day of my visit the floor was very quiet and virtually empty. I had assumed that just a few doors down from room 332 (where he teaches) I’d find some Gilmour outcasts: Chinese lesbians reading Fanon, Germans hunched over Alias Grace, a professor giving a lecture on Alice Munro in French. But the only faces I noticed resembled those on Gilmour’s syllabus: portraits of old white men lined the walls from Gilmour’s classroom all the way — surprise, surprise — “down the hall.”

And that’s the thing about university: down the hall isn’t all that different from up the hall. Dead white guys still reign supreme on the syllabus and on university walls. Attribute that to whatever you like—sexism, racism, boring-ism—but it’s true, regardless of how many anti-oppression disciplines have sprung up on North American campuses in the past 30 years. Gilmour didn’t tell us anything new, he told us everything we already know (albeit in the most annoying way possible).

Maybe that’s why Lenny Newman, a 21-year-old Victoria College student who took a Gilmour class last year, is unfazedBefore I could even finish asking her if she was surprised by his remarks in Hazlitt, she was shaking her head. Newman described Gilmour as “brilliant,” but “without a doubt, sexist.” How so, I asked. “He talked about his ex-wives all the time,” she said. “I’m not sure how many he has.”

Another student (not one of Gilmour’s) was more forthright. “I think he should probably leave, like, now,” said Claudia Oriano, a 19-year-old, first-year humanities student. I asked Oriano what she’d say to Gilmour if given the chance. “I don’t think it’s publishable,” she replied.  “A statement like (his) deserves expulsion.”

University professors can’t be expelled, to my knowledge. In any case, the punishment strikes me as overkill — like shooting a mosquito with an elephant gun.  To expel Gilmour would be to pay him way too much attention.  Better to have David Gilmour follow his own prescription, as derivative and forgettable as it is:  Go down the hall.


‘Down the hall’ from David Gilmour

  1. In 1993, I was shocked to find myself in a graduate Victorian Lit class that included no women on the syllabus. That was 20 years ago!

    Tabitha Southey tweeted Gilmour’s “professorial ratings” from students — one student asked him why there were no women taught in his course and he told her, “Because I don’t teach ‘good for you, dear’ books.”

    All I can say is: does anyone in Canada teach David Gilmour books?

  2. University professors can’t be expelled, but what has really riled some people is the way in which Gilmour is seemingly trying to pass himself off as a professor at U of T. He’s not. He’s an instructor, yes, on contract, at Victoria College, but he does not hold the rank of professor, assistant professor, or associate professor, and he is not connected in any way with the U of T Department of English. His course also does not satisfy the english literature requirements for any English Lit degree at U of T (though I believe it could be used by students at Vic as an elective non-lit credit). People get confused because he refers to himself as a prof at U of T, and Vic lists him as “Professor” Gilmour, but in that use it’s just an honorific (and arguably an inappropriate one) not an academic rank.

    His comments were pretty idiotic, but I think the reason that professors in the English Department at U of T are particularly upset and vocal about it is that their department is being held up for ridicule for comments made by someone who is not a member of the department, and who is not a professor at U of T.

    It’ll be interesting to see if his contract as an instructor at Victoria College is renewed.

    • In his original diatribe in Hazlitt, Gilmour boasts that he is not properly a professor (but rather just so clever that UofT asked him to come). If he was teaching creative writing, I could give this a pass. Why the U of T English Dep’t, which is truly the snobbiest in all of Canada, asked him to come in the first place to teach literature is a problem.

      I just read there’s a noon hour protest in the very hallowed hall described above by Teitel, where they’ve dressed the poor statue of Frye up with a feather boa, and are chanting: “Gilmour, read more.” Which assuredly has a nice ring to it.

      I think most of us enjoy literature that we relate to — and so, often literature that is about characters similar to ourselves — but it does the students no favours and provides limited perspective.

      • Why the U of T English Dep’t, which is truly the snobbiest in all of Canada, asked him to come in the first place to teach literature is a problem.

        Again, an important point here is that the U of T English Department didn’t ask Gilmour to do anything. He’s not a member of the English Department. He has no affiliation with the English Department. He was hired as an instructor by Victoria College to teach a course as part of their “Vic 100 Seminars” series, a course which no English Lit major at U of T can use as an English Lit requirement in completing a U of T English degree (although I believe that they could use it as a non-English elective credit).

        This is part of what has English professors at U of T so upset. A man who is not a professor, and has no affiliation with their department is nonetheless bringing their department into disrepute. The U of T English Department had nothing to do with hiring Gilmour, and has no say as to what he teaches, or doesn’t teach.

        • Ah, NOW I see. Only took two posts for my thick skull to let it sink in, LKO.

  3. Well, as least he’s honest.

    • AND misguided!

  4. What is the problem?
    He teaches what wants and what he’s good at.
    He has to right to have his own tastes and I say so even if I am a woman and I have my high school read his novels.

  5. Emma – Did you talk to David? I think that’s what journalists are supposed to do.

  6. I find this article offensive on several levels but one thing that stands out for me is the statement:

    “And that’s the thing about university: down the hall isn’t all that different from up the hall. Dead white guys still reign supreme on the syllabus and on university walls. Attribute that to whatever you like—sexism, racism, boring-ism—but it’s true”

    First of all Ms Teitel since you have climbed on your high horse so will I. I’m sorry that it’s inconvenient to your closed minded thinking but it wasn’t Shakespeare’s or Newton’s fault that they were born White Anglo Saxon Protestant men. They happen to reign supreme on the university walls because they happened to be geniuses,not because they were white men, not as a personal insult to you so you can throw your feminist rants.

    If you find dead white guys boring or boring-ism (that’s not even a real word; are you 12) then what the hell are you doing at an university anyway. The very close mindedness that you accuse Gilmour of reeks from you. Maclean’s use to be long ago a fairly intelligent magazine. Now in order to grab headlines, and start controversies, in order to make money ,it publishes idiots like you. This story is nothing but a hatchet job written by a very immature self rightous girl. You go down the hall and grow up.

  7. Interesting how the left wing types always want to give someone the “heave-ho” if he doesn’t agree with them, academic freedom be damned.

  8. “I think he should probably leave, like, now,” said Claudia Oriano, a 19-year-old, first-year humanities student. ,,, “A statement like (his) deserves expulsion.”

    It’s incredible that a 19 year old student who has never taken a class from David Gilmour should think that she is, like,entitled to be Mr. Gilmour’s judge, jury and executioner. This young woman’s comment encapsulates much of what is wrong in the academy: very little learning, combined with a grotesque sense of entitlement and an Old Testament sense of righteousness.

  9. sounds to me like john is a poo poo head

  10. Emma;
    Just when I thought you were turning some corner of maturity your insecurities rear their head and you run to such a minor indiscretion as mentioned by David Gilmour.
    As Gilmour said on television he teaches in his comfort zone which doesn’t include many female writers or for that matter James Joyce. Such a big deal?
    Emma; you’re a journalist please grow up and look at the bigger picture and if you have to repeat in every 2nd article that you are gay is really getting quite boring.
    You have to get above this curve and your editor should know this as well.

  11. Ahhh, that’s what’s wrong. I always knew something was wrong with you as a pinko/id!ot/left-winger but now I know it’s because you’re gay.