Monday, July 19, 2010

coverage in Ming Pao

The Ming Pao (明報) has just published a story on the proposed disestablishment of the East Asian Studies Department.

You can access the article (多大擬砍東亞研究系逾900師生簽名反對 文理學院面對6000萬財赤困擾) here.

For a google translation of the article, click here.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

coverage in World Journal (世界日報)

More Chinese-language coverage in the July 16th edition of World Journal (世界日報). It's on page A15.

EAS Graduate Student Union Collective Opposition Letter to Dean Gertler

Dear Dean Gertler,

On behalf of the graduate students of the East Asian Studies (EAS) department, we write to you to express our unwavering opposition to the Strategic Planning Committee (SPC)’s recent decision to dissolve our department and disperse our faculty across the university. We feel that the SPC’s proposal stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the teaching and research that goes on in our department. We thus respectfully request that you as well as each member of the SPC come to our department to meet with the graduate student body, where we can engage in a much needed dialogue concerning this matter. We must reiterate, however, our firm belief that to dissolve EAS at U of T would be a major step backwards for the intellectual quality and international reputation of the university. It amounts to nothing less than a betrayal of the university’s commitment to fostering critical humanistic inquiry of the world beyond Canada’s shores.

As a department we are devoted to the study of the East Asian humanities in all of their myriad complexity. Our interdisciplinary, transnational model allows scholars to combine the study of aesthetic production, political economy, social history, and cultural theory to produce ground breaking research on the most foundational problems of East Asia’s past and present. To claim, as the SPC planning document does, that our efforts to produce such research run counter to “the language instruction that forms the backbone of education and research” in our department is puzzling. For while our department values linguistic study at the graduate level, this is not the “backbone” of what we do. Our “backbone” lies in using our linguistic fluency in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean to analyze the cultural dilemmas, contradictions, and dynamics that have defined East Asia as a world region. Fluency in at least one East Asian language is required for admission to the graduate program. Our program thus begins with, rather than sets as its goal, linguistic competency. To suggest that we could be reduced to an instrumental language department is thus to fundamentally misinterpret the nature of our intellectual goals and standards.

As we have continually striven to produce a critical awareness in Canadian society of the complexity of East Asia’s past and present, we have amassed a record of accomplishment that speaks for itself. Our department’s graduate students have been recipients of a plethora of prestigious awards, including SSHRC, SSHRC-CGS, OGS, Korea and Japan Foundation grants, Dr. David Chu awards in Asia-Pacific studies, Korean-Canadian Scholarship Foundation awards, and Wenner-Gren Foundation awards. Our graduate students have participated in important conferences on East Asia across North America, including those organized by the Association for Asian Studies, Asian Studies Conference Japan, Asian Studies on the Pacific Coast, and the Harvard East Asia Society Graduate Student Conference. Our graduate students organize our own annual conference, now in its tenth year, that regularly attracts top students and scholars from North America, Europe, and Asia. Finally, our graduate students publish an annual, peer-reviewed journal that has provided a forum for many junior scholars to begin their careers as published researchers.

To eliminate our department would effectively destroy the institutional base upon which such vital graduate work is done at U of T. Indeed, under the new scheme, it is difficult to understand why any self-respecting graduate student looking for a future faculty position in the EAS field would ever consider coming to U of T to do their training. The intellectual exchange, support, and collaboration that is the base upon which a critical East Asian humanities rests- and that is facilitated by having scholars of East Asia together in one autonomous department- would certainly cease. The five faculty members who would be consolidated into the new School of Languages and Literatures will simply not have the manpower or intellectual breadth to offer comprehensive training in the field. They will be a tiny minority in what will be a vast, centralized department. Whether East Asian literatures- to say nothing of other areas of interest such as film, art, etc.- will receive anything but the most scant institutional commitment by a department in which the majority of the professors have research interests that lay outside of Asia altogether is a dubious notion at best.

