Volume 13, Number 8 December 2, 2005

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Forum hears concerns about Humanities’ fate

By Lawrence McMahen

Humanities and Fine Arts faculty at the U of S believe their departments suffer because Canadian universities’ mad scramble for federal government research funding sets up an unfair competition for resources that favours the science departments.

A Nov. 24 forum on the future of the Humanities and Fine Arts at the U of S heard professors call for a new appreciation by the University’s administration for the value of these departments even though their research doesn’t attract millions in grants.

And the speakers and their 80-member audience were told by Peter Stoicheff, Associate Dean for the Humanities & Fine Arts, that changes are underway that will improve the lot of these disciplines on campus.

English Professor Robert Calder told the forum, sponsored by the faculty association and undergraduate and graduate student unions, that he’s concerned by what he sees as an “emphasis on research grant applications” over the quality of the research or the publishing of findings.

While he doesn’t blame the U of S administration, because “across the country universities are scrambling top get in on that [research] money”, he is worried about scholarship.

The science-model research funding even pushes humanities faculty to propose scholarship that inappropriately include collaboration, employment of grad students, or projects like development of websites and use of surveys, Calder said.

“I worry about the valuable, single-author, curiosity-based research. A lot of the best research and results come from somebody passionately concerned about an issue that may not be fashionable at the time,” Calder said.

He asked the audience how Hilda Neatby’s seminal book So Little for the Mind would have fared if proposed for research funding. Calder admitted that many Humanities projects don’t need much money, but they do need there to be adequate numbers of faculty and some release from teaching time.

Drama Head Pamela Haig Bartley told the forum the Fine Arts are often valued only when they’re seen as helpful to other disciplines, such as music being helpful to students’ math abilities.

She says the Fine Arts at the U of S “are slowly being persecuted” by “bureaucrats” who don’t understand the disciplines. “It’s the little day-to-day demands to justify one’s validity that wear down the morale of faculty.” But she thinks “there is hope”, if the Humanities and Fine Arts become more understood.

Philosohy Professor Eric Dayton said it’s unfair to link support for scholarship and research in the Humanities and Fine Arts to the same grant-revenue model as the sciences use. He said the Humanities aren’t given credit for all the revenue they generate by providing inexpensive teaching for huge numbers of students – yet that generates many millions in tuition revenue for the University.

“There is a danger here to punish the Humanities more than they deserve. The hope for the Humanities is for the University to recognize that research excellence in the Humanities has to be judged not by external grants, but by its excellence – and it should be rewarded by internal funding,” Dayton said.

Stoicheff told the forum while many of the faculty concerns are valid, the U of S must try to obtain adequate SSHRC (Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council) funding, because it affects other funding to the University.

He said things are looking up for these disciplines at the U of S. Its SSHRC success is increasing. And he thinks that, “within five years [the Humanities & Fine Arts] will be seen as central to the University.”

At the same time, he said, he doesn’t hear new faculty in Humanities and Fine Arts complaining about the research success the U of S is now having. “There is a sense of professional identity to be at an institution that is a player on the national research scene.”

For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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