Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A School without a Voice


The university where I spoke at a conference over the weekend recently closed down its departments of foreign languages and literatures. It had never occurred to me that a school could do that and still call itself a "university" (instead of a polytechnic or an institute, for example).
It's shocking to imagine that there would be an actual university (located in the capital of Canada, to make things even more bizarre) that would eliminate any possibility that it students might have to familiarize themselves with other cultures. Is this the future of higher education? Has the goal of universities now become to create complacent little robots who don't think, don't speak, don't wander or wonder but rather just produce and consume ad infinitum?
The war against the humanities started as soon as Bush ascended to power. At Yale, Bush's crony President Levin is in the final stages of implementing the program of changes that will effectively destroy the humanities at that school. I know what happens there from personal experience but I can only assume that the same changes are being introduced in other places. Unlike Carleton, Yale will not go as far as eliminating its language departments altogether (at least for now). It is, however, doing everything it can to make them as poorly funded, irrelevant, and powerless as possible.
I understand how certain forces could see what I'm teaching my students as dangerous. The main thing I'm teaching them is not to speak Spanish or distinguish between realism and naturalism. In my courses, students learn to read critically, think for themselves, formulate their own opinions, argue, and express themselves orally and in writing. Carleton University has decided it doesn't need any of this. Who will be next?

11 comments:

Clarissa said...

The minute I finish this post, I read an article about some Conservatives who are upset with those who dare to pronounce Judge Sotomayor's name correctly (because it's "unnatural"):

http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2009/5/27/735933/-Midday-Open-Thread

This is exactly what I was talking about in my post. Soon, everything that's a tiny bit different will be considered "unnatural."

Anonymous said...

I am appalled that the same University that shut its foreign languages and literatures programme also went on hosting a conference... on foreign languages and literatures. It would have been responsible and logical from your organization to boycott the venue. Or to protest on campus. Sadly, that is way too much to expect from academics in the humanities.

Honestly, I am outraged that academics showed up at that conference, knowing about the lack of scope of that "University," and pacifically gave their little talks.

Clarissa said...

Exactly!! I wish I had known about this before.

Carleton was completely unprepared to host such a huge conference. After a full day of presentations, there was nothing to eat or drink on campus. And by drink I don't mean alcohol. I mean anything other than tap water.

If at least I had known about any of this in advance, but they never warn you about anything.

Anonymous said...

It is all part of the larger trend according to which higher education is just another kind of business... Some universities closed their physics departments as well...
V.

Anonymous said...

What I meant in my previous post is that I am sure that your association knew about Carleton U's plans. So why did they decide to attend the conference knowing about their business plans? Your association could have asked their members NOT to go... or to go to protest. I mean, this association does not care about the well-being of their members, especially the ones with precarious positions.

Clarissa said...

Oh, I agree with you. As I said before, the association wants to offer equality to all schools. Even those that don't offer us any equality with other disciplines. Stupid, I know.

Clarissa said...

No languages, no literature AND no science??? What are they going to teach? Sales techniques like "less bitching, more pitching" and "fake it till you make it"???

Anonymous said...

---What are they going to teach?

Whatever happens to be in demand at any given time. And to optimize this system further they will claim that only temporary faculty can meet these quickly changing market demands, and abolish the tenure system.
V.

Anonymous said...

Exactly. And then, of course, no worthwhile educator or researcher would want to accept such conditions. But who's thinking about that?

Sam said...

I go to Carleton. I'm an English major with a double minor in French and Critical Sexuality Studies. I'm not sure where you got this information but you should probably double-check your sources. I do know they took out some languages that weren't getting a high enrollment, but they added new ones to replace them.
Carleton's administration has admittedly done tons of terrible and reprehensible things, but this isn't one of them.

Clarissa said...

I never doubted that English lit department would be preserved (at least for now). But are you suggesting there is a department of Hispanic Studes (which always gets massive enrollments)? is there a Department of Slavis Studies? Germanic Studies?

No doubt English and French will stay as official languages of Canada. But what about the rest?