Students present senate with their concerns about the future of anthropology

The Anthropology Society  asks the University for more updates and transparency in regard to the suspension

The senate meeting began with the announcement that neither senate chair Robert Campbell nor vice-chair Jeff Ollerhead were able to attend. Dean of science Amanda Cockshutt was elected temporary chair and senate proceeded as usual.

After all regular senate business had been addressed, fourth-year anthropology student and co-president of Mount Allison’s Anthropology Society, Shae Vlaar, read an open letter to the senate about the future of the anthropology program.

Vlaar began by saying that “the past year [had] been extremely stressful for students in the program.” She then outlined why anthropology is unique and valuable as a discipline, citing critical skills, a high standard of ethics and introducing students to conceptual tools such as cultural relativism, intersection among marginalities and rites of passage as a few.

Addressing the idea that anthropology should be cut in favour of an Indigenous studies program because of its colonial roots, Vlaar said, “Anthropology, like every other discipline in the western tradition, has a colonial past. However, this is not something we can tuck away and forget about by removing it from the curriculum – it is something we need to work through as part of the University’s commitment to Indigenization.” Vlaar defended the introductory anthropology course, saying, “All students benefit from developing an appreciation for and understanding of decolonization and cultural diversity, which are not addressed by any other discipline at the University.”

Vlaar then stated the society’s proposal: “We want the uncertainty about the future of anthropology at Mount Allison lifted by, at the very least, having introductory anthropology reinstated for the forthcoming academic year.” She said that even if the program is not maintained in its present form they would like to have a selection of Indigenous-related anthropology courses to take as distribution credits since “failure to offer this may cause students seeking to study courses of anthropology at Mount Allison to pursue their studies elsewhere.”

Vlaar also spoke to the way the University handled the anthropology program’s suspension, saying the program had high enrolment and “the way the process has been handled has been problematic. Students were not provided with a clear answer as to why the program was under review.” Vlaar closed by saying that the society hopes their suggestions and opinions will be taken into consideration during the next discussion of the program’s future.

Other members of the society echoed the desire for clearer communication around the program’s suspension and fate. The University has made no clear statements as to whether the program will be reinstated or not.

Majoring and minoring in the program was suspended last year, and although it was said that the suspension would not affect current students’ ability to finish their anthropology degree, Vlaar and the other students said it has. They described anxiety and undue burden, particularly for members of the society, who said they often field questions from incoming and prospective students about what is going on but have no answers to give, something they said reflects badly on both them and the University.

James Devine, head of the politics and international relations department, thanked the students for their words. Devine said that the University has failed to treat the issue of needing to make Indigenous hires and needing to address the anthropology discipline’s problematic history as separate issues. Devine said the two problems should both be addressed and should not be treated as mutually exclusive: “We don’t need to see one program being implemented at the cost of another.” Devine closed by saying that the senate will be meeting again to discuss these issues in October and those present should not forget what was said here today.

Loralea Michaelis, faculty representative and associate professor of politics and international relations, suggested that the provost and University Planning Committee prepare a formal response to the concerned students, preferably before October of the next academic year.

Michaelis criticised the way the University handled the suspension, saying that, although a motion to shut down the program was never passed in senate, by preventing any new majors or minors the University is unjustly assuring that the program will die out within the next few years.

Michaelis then made a formal request to the Agenda Committee to add this issue to the agenda of the joint meeting of the faculty council and senate next month. Michaelis also motioned that Ollerhead, as absent chair of the University Planning Committee, prepare a formal response for the meeting and that the Anthropology Society be asked back as they did not have the opportunity to speak directly to him or University President Campbell at this meeting. Her motions were passed.

This discussion will be continued on April 3 at 4 p.m. in the James Dunn Building’s Wu Centre.

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