Brad Bucknell (English & Film Studies) on the arguments at Arts Faculty Council on the transformation of the Centre for Writers

This is the fifth post on ArtsSquared by members of the Faculty of Arts on the Provost’s planned transformation of the Centre for Writers into an administrative unit run by Student Services. Further to a motion passed by Arts Faculty Council at its meeting of 25 May 2016 advising him to reconsider his decision, the Provost has agreed to delay any change to the Centre for Writers for one year, to allow for further review of the issue. Here Brad Bucknell (English & Film Studies) comments on the arguments of the Acting Vice-Dean of Arts, Stuart Landon, at the Arts Faculty Council meeting of 25 May 2016 as he spoke of his role in this decision.

It was, to say the very least, a curious and disheartening AFC meeting this past Wednesday. Near the end of the meeting, we began discussing the recent changes to the Centre for Writers. Specifically, we took up the removal of Professor Lucie Moussu as the Centre’s director. Many people there wanted to hear a more complete explanation of the replacement (indeed, the displacement) of Professor Moussu who is both a trusted colleague and a widely known and well-respected scholar. Nothing about her replacement made much sense, so we came seeking enlightenment. We left without it.

The explanation contained these “points.” We were told that there had been a year’s consultation on the matter, including conversations with Prof. Moussu. This may be true in some way; however, it is hard to know what the word “consultation” means here, since Prof. Moussu would hardly have agreed to her own removal from the directorship. Perhaps there was less consultation than plain old telling: this is how it will be.

But things got curiouser, and more disheartening. The next point was that the Centre for Writers is located in the basement of Assiniboia Hall. It is supposed to be “terrible” there. It isn’t, but even if it were, this has nothing to do with the directorship at all. It does not follow that because the basement of Assinboia Hall is somehow an unsuitable space for a Centre for Writers that the director of the Centre must be removed. A similar non-sequitur popped up with that administrative word: “centralization.” All student support services concerned with writing should be centralized. Whether or not centralization is the magic solution to student writing is, again, hardly the point. This means nothing in regard to the directorship. Nothing like a reasoned explanation had yet appeared.

Along the way, though, we heard many phrases about “students’ needs,” and meeting “students’ needs,” and about “what’s best for students.” Had the Centre for Writers not been meeting students’ needs all this time? Had it been not enough, or had it been doing harm? On the contrary, as one person pointed out, and many of us would concur, the Centre under Prof. Moussu’s direction is one of the few places where we can send students to get real help with second (or third, or fourth, etc.) language help. And native English speakers, professors, and anyone else can use the Centre, for free, as well.

It is true, though, that the Centre is not part of student support services (under the direction of the Dean of Students). How this harms or in any way disadvantages students at all is hard to understand. The Centre for Writers provides its services for free. Writing support offered by student services costs $20/ hour. Can the charge somehow be an advantage to students? Once again, all the heavy weather about students seems meant to obfuscate, not explain. We were told that it costs the Faculty of Arts virtually nothing to support the Centre. Why, then, move it to any other unit? What difference can it possibly make to students and their real needs (not their rhetorical ones) if it stays in Arts? Student Services could simply advertise the free service that is available to students at the Centre for Writers.

In fact, the Centre for Writers must be one of the few truly complete units on campus. Students are trained as tutors by Prof. Moussu; these students then go on to assist other students who come to them with problems: education occurs, and real “student needs” are met here in more than one way. Prof. Moussu also conducts research on language training that will serve not just others in her field, but the very students who come to the Centre. One would think that Arts would happily support such an important unit.

However, if the Centre is transferred to student services, then the director is no longer considered academic faculty. Of course, then someone can be assigned to the diminished role of the “director,” someone who can, him/herself, be administered.

At this moment in the discussion, we were told not to denigrate those in the Dean of Students office who might take up this new post. Some of them may even have PhDs. This was intended to be heartening; instead, it proved that the point was lost on our interlocutor. Indeed, it was truly remarkable to hear this plea for respect coming from one who had been part of the unprofessional and disrespectful treatment as that which was occurring to Prof. Moussu right before our eyes! And how can any of us be cheered by the fact that perhaps yet another contract instructor will be exploited in this diminished directorship?

Ah, but this is where it truly gets mysterious, and even somewhat frightening. For there are no savings to be had here. Prof. Moussu will “simply” teach in Writing Studies, and another person with another salary will be placed in the same director’s chair at the re-located Centre for Writers. No money will be saved, or, at this point, generated at all. No educational purpose will be served either. It is a certainty that students who come to the “renewed” Centre for Writers will get much less than they do now.

Indeed, at the end of the day we have no rational explanation for any of this manoeuvring; not even the prime directives of the corporate university (to generate revenue, to create “efficiencies,” etc.) can explain what is happening. The public will get less for more. We are left, then, simply with the appalling spectacle of the de-professionalization of a fine colleague through what appears to be a rather pointless administrative exercise.

Or is this the true point’: that at any time, any one of the faculty can simply be de-valued, pushed aside by other (or perhaps, former) academics? If this can be done to Prof. Moussu, who, can ‘scape whipping? At bottom, Prof. Moussu’s displacement from the directorship is stunningly unjust. It is also chilling and deeply troubling in every respect.

The one positive note that did arise from this was a resolution (moved, and passed) that the Arts Faculty request that the Provost make no determination about the fate of the Centre for Writers or its director for at least one year. This will give time to have the issue more fully, and publicly, debated.

For more on this, please see Garry Watson’s letter here at Arts Squared.


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