Thoughts on culture, education, and having been a Canadian in the US
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Posts from — April 2008

Canadian Studies and the media

Late last week, a Canadian Press reporter looking for a story happened upon the Burlington Free Press article on the closure of our program office and the withdrawal of program funding to Canadian Studies. The resulting Canadian Press story hit the newswires on Friday morning and a media frenzy began. Even before I got to my office on Friday morning I was getting calls at home from radio stations in Canada who wanted to speak with me about this decision. Both AM 940 in Montreal and 1040 Hamilton interviewed me about this on live radio and one of our colleagues heard the story on the morning news on CBC Ottawa. Over the weekend, the story made it into Saturday’s Globe and Mail (which would be the equivalent here of making it into the Sunday NY Times), Saturday’s New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and it was on the editorial page of Sunday’s Edmonton Journal. Earlier today, the controversy was featured on Vermont Public Radio’s Vermont Edition. It also made it into today’s edition of The Vermont Cynic. It’s even been blogged about.

What’s fascinating about this, to me anyhow, is that very little of this attention was directly sought out by me or any of my colleagues. Aside from one inquiry by one of my senior colleagues to the Free Press to see if they’d be interested in the story, all of this coverage has been the doing of the media itself, who see this, especially in Canada, as a story worth covering. There are people on campus, I’m sure, who are surprised by this attention. The Administration undoubtedly expected fallout, but none of the people I spoke to there seemed to give much credence to my worries that this would soon be all over the news. Even I couldn’t have foreseen this story making it across Canada in that country’s most important and widely read newspaper.

Overall, I think the coverage has been balanced and fair to all concerned. The Administration’s position has been consistent. What it fails to speak to, though, is the effect that the potential loss of our annual grant will have on the work that we do and on the students in our classes, who have benefitted enormously from the extracurricular activities we run on campus and from the research and program money we use to help supplement the $800 or so we each get from our departments for conference travel every year. The small grant ($9500 CDN this year, which converted to just over $10,000 US) goes an incredibly long way and has been one of the things that differentiates our circumstance from all of the other area studies programs.

Up until three years ago, the amount we brought in with external grants was well over $70,000 a year and that amount subsidized the staff our Center employed (an admin assistant AND a separate outreach coordinator). I happen to believe that we can get back to that point and I’ve been working hard to position ourselves to do this. We can get there in the next few years, I believe, but achieving this without an office or a dedicated support person will be much more difficult.

What’s clear from the media attention and from the student outcry about this decision (the Student Government Association passed an emergency resolution this past Tuesday demanding the cuts be rescinded) is that there are many, many peple who are alarmed by this decision. There are few universities in the US better positioned geographically, historically, and politically to make Canadian Studies an area of study. Our program has been internationally known for decades and helped pioneer this field in the US, a country which now boasts over 50 Canadian Studies programs.

I think Bill Metcalfe said it well in the Canadian Press article: “The real question is not, ‘Why are they cutting it?’ it’s ‘Why don’t we have more of it?”‘

April 14, 2008   1 Comment

The Closure of the Canadian Studies Office

\Canadian Studies office, 589 Main Street

Canadian Studies office, 589 Main Street

Dear friends,

Recently, the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences informed me that she intends to withdraw all funding ($35,000, which covers our staff and office costs) from the Canadian Studies Center on Main Street. The Dean’s plan right now is to shut the office down on June 30 and to move our administrator to another job in the College. This money will be reallocated to areas that the College deems to be of higher priority.

Founded in 1964, the University of Vermont’s Canadian Studies Program is one of the oldest, most respected programs in North America. Its reputation and long, productive history was what lured me to UVM five years ago and has continued to attract new tenure-track faculty such as Professors Amani Whitfield, Shelly Rayback, and Pablo Bose, all of whom are doing fascinating, cutting-edge research on Canada.

