Entrance into anthropology program suspended

Cuts to small departments within the university spark debate. Louis Sobol/Argosy

Entrance into the Mount Allison anthropology program was suspended on Jan. 20.

According to Jeff Ollerhead, provost and vice-president academic and research, the anthropology program itself has not yet been suspended. Ollerhead said that a “consultation process” will take place, mostly during this semester, to decide whether to suspend the program.

An anthropology professor will be hired next academic year for a two- or three-year contract so that a normal anthropology course load can be maintained for the next few years. Students who have already declared – as well as those who were about to declare – an honours, major or minor in anthropology will be able to complete their degrees.

The decision to suspend program entry emerged from a consultation process that involved Patricia Kelly-Spurles, a tenured anthropology professor, Nauman Farooqi, dean of social sciences, and Ollerhead.

Ollerhead will speak next week with the university planning committee, a Senate committee that will help determine what the consultation process will look like.

Following this consultation process, the future of the anthropology program could go in multiple directions. Ollerhead said that the program may remain as is, but that “this would require a certain hiring strategy” in order to continue offering the normal anthropology course load.

Kelly-Spurles said that a sustainable anthropology program would need four tenure-track anthropology professors. There are currently three tenured professors, but as of the 2017-18 academic year, it is expected that Kelly-Spurles will be the only tenured anthropology professor teaching courses at Mt. A.

“This is not a decision that has been made because there’s a problem with the program; it’s just that we have to make decisions,” Ollerhead said. “Anthropology happens to be a small program, so if you have something like biology, that has eight or nine faculty members, the chances that you’re going to arrive at that point [where there are not enough professors to teach a full course load] are fewer, whereas for the smaller programs – women’s and gender studies, classics, sociology – they are smaller programs to begin with.”

Kelly-Spurles said she has personally made three formal applications for a fourth tenure-track position in the past few years. All three were denied. “The University continues to say that it’s important for departments to have four people…but we don’t [have four people],” she said.

Alternatively, Ollerhead said that Mt. A might abolish the anthropology program and create an  interdisciplinary major. The hiring committee may also focus on filling expertise gaps in other programs. For example, the commerce department has been granted permission to hire a tenure-track professor with a specialization in gender and management.

Ollerhead also said that a professor may be hired to fill the void of Indigenous knowledge on campus.

An open letter to the University composed by students in response to the announcement states that “Mount Allison promotes itself as a liberal arts university, yet for the second time in a year, an interdisciplinary, liberal arts program has found itself on the chopping block.

“[W]ithout a concrete hiring plan or a commitment to Indigeneity, power and class structures, cross-cultural studies, or prospective development, it is hard for us to believe that our shared values will be promoted in the future without an anthropology department.”

Honours student in anthropology and co-president of the Anthropology Society executive Sarah Murphy said she is disappointed with the leadership in the anthropology department and in the administration. “It really feels like our department is being undervalued if they can feel justified in halting admission without any kind of concrete plan for the future,” she said.

Kelly-Spurles said she was disappointed with the decision to suspend entry and that she “understand[s] the pain.” However, she felt that it was important “to situate this decision in the context of a discussion happening not just at Mt. A, but in universities across the country, about finding ways to better integrate programs.”

“The division of intellectual inquiry into distinct silos is something that anthropologists have strongly critiqued,” she said. “I feel very, very strongly that if it came down to a fight between a position in anthropology and a position in women’s studies, or a position in Indigenous issues, then anthropology for the sake of anthropology has no claim on that.”

Molly Hamilton, a second-year anthropology major and women’s and gender studies minor, said she felt that Mt. A wasn’t valuing her disciplines. “I kind of feel failed by this university, in that both my major and minor have been under threat of being cut. It just seems like there’s some kind of opinion here that is evaluating what is more important to the university.

“They want to cut anthro so that they can diversify other programs….Those are all very important, but why does anthropology have to suffer?”

Ollerhead said that ultimately, this is a Senate matter and that Senate will decide how to proceed from here on.

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