April 8, 2009

The struggle to "Save Women's Studies" continues...

by Andrew Garvie
Reprinted from The Cannon

Student outrage at Senate's Women's Studies cut by Andrew Garvie

Apr 8, 2009 - Last night, April 7, the UofG's Senate voted to put the final nail in the coffin of the Women's Studies program, despite massive student opposition from the visitor's gallery. The vote from the Senate floor was approximately 60/40 against a motion that would have saved the program for another year and allowed for time to reevaluate the BUGS decision for its elimination. The motion was shot down right at the tail end of a marathon four hour senate meeting where a similar motion to save the Organic Agriculture program had been passed just an hour before. Immediately after the votes were counted the meeting erupted with shouts from the students, faculty and community members in the gallery.

The move to eliminate the Women's Studies program has met with unprecedented student opposition and accompanied by calls from across the country addressing the University of Guelph's administration to retract their support for the removal of the program. There has also been solidarity rallies held in Peterborough and as far away as Winnipeg ( video ). Students and faculty spoke passionately in support of the program but the majority of the Senate's membership were not swayed.

Many students were felt that a clear reason for the elimination of Women's Studies has not been made. Originally the UofG's administration cited financial concerns and pointed to the 16 million dollar deficit that they are running heading into an economic crisis. President Summerlee began last nights meeting with a preamble citing the unfortunate economic circumstances the University was in and the need to make hard decisions. However this was not the central reason given last night for the cut. When it was widely reported that the proposed cut would only end up saving .17% of the overall deficit, many students felt that the University changed its approach. Now the administration and the Dean in charge of Women's Studies is pointing to a stagnation of the program's curriculum, low-enrollment and a lack of clarity of its future after consultation with its faculty. Faculty in the visitor's gallery last night made it clear that they did not feel that there was meaningful consultation. There were meetings where the future of the program were discussed and where several possibilities of changes to the curriculum were made but it was not understood by the attendees of those meetings that a lack of concrete decisions would result in the elimination of the program.

Many voices from the gallery expressed a view that the UofG was being dishonest in portraying itself as a progressive institution where environmental concerns and issues of social justice are central to its mandate. They saw the cuts as a move away from programs committed to sustainable agriculture and programs committed to providing an academic forum for discussions surrounding racism, sexism and homophobia. The general attitude was that low-enrollment was not a sufficient determinate of a program's worth and that even if it was, both programs have a chance to grow in the future. Organic Agriculture was saved using arguments that the program would serve an up-and-coming industry dedicated to solving the planet's most urgent environmental problems. Apparently the argument that Women's Studies enrollment would grow due to the fact that more and more high schools are offering Women's Studies classes for the first time did not go over as well with Senate members.

The administration was not the only target of the student's disgust last night. Many felt particularly betrayed by their representatives who ended up voting against the motions to save Women's Studies. Both the incoming and outgoing CSA Academic Commissioners, Nathan Lachowsky and Christi Garneau-Scott, decided to vote against the CSA's Board of Directors decision to oppose the elimination of Women's Studies. This was in spite of the fact that CSA bylaws state that Executives are bound to take direction from the Board and that the Board had specifically directed the Academic Commissioner to vote in favor of continuing Women's Studies. Also, previous Board meetings had already censured Garneau-Scott for not following through on a decision where she was to lead the Executive in writing a condemnation of the proposed cuts. It seems that although students used their speaking rights as observers of last night's meeting, not all of their representatives on the floor could be counted on to present their opinions and vote accordingly.

Organizers of the campaign to "Save Women's Studies" have vowed to explore other avenues to continue the fight and "the Cut the Cuts" campaign will undoubtedly continue to remain relevant as the economic crisis shows little evidence of letting up and more cuts are planned.

For more info on these issues check out a recent article in Western's student press here

Stay tuned for pictures of last night's rally and Senate meeting.

For more info contact: cutthecutsguelph@gmail.com

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