Our department currently receives generous funding from a number of private organizations outside the university who see us as a leading center for the study of East Asian humanities in Canada. If the SPC’s proposal goes through, such outside funding will most certainly cease, thus preventing future generations of graduate students to acquire the funding they need to produce thorough, well-rounded research. It is unclear why the Korea Foundation, to take but one example, would ever consider donating money to support research on the Korean humanities again, given that the university will have eliminated the very department within which such research is fostered and promoted. What is clear is that, with this move, the university risks being seen as not only abandoning the study of the East Asian humanities, but as reverting back to a debilitating Eurocentrism that smacks of the most egregious errors of our intellectual past.

It is simply astonishing to us that the university would risk the intellectual bankruptcy and international embarrassment that would come from such a move. Simply put, to study the East Asian humanities requires an institutional home within which scholars can come together- in independence and collaboration- to reach across disciplinary, linguistic, and national boundaries. It is this intellectual and institutional home that is the absolute pre-requisite for attracting future students, top professors, and outside funding. It is this home that is under direct attack by the SPC’s proposal.

We firmly believe that once the administration recognizes the true nature of EAS at U of T they will come to see how indefensible and misguided the SPC’s proposal truly is. There is still time to rescue the university from a move that would tarnish its reputation as a standard bearer for the production of knowledge that can meet the demands of a multicultural world. We look forward to working with the administration to chart a path that will not only reverse this decision, but strengthen EAS at U of T for years to come.


The Graduate Student Union of the East Asian Studies department

Thursday, July 1, 2010

SPC and FAS External Review

"In determining the membership [of the Strategic Planning Committee], I [Meric S. Gertler] have followed the advice of the 2008 Report of the External Review of the Faculty of Arts & Science. The reviewers recommended that the Faculty’s planning committee be smaller than it has been in the past to enhance its ability to make strategic decisions. Also, because this committee will subsume the work of the Budget Strategy Subcommittee, the latter committee will be discontinued until further notice. Its remaining members will join the Strategic Planning Committee, along with several other new members."

Strategic Planning Committee Members

FAS External Review Report and Decanal Response

response from Prof Thomas Keirstead, East Asian Studies department

Dear Dean Gertler,

I am writing with the unanimous support of the faculty of the Department of East Asian Studies to ask that you reconsider the inclusion of the Department in the proposed School of Languages and Literatures. We believe that such a move has no compelling intellectual or programmatic rationale, that it would, in fact, adversely affect the study of East Asia in the Faculty of Arts and Science. Far from enhancing the reputation of Faculty as a place for scholarship on East Asia, the move would make it more difficult to recruit and retain faculty, attract graduate students, and maintain strong undergraduate interest.

From your comments at the meeting last Wednesday, I understand that the SPC sees the formation of the school as solving a number of “challenges” faced by the five departments involved. EAS, in fact, is beset by none of these issues:

• we have strong enrolments in our undergraduate courses, roughly the equivalent of the other four departments combined; on a per capita basis, we are not far behind such behemoths as English and History;

• with nearly 1000 majors, minors, and specialists (again equalling the other four departments together), we may well be the largest EAS program in North America—comparable programs, even at institutions with much larger undergraduate numbers, such as Indiana or Michigan, typically have 100-300 majors;

• we offer a full range of courses in English, from beginning to advanced, and we are not dependent on lower-level language courses to sustain enrolments; our faculty are able to teach specialized courses that meet the needs of advanced students; and

• we have no difficulty whatsoever forming the committees needed for the smooth functioning of our graduate program or for reviewing colleagues for promotion and tenure; while with greater resources we could do more, we certainly do not even at present lack “critical mass.”

The SPC also expects that the proposed school would allow “intellectual synergies to emerge,” and that there are “overlapping themes” that could be developed if the departments were gathered under one roof. On an individual level this is surely true—a few of us might well find unexpected intellectual companions among the members of the other departments. But we do not believe that the case can be made that the synergies and overlaps between EAS and German, Slavic, Italian, and Spanish & Portuguese are stronger or more compelling than those that exist between our department and, for example, History or Religious Studies or Philosophy or the Asia Institute or Comparative Literature.

