New Brunswick

Mount Allison commits $12K for gender studies program amid allegations of bias

Mount Allison University has come up with $12,000 to ensure students who have women and gender studies as their declared minor will be able to continue their studies next year, but the future of the program remains unclear.

Funding will allow students with declared minor to continue studies next year, but future of program unclear

Students at Mount Allison University held a silent protest Friday morning outside the Board of Regents meeting asking the university to continue funding the women's and gender studies program which they believe is in jeopardy. (Facebook)

Mount Allison University has come up with some funding to ensure students who have women and gender studies as their declared minor will be able to continue their studies next year.

The future of the program at the Sackville-based university, however, remains unclear.

The administration has committed $12,000, which is enough to hire a part-time person to teach two courses in 2016-17, acting program director Lisa Dawn Hamilton told CBC News late Friday afternoon.

Students may also be able to take courses offered by other programs, which could count toward their minor, said Hamilton.

"But they [the administration] haven't guaranteed that," she said. "They'll be assessing it on a case by case basis," with any alternate courses having to be pre-approved.

The funding news comes after about 50 students held a silent protest outside the Board of Regents meeting on Friday morning, alleging program budget cuts indicate gender-bias on the part of the administration.

"I think it's really reflective of some blatant misogyny going on, and sexism, which is really unfortunate, but I really don't think that that aspect can be discounted," student organizer Katharyn Stevenson had said.

Katharyn Stevenson, a third-year student in women's and gender studies, says the questions around the future of the program are a symptom of a larger problem within the administration. (Submitted by Katharyn Stevenson)
Mount Allison's vice-president Gloria Jollymore described the allegations as being "of great concern."

"That's a really serious comment and we take it very seriously," Jollymore told CBC News. "I guess where we are is — we really need to understand what's behind that, what's at the foundation of that — that our student feels that way, or believes that to be true. So that's the first thing about it, is our need to understand it."

Questions about the future of the program were raised earlier this week when Hamilton sent an email to students explaining that the budget had been cut for the coming year and none of the core courses in the program would be offered in 2016-17.

Jollymore says there were a lot of budget unknowns until Tuesday and the academic program planning process remains ongoing.

"Until that process comes to an end, we don't know where things will finally end up, but obviously the program head needs to be able to plan for next year," she said.

So the dean confirmed two stipends for the women and gender studies, said Jollymore. "That means a staff person to teach two core courses. Whether we can do better than that, we don't know yet."

Asked whether having two core courses instead of four will be enough to enable the program to continue as a minor, Jollymore said: "We're still working on that."

I think this issue…is a symptomof a larger problem going on with the university and the administration and how they choose to make decisions.- Katharyn Stevenson, student

"What we need to make sure we can do first is make sure any student who is currently declared a minor in women and gender studies, that they're able to complete their minor and graduate with that minor. That's what we're focussed on first and foremost and my understanding is that yes, we've secured that ground," she said.

On Tuesday, Jollymore had issued a release saying the university has not announced any intention to cut the program.

"Mount Allison has not initiated any type of formal review of this program or any other," the statement said.

Stevenson, a third-year student whose minor is in women and gender studies, says the administration may not want to come out and say it, but it is clear to students that the program won't continue.

"I would definitely argue that it's a question of semantics," Stevenson said of the release.

"We know what's going on, it's just a question of how you want to spin it. Whether they want to call it cutting the program or not, that's what's happening here."

Stevenson, who hopes to save the program, said she was pleased with the turnout at the protest and considered it a success.

"We basically filled the atrium of our student centre and made ourselves and our presence known as the people went into the meeting this morning," she said.

Symptom of larger problem

The women's and gender studies program began at Mount Allison in 1999 and has currently has 44 students.

Stevenson says courses are popular and often have wait-lists, so "starving" the program of funding doesn't make sense to her.

"I think this issue … is a symptom of a larger problem going on with the university and the administration and how they choose to make decisions."

She says this is not an isolated incident and that since the three-week faculty strike in 2014 there has been a lot of student protest and upset with the administration.

"That started with the tuition rebate issue after the strike, leading into a lot of the issues surrounding sexual assault and the sexual assault policy here at Mount Allison, also there's been little to no progress made with the creation of our indigenous studies minor," she said.

She says the fact that the women's and gender studies is not a priority for the administration shows a gender bias at Mount Allison.

"I think that speaks to a larger devaluing of women and gender studies knowledge because I don't think that it's any secret that feminism, in a larger context, is often viewed quite poorly," she said.

"It's kind of a larger display of institutional sexism. It's also a larger display of a political attack … on women and gender studies and trying to show that it's not important and people don't care about it which is very much not true."