McGill’s Office of the Dean of Arts announced the planned suspension of the Graduate Option in Gender and Women’s Studies (GWS) and Development Studies on Feb. 10. The cancellation of the options would eliminate feminist studies graduate programs, as of the Fall 2021 semester.
However, on Feb. 19, Associate Dean, Professor Michael Fronda, clarified to chairs and directors that the Faculty of Arts has not instituted an official suspension or cancellation.
“The Faculty of Arts is in the preliminary stages of a consultation about the options, following the usual practices relating to any proposed changes to university programs and curricula,” Fronda wrote.
In response to the proposed suspensions, the Gender, Sexuality, Feminist and Social Justice Student Association (GSFSSA) posted an open letter to be signed by graduate and undergraduate students. The letter voiced disapproval of the proposed cancellation and the request of its retraction.
“By suspending the Graduate Option, the course of our education is being significantly altered without our prior knowledge or the vital input of those faculty who are entrusted with its implementation,” the letter states.
The GWS is offered in 15 Master degree programs and 11 PhD programs, while the Development Studies Option is available in six Masters programs.
The letter also emphasized that the cancellation of the programs would threaten inclusivity.
“Not only does the university’s actions significantly narrow the pool of exceptional students that would benefit from a graduate program concentration, but it also suspends what has long been considered an asset for the University’s attempt at inclusivity.”
Kiersten van Vliet, third-year PhD student in Musicology with the option in Gender and Women’s Studies, emphasized that the proposed suspension would eliminate a program that is both viable and valued within the McGill community.
“I was gutted to hear that the Graduate Option in Gender and Women’s Studies was being suspended,” Van Vliet said. “The GWS Option fosters the type of scholarly community-building that, at least in my experience, has been rarely found elsewhere at McGill. It has provided me with an interdisciplinary cohort of scholars.”
In an official statement, Dr. Alexandra Ketchum, Faculty Lecturer of the Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies, echoed similar sentiments.
“The university should be expanding its support and providing more financial resources towards the program at this time, rather than trying to end it,” Ketchum said. “I want to underline that the community created by the Graduate Option is not tangential. By creating a research environment in which graduate students feel supported, they are able to do better research and be better scholars.”
Van Vliet, who also serves as President of the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM), speculated that the inclusion of a wider range of stakeholders in the discussions leading up to the decision would have changed the outcome.
“The decision appears to have been made by administrators currently or previously affiliated with Arts, without consulting with administrators within the Faculty of Education or the Schulich School of Music, which challenges the autonomy of other Faculties at McGill,” Van Vliet said. “By bypassing any consultation, the decision was also made without following McGill’s own policies for modifying existing graduate teaching programs.”
The lack of communication with graduate students concerned Van Vliet.
“The silence throughout this process is deafening, and speaks to larger issues concerning how McGill does not act in the interest of its graduate students, its graduate student employees, and its faculty lecturers, who are the institution’s most precarious faculty members,” Van Vliet said.
Maha Cherid, a masters student in Education and Society who is pursuing the GWS option, expressed her disappointment about the university’s priorities.
“In my opinion, the fact that the administration even considered taking away this option, without consultation and without already having a different program in place for MA students, shows a lack of foresight and a serious lack of understanding of the role that gender and women studies play in university,” Cherid wrote in an email to the Tribune.
As of press time, the decision to cancel the GSW option has been suspended. There will be a faculty meeting to discuss the new criteria for graduate options on Feb. 25.