By Joe Friesen, Globe and Mail, October 28, 2010
The renowned Centre for Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto has been pulled back from the brink after an outcry from scholars around the world and the determined protests of students and faculty.
The director of the centre said he has been assured that the school, which was slated to close at the end of this academic year, will survive.
“Comp. Lit. is saved. The centre will stay open and we’re taking students for next year,” said director Neil ten Kortenaar. “I think it was the outcry from around the world. We had a lot of support from a lot of big-name people in academic circles.”
It was a battle that pitted the forces of streamlining and cost-cutting against those who would preserve structures of academic and historical significance. It appears either the university lost the appetite for the fight, or the threat of amalgamation produced enough compromise from the departments involved to satisfy the administration’s appetite for reform.
Sometimes the right decision takes a lot of hard work, even if the obvious is less than obvious to those who are responsible for making it.
When one is focused on the task and responsibility for administring a budget, one, anyone, has a tendency to lose sight of the bigger picture. Sometimes, mere cost cutting abandons more than it achieves.
However this decision was finally arrived at, both internally and externally, the University of Toronto is a better place going forward today than it would have been had Frye's Centre for Comparative Literature been chopped.
And based on the quote from the centre's director, the weight of the combined thrust of both students and faculty and the opinion of scholars around the world tipped the balance in favour of retention.
This decision cannot be considered merely a toast to its founder, although that in itself would have justified its life extension; it is a lens on the perspective of the University of Toronto that will not only permit, but also foster, a comparative meta-approach to world literature that the Canadian culture so desperately needs.
While there is a 24-7 global news cycle on such outlets as CNN and BBC, news is no substitute for the much more telling impact of the world's writers, poets and scholars that require a different kind of examination. Also, along with the high-tech innovations of the 'social network,' the books and the insights and the imaginative cultures that emerge from the unconscious of those living in the most remote hills and valleys, or on the most dry, windswept deserts, or in the camps of the world's most desolate steppes have been, are, and will continue to be a beacon into the future for those both privileged and honoured and humbled to study their writings.
It is from all the regions of the world that our thought leaders must continue to come and the next generations of scholars needs to explore those complex narratives if we are to expect to bring any kind of recognition to our shared humanity in a meaningful way.
Frye has pointed an insightful finger in a direction; his intellectual family's task is to find out where he is pointing.
This little voice in this little corner would like to see the Centre serve as a model for other academic pursuits in that comparison with the scholarship of all countries in various disciplines, and even in combined disciplines is more and more needed. We have paid homage to a kind of specialization that has given us much new knowledge and information. However, humans need road maps for discovery to assist with the next few centuries of discovery, and we must never lose the capacity for integrated conversation, scholarship and experiment. Only by keeping in touch with all cultures, literatures, histories and anthropologies will we come to a conscious awareness of who we are in all our diversity, complexity and commonality.