After the decision to merge U of T’s Centre for Comparative Literature with five other literature and language departments in order to cut costs in July, it seems the Centre will be saved—at least for one more year.
The Centre for Comparative Literature was founded in 1969 by one of the great English literary theorists of the twentieth century, Northrop Frye (author of The Great Code). The centre is unique in North America and is well-known for its study of critical theory and literature across many different cultures.
With a $55-million debt, the faculty had decided to merge six humanities departments into one large Centre of Languages and Literatures, but considering the outcry from current students, faculty, graduates, and scholars around the world, it will remain open as a standalone entity.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail, professor Hutcheon, who left school at Cornell to study with Frye at the Centre, said that studying literature at the Centre “is such a different thing than being locked into one culture” so that people from all around the world were coming to the Centre to study under Frye’s vision of comparative literature, because “it was the only place in the world that you could do it.” The cross-cultural focus is what drew Hutcheon in.
Yet the high debt remains, and so the Centre has been asked to think of ways to cut costs. Meric Gertler, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science, held a Town Hall at an auditorium at OISE at the end of September, in which he discussed the 40-page plan published in June. The plan had proposed the merge of the centre with the other humanities programs, including Italian, German, East Asian Studies, Spanish, Portuguese, and Slavic languages.
In The Varsity, Gertler is described as blaming “uncertain times” as well as “provincial grant freeze” and “world economic slowdown” for the faculty’s $22-million annual deficit and $56-million accumulated deficit.
While debt is a problem for the university, fourth-year English major Bethany Waldie comments, “There is an even greater need to acknowledge the place and significance for the unappreciated studies of comparative and critical literature.” And while there seems to be a general pattern of universities trying to close deficit gaps, Waldie feels that English and humanities departments are often targeted first.
The Centre for Comparative Literature remains the only place at U of T where students can study Canadian literature, not only in English, but in French or aboriginal languages. Students who are enrolled in the program must eventually narrow their field of study to at least two literatures, and must be proficient in at least one non-English language at the master’s level and in two at the PhD level.