When the University of Winnipeg’s dean of arts announced plans to amalgamate the departments of religion, classics and philosophy last November, students, faculty and alumni were outraged by the decision.
“It was out of the blue and a terrible shock to all the departments involved,” said Dr. Jane Cahill, chair of the classics department at U of W. Within five days the university realized it was a bad idea and the plan was scrapped, yet rumours kept circulating.
One of the reasons for the commotion was the fact that the philosophy department had been facing hard times. The chair had stepped down and a number of faculty members resigned.
“(Philosophy students) were upset about the state of their department,” Cahill said. “The chair had resigned and there were internal conflicts, so students kept up the noise to raise attention for the philosophy department’s issues.”
Dr. Jack Zupko was recently appointed to the position of chair of the philosophy department. When he heard about the possible merger before he arrived from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, he was skeptical about it.
“I was hired to be chair of philosophy, not philosophy, religion and classics … philosophy and classics share a secretary but that’s all that we have in common,” he said.
Combining two unrelated departments is a big concern for Keith Collins, a faculty member in the classics department. As a contract employee, he was unsure about the future of his job.
“With a merger of departments comes layoffs and less opportunities for new hires,” Collins said. “I hope we’re not undermined like that.”
As for rumours about the women and gender studies department joining with classics, Cahill assures those are false as well.
“Classics departments suffer when they are amalgamated,” she said. “What happens is that the smaller, important aspects of the discipline die. A chair that isn’t a classicist doesn’t understand why we would want to teach fourth-year Greek to four students. And we still wish to provide aspects of classics like that.”
Cahill did her doctorate studies at the University of British Columbia when they had a prestigious classics department. The department has since merged, being renamed the department of classical, near eastern and religious studies. She notes that it is no longer a world-renowned program.
“I see amalgamations happening in schools due to budgetary concerns, which should not be the main concern of academics,” Cahill said. “Universities are moving to a business model and decisions based on money are not for the academic good.”
Graeme Gagnon, a third-year classics student, was upset about the proposed joining.
“When the merger was announced I was contemplating switching to a degree in history,” he said.
“But classes are full and waitlisted. If anything, the university needs to expand the classics department. I’m thankful (the merger’s) not happening.”
Check out the classics and philosophy departments student association at http://uwclassics.blogspot.com and http://uwphsa.blogspot.com.
Published in Volume 65, Number 3 of The Uniter (September 16, 2010)