Higher Education in Peril: A Case for Anthropology

This article can be found in the WLUFA Advocate January 2015 3.3.

Natasha Pravaz, Anthropology

The IPRM report recommends that Laurier’s Anthropology BA Combined be “Phase[d] out based on shrinking faculty complement and declining demand.” No other relevant explanations of the reasoning behind the recommendation are provided in the report, nor were they forthcoming at the Town Hall meeting where I sought answers to my questions. Considering the magnitude of this recommendation, I was disturbed to find no public forum where I could address my concerns. The Kafkaesque feeling only grew when I was told that I should just submit my comments online (though I am not to expect an individual response).

Academic programs across the province undergo painstaking Ministry-mandated periodic reviews, which involve many hours of reflection over a period of several months on the part of faculty members. Each program writes an extensive document which considers a period of seven (as op-posed to four) years, makes reference to the previous review documents as points of reference, and includes the detailed assessment of external professionals in their fields of expertise. While the disparities between periodic reviews and the IPRM report in the thoroughness with which programs are evaluated should suffice to raise some concern, the inaccuracies generated by prioritization initiatives’ expediency are reason for alarm. Anthropology is a case in point.

The notion that the Anthropology program at Laurier has a “shrinking faculty complement” is a fallacy. The now-devolved Department of Anthropology had five permanent faculty, and due to personal career choices of staff, lost three faculty in 2012. This staffing issue was resolved by ceasing to offer a BA Honours and focusing on the BA Combined. The remaining two faculty component is stable – not shrinking – and able to deliver a highly successful BA Combined at a very low cost to the University. Yet the revenue-generating nature of the Anthropology program for the period under review (steadily increasing and with a net average of $775,512.25) seems to not be as important a variable in the IPRM decision-making process as the report indicates. We might conclude that WLU’s supposed “financial crisis” may indeed be, as Bill Salatka claims, a fairy tale.

The second fallacy is the statement that the Anthropology program shows “declining demand.” As a direct consequence of the devolution of the Anthropology department, the BA Honours ceased to be offered in the 2012-13 academic year. As no new students were allowed to join the single Major option since 2012, their numbers declined with every graduating cohort, while the number of combined Majors remained quite stable, particularly considering the anxiety among students generated by the department’s devolution (see Winter term, table A6 in the Registrar’s Report). However, these particularities are not reflected in IPRM tables. Rather, the figures represent aggregated data on student numbers from the Anthropology BA hon-ours and the BA Combined.
Anthropology students are the discipline’s strongest advocates, just ask any of them. Our emphasis on ethnographic, experiential learning and training in cross-cultural social analysis is a major asset to students in the Arts and Humanities. But let’s not rely only on qualitative evidence. The numbers are evidence that Anthropology is a benefit, not a burden to the University.

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