The idea that a natural overlap exists rests on a fundamental misconception of what the Department of East Asian Studies is and does. We are most emphatically not a language and literature department. We offer language courses, but none of our professorial stream faculty specializes in languages, unlike the other four departments. Some of our faculty are scholars of East Asian literatures, but fully half of the department consists of historians, anthropologists, and specialists in religion and philosophy. And those members of the department who do study literature were attracted here precisely because in this department their teaching and research can readily link with other aspects of East Asia other than language.

To lodge the department in a school of language would be to tie our programs to an outmoded conception of the discipline, in which language study is the core and exploration of other aspects of East Asian culture a secondary pursuit. EAS departments across North America have moved away from this model, expanding their programs to include anthropology, history, religion, film, and popular culture and hiring scholars who are well grounded in a particular discipline. EAS at Toronto has been at the forefront of this trend. The department has worked to transform itself from a language-centred curriculum to one that emphasizes critical, disciplinary approaches to East Asia. For example, six or seven years ago, we decided to end the separate undergraduate programs in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean and replace them with a single East Asian studies program to emphasize the interdisciplinary and interregional approach of the department. The growth of our program tracks the department’s reforms. As noted in our strategic planning submission, we have seen our number of majors quintuple—to about 500—over the last decade, while growth in minors and specialists has been equally remarkable, increasing from 20 to nearly 200 and from 70 to 290, respectively.

Relocating the department to a School of Languages and Literatures would derail and even reverse the progress we have made, alienating our faculty and impairing our ability to attract students (both undergraduate and graduate), who come to us to study East Asia from a broader perspective—including history, cinema, philosophy, religion, anthropology as well as language and literature. The move would, we believe, result in the East-Asia program having the kind of enrolment profile typical of many language and literature departments: strong enrolments in lower-level language and culture courses, few majors, and an attending problem in sustaining more advanced offerings.
We are especially worried about the effect that the proposal would have on our ability to attract and retain faculty. We are, it should be noted, a very different department than we used to be; the faculty whose training centred on language and for whom the teaching and study of languages formed the core of East Asian studies have retired. All of the current faculty share a conception of how to study and teach East Asia that is very different from that which once defined the department. We have been successful in recruiting and retaining faculty—in the face of competing offers from better-endowed and larger East Asia programs, including Michigan, UCLA, NYU, Duke, and Tokyo—precisely because we are not a language department.

We realize that the current climate makes it imperative that the Faculty find ways of consolidating programs, and we are more than willing to assist in finding intellectually promising ways of reconfiguring the department and its place in the Faculty. One possibility for consolidation might be to create a Department of Asian Studies, uniting EAS with the programs in Asia-Pacific Studies and South Asian studies, as well as NMC perhaps. The absorption of EAS in a School of Languages and Literatures, however, would only serve to drastically diminish the profile of the University of Toronto as a institution capable of producing excellent research and teaching about one of the world's major cultural spheres.

Finally, I would add on a personal note that I am very reluctant to serve as interim chair of an interim department.
Sincerely yours,

Thomas Keirstead
Interim Chair designate

As an addendum, I’d like to call to your attention an imbalance built into the structure of the proposed school. As the last few years of data for enrolments and PoSts reveal, East Asian Studies, with perhaps 20-25% of the faculty of the new school, will supply half of its Majors, Minors, and Specialists and about 40% of its undergraduate enrolments. It seems unlikely that the resources of the school could be apportioned in a way that reflects this imbalance.

letter from the Dean regarding plans for East Asian Studies Department

Meric S. Gertler, FRSC

Sidney Smith Hall, 100 St George Street, Suite 2005, Toronto, ON M5S 3G3 Canada
Tel: +1 416‐978‐3383, Fax: +1 416‐978‐3887, email: •

Department of East Asian Studies

After careful assessment of the Department of East Asian Studies’ planning document and of data relevant to its current role within the Faculty of Arts & Science, the Strategic Planning Committee (SPC) has recommended a broad-based rethinking and restructuring of the study of East Asia within the Faculty. As the largest and most diversified division within the University of Toronto, Arts and Science has a particular responsibility to respond to rapid changes occurring in one of the most strategically important areas of the globe. If in coming years East Asia is to thrive as an area of teaching and research at the U of T, then the Faculty must now deploy its resources and energy in a manner extending beyond the range of the current departmental structure.

