Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Toronto East Asian Studies Faculty on UT Reorganization of Language and Literature Departments

Dear Colleagues,

In regard to the information about the Department of East Asian Studies sent earlier, members of the department would like to pass on more information about the amalgamation from our perspective, including how it is likely to affect us and our students, as well as Asian Studies in general at the U of T.

We hope that, in addition to signing the petition and joining our Facebook group (linked to in earlier messages and below), you might consider writing a letter of support for the Department of East Asian Studies at the University of Toronto. Such letters are likely to have the strongest affect.

The Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science has, without any consultation with faculty, announced the formation of a new School of Languages and Literatures at the University of Toronto comprising the former departments of East Asian Studies, Italian Studies, Slavic Languages and Literatures, Germanic Languages and Literatures, Spanish and Portuguese and the Centre for Comparative Literature. Most of these departments will be moved en masse (with the exception of the Centre which will be "disestablished" entirely), but the dean has singled out East Asian Studies for dispersal: nine of our fifteen professors will be spread amongst the departments of History, Philosophy, Religion and Anthropology, while the remaining six will, along with the Chinese, Japanese and Korean language programmes, be reassigned to a new (non-departmental) unit of East Asian Studies within the School of Languages and Literatures by fall 2011. It is entirely unclear how the dean imagines these six remaining professors will be able to teach our nearly 1000 undergraduate majors and minors, nor how our graduate programme, which is fundamentally interdisciplinary in nature, can continue to operate. It is clear that in addition to removing the interdisciplinary elements of the department, the dean has no intention of strengthening the reduced East Asian unit to operate as a full language and literature programme. It may be noted that the university's Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations has a similar interdisciplinary approach to the Department of East Asian Studies (although with far fewer majors) but has been left intact rather than being dissolved into the new School of Languages and Literatures.

We have multiple concerns regarding the effects of the dean's decision on both students and faculty in East Asian Studies at this university. Our primary concerns can be summarized as follows:

1. The dean does not seem to appreciate that our department, which has made many hires in recent years, has a strong and growing reputation in the field of East Asian Studies around the world. We believe that in light of our strengths, our department should be a valued part of the University of Toronto rather than be singled out for dissolution.

2. The dean declares that the dispersal of our faculty will "strengthen" the profile of the study of East Asia at the University of Toronto, but it is far more likely that the result will be the marginalization of small numbers of East Asian Studies faculty within various disciplinary departments and the inability of those few faculty remaining in the new East Asian Studies unit to lobby for the East Asian language programmes within a large school of mainly European languages.

3. This dissolution of the East Asian Studies department is taking place precisely as East Asia is assuming central importance in the economic and political worlds. It should be a source of embarrassment to the university's administration that the University of Toronto, uniquely amongst research universities in North America, is dissolving its East Asian programme at a time when knowledge of East Asia is ever more vital.

4. The vast majority of our undergraduate students are not primarily interested in studying only language and literature, but rather wish to acquire strong language skills along with a broad-based and interdisciplinary knowledge of East Asia, including its history, society and culture. Thus the dispersal of East Asian Studies faculty over multiple academic units will greatly hamper our ability to meet student needs.

5. At the research level too, recent trends are to move away from a language and literature framework and towards the interdisciplinary study of East Asia. Six of our professors and three of our four language lecturers have been hired in the past five years and were attracted to the University of Toronto, often turning down competing offers, precisely because of our progressive interdisciplinary emphasis. We are a young, forward-looking department and are very uncomfortable with the forced reconfiguration of our intellectual home.

In short, our faculty are resolutely opposed to this decision and feel very strongly that the best interests of students and faculty alike would be served by the Department of East Asian Studies at the University of Toronto remaining an autonomous and interdisciplinary academic unit, as it is at present. We would be very grateful for expressions of support of our position from our colleagues in the field of East Asian Studies as we protest the dean's decision on the future of our department. If you feel inclined to support us, please send letters on institutional letterhead to:

Dean Meric Gertler
University of Toronto
Faculty of Arts & Science
100 St. George Street
Toronto, ON CANADA M5S 3G3

and to our department chair:

Professor Tom Keirstead
East Asian Studies
130 St. George St., Room 14087
Toronto ON CANADA M5S 3H1

Please visit the following website for updates regarding this issue.


There are also a petition that you might be interested in signing and
a Facebook group that you might consider joining at the following


We would deeply appreciate your support and would be happy to reciprocate if you suddenly find yourself facing such an unwelcome fate.

Yours truly,

The Faculty of the Department of East Asian Studies
University of Toronto


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