Women’s Studies on the Chopping Block

Friday, March 20, 2009


Written by Andrew Garvie

The recession has hit the department of Women’s Studies. As a part of the University of Guelph’s initiative to cut spending in the face of a predicted financial shortfall, the UofG’s administration is proposing to end the Women’s Studies program. The program has been offered at the university since 1979 and is offered at most universities across the country.

The move to eliminate Women’s Studies must still be reviewed and approved by the Senate and the Board of Undergraduate Studies, and there is a growing campaign to save the major. Many students are not convinced that the price the university will pay by getting rid of the department is worth the money that will be saved. Three faculty members have added their voices to the campaign. This includes Karen Wendling (Philosophy), Marta Rohantynski (Anthropology) and Janet Wood (Molecular and cell biology). They point to the fact that cutting the program will only save 0.17% of the University’s predicted shortfall. Serge Desmarais, associate VP of Academic at Guelph, has conceded that cutting the program will save around 100 000 dollars a year. In January, Women’s Studies Coordinator Norman Smith offered to cut the budget by more than half but this proposal was turned down.

The administration has argued that this is purely a financial decision based on the recommendation that any program with under 40 majors should be cut. Critics of the decision say that a price tag cannot be put on the Women’s Studies program and that the small amount of money that it would cost to keep the program running would be money well spent. They point to the fact that the program is one of the only places where barriers in society are discussed, such as racism, sexism and homophobia, and that no other majors have been singled out for elimination as of yet.

Canada remains a deeply unequal society in terms of systemic sexism. According to Statistics Canada, data collected in 2005 shows that for full-time workers, women earn just 70.5 per cent of what men earn. When part-time and non-standard work are factored into the equation, women earn just 64 per cent of men’s salaries. Canada’s success in overcoming sexism has actually slipped in recent years. During the late nineties Canada was ranked number one in the world in terms of the international gender development index. By 2006, Canada’s ranking had slipped to 25th. The local campaigners to save Women’s Studies argue that the program’s worth must be measured with the national context in mind.

Students have organized a rally in support of the Women’s Studies program for Thursday March 26th. It will be held at 1pm at Branion Plaza (the cannon).

For the campaign's Facebook group click here

| More


Back to Top
  1. Posted by: itshardtopost on Mar 20, 2009 @ 6:11pm

    Tough to say. On the one hand, it is a really small program that's mostly comprised of an assorted sampling of courses from other disciplines. On the other hand, I can't say I agree with cutting an entire program because of low numbers.

    What I can say however, looking at that facebook group, is that the supporters of WMST might very well be their own downfall. Shrieking about patriarchy and capitalism, and how the university is anti-feminist is a great way to NOT be taken seriously. Addressing the issue logically and understanding that the University's motives are primarily financial would be the best way to approach it.

  2. Posted by: John L on Mar 21, 2009 @ 12:40pm

    I'd imagine the issue will ultimately be whether or not the program is removed based on objective criteria. No doubt every program on campus will have advocates claiming that it can't be cut because...unique, vital, etc. etc. Losing the Women's Studies program at Guelph means lttle in terms of the "national context", hell, if it did we should be worried that so few folks actually enroll in it. Where were all the folks who are now so bitter when it came time to enroll in the program?

  3. Posted by: John L on Mar 21, 2009 @ 1:00pm

    Out of curiosity why did the WS co-ordinator only offer to cut the budget by half in January? Deans and Directors elsewhere on campus have been struggling with the issue of budget cuts long before then so one wonders what, if anything, caused the last-minute offer and how he can cut the budget by 50%. What's up?

  4. Posted by: Drew Garvie on Mar 22, 2009 @ 7:15pm

    @ John L.
    I'm not 100% sure but I'd imagine it was an effort on the part of of the WS coordinator to avoid a total elimination of the program. There was a recommendation that any program with under 40 majors should be cut so I think it was known early on that WS might be cut. That being said, so far only the WMST program has been singled out as of yet. If anybody has more info please correct me.

  5. Posted by: Jammin' on Mar 24, 2009 @ 2:33pm

    I hate to sound like a jerk but this comment applies to all liberal arts programs. Cancelling an arts program like this and redirecting students to take more practical majors like science, business, and engineering is probably the best thing for students. They can always take a liberal arts course or a minor on the side.

    Otherwise, you’ll spend 4 years of your life studying in a major that likely will not make you any more employable in the end. After graduation, holding true to your strong left values you will then either (A) continue into a masters and be in the same place 2 years later (B) drag out your undergrad (C) go to teachers college or law school and abandon everything you learned or (D) confront the corporate world, starting at bottom and watch others with better degrees pull ahead.

  6. Posted by: Sarah on Mar 24, 2009 @ 3:24pm


    You forgot to mention option E: Students who take arts majors (and I'm including social sciences as they fall under the Bachelor of Arts umbrella) may do so out of interest, and find greatly rewarding careers that have nothing to do with climbing the corporate ladder. Not everyone will succeed in business/science/engineering majors, particularly if these areas are not of interest. This is a pretty limited view of the working world if these are the only "practical" fields of study.

    Personally, after completing my social sciences degree I took a college post-graduate course and am now readily employable in my chosen social services profession. Money does not enter into the equation, I'd rather have a satisfying job that doesn't pay hundreds of thousands than be sitting in an office crunching numbers all day. Others would choose the latter option. But to say that there are only so many options is to take an extremely limited view of the "real world" beyond university, because there are plenty more opportunities out here.

Share your thoughts

Bookstore First Year