Although the University administration is justifying their cuts to our office with the argument that we only have three majors and two minors in our program and very few connected faculty, this does not accurately reflect the student and faculty involvement in our program. As of 2007-08, we have 10 tenured and tenure-track faculty and three lecturers teaching courses on Canada, and our program today is the strongest it has been in years. In the past year alone, our associated faculty from the departments of History, Geography, Romance Languages, English, Political Science and Anthropology taught 22 courses with either full or partial Canadian content, reaching close to 600 students.

Last year, 65 of our students and 15 Canadian Politics students from Saint Michael’s College travelled to Ottawa as part of our legendary, annual field trip to Canada’s capital, a trip that has run every year since the mid 1950s. Our program also hosts many high-profile events across campus, such as the visit to campus in October by the Grand Chief of the Council of the Quebec Crees, who spoke to a standing-room-only crowd at the Livak Ballroom about the relationship between the Cree and the Governments of Canada and Quebec whose massive hydro projects have flooded traditional lands in order to provide electricity to Quebec and much of New England.

The closure of our offices will, we believe, effectively end our chances of continuing to receive the Program Enhancement grant we receive each year from the Canadian Embassy in Washington. This year’s grant was close to $10,000 and it is what allows us to run the annual student trip to Ottawa, and the many events we put on at UVM. It will also end the travel and research support we frequently give to our associated faculty, which often doubles what their home departments are able to provide.

Needless to say this cut will have a profound impact on the shape of our students’ education and on the research and teaching done by the individual faculty members associated with our program. This decision is something that will affect all of us in one way or another. Given our proximity to Canada and its importance in Vermont’s history, economy and daily life, this will also most certainly be a major embarrassment to the University of Vermont. Canada does matter to our students and faculty, and it’s important that it continue to have a strong place at our state’s flagship university.

Over the last several weeks, I’ve kept things quiet about this decision as we tried to negotiate a compromise solution and demonstrate the need for the continued presence of the office and support staff that enables us to run all of these programs. These attempts appear to have been unsuccessful. Unfortunately, our attempts to persuade the administration are now turning to the media, a move that, as an untenured professor at UVM, I have chosen not to direct. Although I have recently spoken to a Burlington Free Press reporter who called for information as part of a story they are doing on our program, this statement on my blog will be my primary contribution to this effort. I will provide information about our program to those who ask, but I will leave the rhetoric to my fine, tenured colleagues and to all those in the UVM community who are upset about this decision.

Finally, I’d like to add that, although I disagree strongly with this decision and the arguments being made to justify it, I have great respect for the people currently leading the College of Arts and Sciences and the University of Vermont. I realize that Dean Miller and Provost Hughes are faced with difficult decisions every day and I believe them when they tell me that this was one of them. I remain hopeful, though, that a compromise can be reached that will see us keep our well-utilized space and support staff that are so crucial to the continued success of our program.

If you would like to offer your support, I encourage you to leave your comments below and/or contact the offices of the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, the Provost, or the President.


Paul Martin

UPDATE: The Free Press article is now online here. This is a lengthy, balanced article that was on the top of the front page today with a large picture of one of our students. The rest of the article took up a good deal of a page later in the first section of the paper. As one of my friends noted earlier today, it’s one of the longest articles he’s ever seen the Free Press write.

Students In front of Parliament 2007
UVM students in front of Canadian Parliament 2007

April 5, 2008   10 Comments

Advising for Fall 2008

Fall registration begins for Seniors on Tuesday, April 8, and opens up for everyone else gradually over that week. Make sure to check the UVM Registration schedule to see when you may begin registering for Fall classes.

I’m setting aside enough 20 minute appointments over the next week or so to meet with all 30 of my advisees. I’ll be available to answer any advising questions and to help review your choice of courses for the fall semester. If you’ll be a senior planning on graduating in spring 2009, you should definitely come to see me before registering so that we can make sure you’ll be set to graduate.

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April 5, 2008   No Comments