English causes film studies scandal?
By Laura Katsirdakis
When film students at Western returned this September, they found their program - or at least the people who run it - had changed drastically.
"As a result of a general lack of firm commitment to the program by the Department of English, three out of our four full-time professors took positions at other institutions - the single remaining of the four professors is, this year, going on sabbatical. Come January, the film program will be headed by professors that Western has hired this past summer," said Ben Filippini, a recent graduate of the film program.
"Film studies as a program exists within a department which is a different subject; English," said Michael Zryd, one of the former film professors at Western and now an associate professor of film at York University. "The success of any program within a foreign department is doubtful."
When asked why he left Western, Zryd explained it had to do with "the receptiveness and openness of [the English] department." Zryd was with Western for five years, before leaving this past June. "I left with ambivalence and disappointment."
"The loss of professor Zryd is felt; the program is facing changes this year but I feel it will be stronger than ever," said Kathleen Okruhlik, dean of Western's faculty of arts.
This summer also saw two other film professors go to different positions. When asked to comment on the loss of three professors, Douglas Kneale, the chair of the English department, noted one of those professors is only on leave.
"Officially I am on leave," said Angela Stukator, former chair of Western's film program. She confirmed she is currently the associate dean of media, television, film and animation at Sheridan College, adding she has not decided whether she will return to Western when her leave is over.
"Professor Milliken (another former film professor) gave a presentation last year clearly pointing out she was applying for a full-time position at Western [when her limited term contract expired at the end of this year]", said Angel Hannon, fourth-year film and media, information and technoculture student.
When her contract ended this summer, Hannon said, Milliken chose not to apply and instead accepted a position at Brock University.
Hannon was in the process of writing her undergraduate thesis when she found out her thesis advisor, Stucator, had left the university. "I found out in the middle of June in an e-mail [from Stucator] and it just broke my heart," Hannon explained.
"How do you do a proper thesis when you've just met your thesis advisor?" Filippini asked of students like Hannon who were in the process of completing their thesis. "As a faculty we feel left behind - abandoned - and not by the professors who left," he said. "I am ashamed of the English department."
"We worked extremely hard to build the honours program and we were heading toward creating a masters program," Stucator said of her time at Western. "I felt that the program was struggling with its relationship with the English department."
"The film program has never been stronger," Kneale said, citing the new honours program and potential masters program as evidence of this. Kneale also confirmed the film program is planning to hire three new full-time instructors. When asked if this was related to the departure of several film instructors, he denied any direct connection.
"This is a historic moment in [the film program]; enrollment has never been better," Kneale added. "I'm very optimistic about the future of film."
When asked to respond to this statement by Kneale, Stucator declined.
"[Professor] Zryd was the type to stick with a situation; the fact that he left [is significant]," Hannon said. She expressed a sense of loss "held by all the film students."
"Some of the profs we have now are not Western profs, they appear to be 'rented' from York," Hannon explained. "I am part of the Western Undergraduate Film Society, which used to promote unity as one of the best qualities of this film program, but now that's just been shattered."
"The [film] program was one of the best in Canada," Filippini said. "In a span of three months they've lost everyone - it's just too coincidental."