November 18th, 2003

Fishy Circumstances

Initial thoughts on reading the U of T's White Paper

I spent my office hours this afternoon reading the first two-thirds of the University of Toronto's official white paper, which is currently circulating for feedback. The paper is intended to outline the University's vision and goals for approximately the next six years, and is currenly under debate and open for input. The following comprises my initial thoughts on reading as much as I have of it at this point.

Who knew that the U of T held appearance in such high esteem? Apparently, as the document says, one of the advantages of direct admittance to the PhD (as opposed to requiring an MA) is that the degree can be completed "before youth and beauty fail."

I appreciate the fact that cost estimates ranged from the millions of dollars to "Coffee" or "Good will and courtesy", depending on the goal.

All of you who are applying to Toronto are also dealt with in this paper. Has the "friendliness quotient" of dealing with the university been high enough to please you? The "good will and courtesy" expense, btw, was itemized under the cost of friendly and frequent communications between prospective students and departments.

Interdisciplinarity is a tricky goal. What is it, anyways? The term is never defined in this paper, but it's clearly a goal of the white paper to encourage it. This could mean "Get rid of lots of faculty by smushing departments together" or it might mean "Every faculty member should be doing double-duty in at least two departments." I'm all in favor of disciplines working together, and in people taking advantage of the techniques of other disciplines, but it's not entirely clear if this is what the paper is actually getting at or not. The paper advocates allocating funds for specifically interdisciplinary positions - but based on the amount they think this'll cost, I'm guessing they're advocating about 4 positions university-wide for this explicit mandate.

Why are the humanities not mentioned at all in the bit where the paper talks about exciting new developments and future prospects? The humanities disciplines have certainly not been moribund, especially at this university! I realize that the teaching hospitals reap huge research grants, but size of research grant alone does not correspond to importance of research.

U of T doesn't employ all that many sessionals, compared to many universities these days. I was glad to see they mentioned the issue, albeit piecemeal, in various different places. The gist was that sessionals are no solution to a budget crunch, and that they ought to be offered the same supportive infrastructure that full faculty are.

There were two things which the paper advocated which I think are good ideas: instruction in research ethics, and a for-credit course in pedagogy. The downside is that the course in pedagogy was presented along with the ongoing assumption that TAships are an integral part of funding.

My department is clearly not doing enough PR on its own behalf. Very few departments were mentioned in the white paper, but the Centre for Medieval Studies was one of them.

The strike mark in the Centre's name is to denote the particular accidentally excluded word in the paper. This brings me to another point: if this document is intended to be circulated to tens of thousands of academics, why on earth wasn't it better proofread? Lots of words were entirely missing, many were spelled incorrectly. You'd figure after the Anno Domini millennium, more people would know how to spell "millennium."