Mt. A rethinks anthropology program

Entry into the program is suspended as the University contemplates the program’s future

The future of anthropology at Mount Allison is currently in question. Program enrolment has been suspended and the University is not offering first-year anthropology courses. Upper-year courses are still being offered and all second-, third- and fourth- year students will be able to complete their program requirements to graduate with a major, minor or honours in anthropology. A senate ad hoc committee for the future of the anthropology department, as well as the Academic Matters committee and the University Planning committee, are working on making recommendations on the future of anthropology to the senate.

The University is exploring different options for restructuring the anthropology program. Dr. Patricia Kelly Spurles, department head of anthropology, said that the debates about the future of anthropology as a discipline have been taking place around the world for decades: “It’s certainly something that I think all anthropologists have been weighing since, you know, the 1970s.” The University’s anthropology department is recommending the resources currently allocated to anthropology be put towards an Indigenous studies department.

In this year’s academic plan, there are two new hires in Indigenous studies for this year, one in social sciences and the other most likely in Canadian studies.

For Spurles, it is very important that the University commits to having Indigenous hires. She emphasizes that in the past 30 years, other areas of study have incorporated ideas from anthropology. “Other disciplines have been so changed by anthropology, I think that means that we can stay in the vanguard by saying okay, now you guys have to pick up your end,” said Spurles. “It’s a debate about what we can do in a department with three or four people and the value of that, compared to what we could do with those positions in Indigenous studies.”

In an interview, provost Dr. Jeff Ollerhead underlined that the decision of whether or not anthropology should still exist at Mt. A was not up to him. He suggested that students should engage in the discussion about what kinds of academic programs they’d like to see: “My job is to figure out how to allocate the resources to support whatever that decision is to the best degree possible. It would be true we can’t support everything but, you know, that might mean we don’t support something else if we don’t have the resources.”

Emma Larkin, president of the Anthropology Society, sees the changes as potentially positive, in terms of being able to hire Indigenous faculty into an Indigenous studies department. “This is Indigenous land and there’s not that much decolonization going on,” she said.

However, Larkin has also been frustrated by the lack of transparent and timely communication between the university and anthropology students. The Society’s position on the matter is “If it is an either/or, we would go with [an Indigenous studies department] because we want to see improvements be made, but we’re just a little worried about neglecting the other parts of anthropology that are so important.”

Larkin didn’t know that she was going to study anthropology when she arrived at Mt. A and she’s concerned that other students won’t have the opportunity to discover the discipline like she did.

When asked what students can do to influence this issue, Larkin said, “If you care about anthropology’s meaning and the place it has in a liberal arts school in New Brunswick, Canada, join us in expressing concern.”

Rachel Howlett, VP of academic affairs for the MASU, said students should contact their MASU senators to have their voices heard on this issue. In a Facebook message, Howlett said, “I think making an Indigenous studies department/program shows our academic commitment to the Indigenization of the university.”

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