As noted in the planning document, the Department has evolved over the course of the past decade, in accordance with a model that privileges increased interdisciplinarity and complexity within the envelope of a single academic unit. Hence the Department’s coverage of an extraordinarily wide range of subjects and disciplines, from introductory language instruction to advanced seminars in history, philosophy and, religion across a temporal spectrum spanning antiquity to the present. Concomitant with this has been a fundamental shift away from the philological and hermeneutical approaches traditionally supported by the Department toward critical theory and “more problem-based … transnational approaches.” As observed in the planning document, significant challenges associated with these changes have emerged in recent years, as the Department has endeavoured to reconcile its new mission with the language instruction that forms the backbone of education and research at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. The result, in the assessment of the SPC, is a widening gap between the Department’s vision, which points in the direction of non-geographically and non-chronologically defined thematic “nodes of excellence,” and its stated commitment to excellence in languages and literatures.

The SPC recommends two measures to restructure the study of East Asia within the Faculty. First, through consultation with other units that have indicated this area as a planning priority, faculty members trained in the relevant disciplines (such as History, Philosophy, and Religion) will be given the option of transferring their budgetary appointments to a cognate unit. These moves will strengthen the presence of research and teaching in East Asia across Arts and Science, in keeping with our priority to build on our academic breadth. Second, the faculty members who work in the areas of language and literature—that is, those faculty who represent the core centered on East Asian languages and literatures—will be incorporated into a proposed School of Languages and Literatures, a new unit designed to strengthen the profile of teaching and research in languages in the Faculty.

The School will have a single Director and centralized administrative services; individual language groups will retain responsibility for their undergraduate and graduate programs. Future faculty appointments will be managed by the School. The specific structure and operating principles of the School will be determined through a process of consultation with academic administrators, faculty members, and other stakeholders in the relevant units. The Dean will appoint a Working Group to advise him on this process, with their work to be concluded by December 2010. Taken together, these two measures will renew and strengthen the study of East Asia in the Faculty. In the context of this renewal, the SPC recommends that faculty members in this area continue to participate in the various initiatives of the Asian Institute.

In sum, the SPC recommends that:

1. the study of East Asia within the Faculty be restructured

2. departmental faculty members with training in such disciplines as History, Religion, and Philosophy be given the option of transferring their appointments to a relevant academic unit

3. faculty members in East Asian languages and literatures be incorporated into a proposed new School of Languages and Literatures

4. faculty members continue to participate in the initiatives of the Asian Institute.

email from Carol Robb, Assistant Dean

Here is the email from Carol Robb, Assistant Dean and Director of HR, announcing the creation of the School of L&L


Carol Robb

June 23, 2010 1:55:33 PM EDT

Subject: Proposal to create a School of Languages

Dear all,

On behalf of the Dean, I am forwarding the following information regarding the proposal to create a School of Languages. This information may be shared with your colleagues:

The Strategic Planning Committee (SPC) has recommended that the Departments of East Asian Studies, Germanic Languages & Literatures, Italian Studies, Slavic Languages and Literatures and Spanish & Portuguese be incorporated into a proposed School of Languages and Literatures, a new unit designed to strengthen the profile of teaching and research in languages in the Faculty. The School will have a single Director and centralized administrative services; individual language groups will retain responsibility for their undergraduate and graduate programs. The specific structure and operating principles of the School will be determined through a process of consultation with academic administrators, faculty members, and other stakeholders in the relevant units. The Dean will appoint an Advisory Committee to complete this process by December 2010.




Carol Robb
Assistant Dean and Director of Human Resources
Faculty of Arts & Science
Room 2017
Sidney Smith Hall
100 St George Street
Toronto, ON M5S 3G3

Tel: (416)946-5182
Fax: (416)946-0998