Guelph considers cutting women's studies

School may save $100,000 eliminating program

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

The women’s studies program at University of Guelph is at risk of being eliminated due to massive budget cuts.

The Bachelor of Arts and Sciences Program Committee at the university recently voted to remove the women’s studies program.

“There are about 12 majors under consideration for elimination. Women’s studies is one of them,” Serge Desmarais, associate vice-president academic at University of Guelph, said.

According to Desmarais, the decision has to be approved by the Board of Undergraduate Studies " a committee responsible for making decisions regarding undergraduate academic matters " and the university’s Senate.

Desmarais mentioned the university’s budget shortfall was the main reason for considering the elimination of programs. He added the women’s studies program alone will save Guelph approximately $100,000.

“It doesn’t make much sense financially ... The program is currently under-funded so the university has been looking to cut the program and this is a really good chance to do that,” Jack Hixson-Vulpe, a Guelph student majoring in women’s studies, said.

But Desmarais pointed out the women’s studies program lacked a solidly defined curriculum and was formed based on a set of courses from other departments.

According to Desmarais, universities take into consideration different aspects when looking to remove a program. However, they try to focus on one particular idea.

“In our case, we chose to determine the low enrollment majors. Over the last five years, [women’s studies] has had very few students enrolled in it. For the past three years, fewer than 25 students majored in the program,” Desmarais said.

He also mentioned the courses revolving around women’s studies would not be eliminated. As a result, approximately 40 courses associated with the women’s studies program will continue to be offered.

“In a way it is not the end of the women’s studies program. It is an elimination and then a time for us to revisit how we can actually revive the major by doing something that is more curriculum driven and that seems to [have] a broader appeal,” Desmarais added.

But the proposal has drawn its fair share of scorn. Along with a Facebook group consisting of over 1,000 members, a number of professors at the university have been fighting for the program.

“We’ve had women’s studies faculty, students, alumni and women’s studies faculties from other universities contact [the board of undergraduate studies] expressing arguments concerning the importance of this program,” Marta Rohatynski, a professor at Guelph and a former co-ordinator of the women’s studies program, said.

She believed appropriate action was being taken on their behalf to ensure the program is not eliminated.

According to Hixson-Vulpe, a rally will be held on March 26 to raise awareness for the issue.

“I feel strongly that the administration is being extremely short-sighted in even considering a cancellation of the women’s studies program,” Anastasia Zavarella, a fourth-year student at Guelph pursuing a minor in women’s studies, said.

According to Desmarais, the decision to whether or not eliminate the women’s studies program would be made sometime next week.

“People are aware of one piece of the story without being aware of the fact that [women’s studies] is not the only program [undergoing that process],” Desmarais said.

“The administration appears to be citing the budget crunch and current economic crisis as the reason for needing to cut costs,” Zavarella added.

“But in times like these it is important to invest time and resources to the most vulnerable aspects of our future.”

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