TUA photo by Roy Nicholls6
Photo by Roy Nicholls

Funding cuts and the elimination of academic programs in the Humanities is a plight facing universities around the globe – and Trent University is no exception.

Across the Humanities department, 11 full-time tenured faculty members were lost last year through the retirement incentive program. And, out of those lost, only two appointments were made for replacements: one replacement was for the Canadian Studies Department and the other for the Media Studies Department.

In pursuit to understand the status of each Humanities program at Trent,  Arthur sat down to interview the Canadian Studies Department Chair, Christopher Dummitt.

“The loss from losing three tenured faculty members is profound,” said Professor Christopher Dummitt.

The department saw three very important professors leave by taking the retirement incentive program the University put out last year.

Dr. John Milloy, one of the country’s leading experts on residential schools; Dr. James Struthers, a great historian of the welfare state in Canada; and Dr. Davina Bhandar, who examined the notion of the migrant concept of citizenship, took the retirement package last year.

“We lost so much expertise in so many different areas,” said Dummitt. “But we are lucky enough to get one replacement, given the fact that there are other departments who weren’t so lucky but are just as desperate.”

In losing those three professors, Dummitt estimated that the Department lost at least roughly $500,000 in terms of salary and benefits, while the replacement will cost the University less than $120,000. The vast majority of the university budget normally goes towards staff costs, especially full-time faculty members.

The University does not supplement any research funds; however, every tenured faculty member gets an additional $1,200 a year according to the current agreement, said Dummitt. Further, the departments get a very small amount of money, between $1,000 to $1,500 per year, for printing costs.

The Canadian Studies Department is very small, with only two full-time faculty members, Professor Christopher Dummitt and Professor Bryan Palmer. Michèle Lacombe from the Indigenous Studies Department and Jonathan Greene from Political Studies teach one-third of the time in Canadian Studies. The staff also consists of 10 part-time professors and one support staff.

The main challenges facing the Canadian Studies Department is to exist as an independent department because, being as interdisciplinary as they are, they don’t have many majors, says Dummitt, but they do teach a lot of students from many different departments.

However, the current President has supported interdisciplinary studies by saying that the funding will follow whichever department the students go. So, it will not be based on the number of majors but, rather, class enrolment and staffing needs.

According to Dummitt, “The budget cut is making it extremely difficult to staff courses, to offer courses in a whole bunch of different areas, and to have those courses taught by experienced faculty who are here for the career.”

An increasingly vast number of courses are being taught by part-time faculty, who do not get enough pay and/or have no job security. “Further, the lack of full-time faculty means the fewer full-timers we do have will be really stressed because they are expected to do a lot of the administration of the university and, naturally, there are fewer faculty to go around,” Dummitt shared.

Their main struggle, he reiterated: “We do not have enough people.” When he first came to Trent in 2007, there were 90 full-time professors in the Humanities and now there are less than 50. Over the past eight years, half of the professors who have left have not been replaced. “It is a very big number!” he emphasized.

The Department of Canadian Studies started not as its own independent department, but as a program in the early 1970’s, according to Dummitt. In 1972, the first person hired to teach interdisciplinary Canadian Studies was John Wadland.

Arthur found that the Department really grew up as an outgrowth of different professors in different departments all wanting to really place an emphasis on the teaching of Canada. Many discipline representatives came together and overtime, it grew into an actual department with full-time faculty
attached to it.

One of the Department’s biggest achievements is making Trent one of the best places to study Canadian Studies across the country. Trent University has maintained a commitment to the study of Canada at Trent, including most recently, the creation of School for the Study of Canada this
summer, said Dummitt.

He added, “The biggest success has been in Trent acknowledging the central place that Canadian Studies has had within the university as a key, identifying feature about what Trent is [all about and to] say that it is something we do really well.”

The current situation of the Department is “hopeful but precarious,” admitted Dummitt. The Department is really grateful for the support they’ve received so far but are very conscious that more needs to be done in order to be a functional and sustainable Department in the long-term.