For the last few years, the air permeating the Humanities has been one of panic and pessimism. Whether at Traill or at Symon’s Campus, a dialogue on what will become of the Humanities was quite common, as was a creeping sense of doom amongst faculty and students.
This was a product of funding concerns, retention issues, and enrolment numbers. Many Trent undergraduates and recent Alumni of the Humanities can attest to this commonplace worry. Today, the approach has changed in tackling these challenges.
Arthur recently sat down with Professor Hugh Hodges to discuss the state of the Humanities programs. Hodges has been acting chair of both the Cultural Studies Department and the English Studies
Department for the past year. On the surface, this seems like a trying situation, yet Hodges had many positive things to say about his position.
He stated how the connection between Cultural Studies and English were not being explored to their fullest extent in the past, and that both departments could truly benefit from each other.
Having the same chair for both departments has been beneficial, and has allowed for a stream of communication that was not necessarily there before. The departments have treated this idea as an experiment, and thus far, it has proved to be a positive one. Communication is quick and efficient, and there is less lost in translation between the two departments.
Quite contrary to the pervasively attitude of previous years, there seems to be a spark of excitement within the Traill College as of late. Hodges explained how he thought that much of the negativity surrounding the Humanities and Arts was more a matter perception.
“The perception was more grim than the reality.” When viewed through a more optimistic lens, it becomes clear that the Humanities were not under a siege as many would have thought. Hodges stated, “Once you open up the doors and windows, you see how many colleagues you have. A couple of years ago, things seemed grim. But it was the way we were looking at things … we were living in a state of constant crisis, and were made to feel that way because departments were fragmented, and competing with each other, rather than working together. Now, we feel like we can do this in a positive and exciting way.”
Hodges insisted that he has refused the narrative of crisis. “It was Hunger Games there for a while, but once you refuse that paradigm, the reality is that we [arts and sciences] all sink, or we all swim.”
He discussed how the budget issues still existed, but wanted to avoid the discourse of the Sciences versus the Humanities.
“If there are budget cuts due to money being funnelled to other departments of the University, it is still a positive thing. Any increase in enrolment, whether it is in the Sciences or the Arts, is a positive increase. As a University, we must grow together. When the institution wins, we win.”
Professor Hodges mentioned how the main issues the Cultural Studies and English Departments go through are limited resources and spaces. As great as higher rates of enrolment are, there are setbacks. The more students that enrol, the more resources that are necessary to provide for these students.
As of now, constricted budgets do not allow for this. Hodges used the example of an Experimental Film course at Trent. There is only enough equipment for eighteen
students, yet thirty-five to forty students had applied to this course.
“Seminar sizes are getting larger, and we need bigger spaces. In all honesty, it’s a good problem to have,” Hodges stated.
He told Arthur how the departments want to expand, but there needs to be space and resources for them to do so.
“There must be a balance, as the beauty of seminar is that students can feel comfortable having a dialogue with their professor. If seminar sizes and enrolment increase, and classes are moved into larger spaces, what will happen to this dynamic?”
These are all questions being explored by Hodges and his colleagues, who have an new all encompassing vision for the humanities and the arts.
Some goals are to offer rich and diverse options without cluttering the program. The departments have been working on cross-listing many programs between English Studies, Cultural Studies, Classics, and Media Studies. They are also in the process of weeding out courses that raise concerns of repetition, by being too similar to each other.
“It’s an exciting prospect, that by broadening these horizons, students will have more options to explore and connect their interests.”
He mentioned how President of Trent University, Leo Groarke, brings a very positive energy to the University, which is encouraging for the Humanities. Hodges also referred Moira Howes, Dean of Arts and Science, as having a great role in motivating the Humanities positively. Hodges agrees with the vision of Professor Michael Eamon, who believes that there should be a stronger undergraduate presence at Traill College, which is the central location for most Humanities students.
The departments can benefit from each other, and create a hub of Humanities undergraduates. This will create an atmosphere for undergraduates who won’t feel caged into their discipline, and will have more freedom to explore all the programs.
“We could make this the best Humanities Undergraduate Institution in Ontario, and why not? That’s what we absolutely can be, and what we should be striving
towards,” stated Hodges.