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Academics Seek Support to Save Unique Buddhism, Psychology, and Mental Health Program in Toronto

From newcollege.utoronto.ca

In a recent campaign through email and social media, Buddhist author and scholar Jeff Wilson is spreading the word about administrative plans to end enrollment in the Buddhism, Psychology, and Mental Health (BPMH) program at the University of Toronto’s New College.

The BPMH program was established in 2007 at the New College, and has seen significant success and growth over the years, becoming the second-largest academic program there. Reasons for the program’s success include the positive impact on student’s mental health, university experience, and cultural understanding.

In an email to BDG, Wilson writes: “It came as a great surprise, therefore, when the administration suddenly announced in November that enrollment in the program would be suspended. The announcement and decision took place without any consultation with the director of BPMH, Dr. Frances Garrett, other faculty who teach in the program, or students.”

Responding to the proposal, students created a petition on Change.org seeking to protect the BPMH program. At the time of writing, the petition had 1,735 signatures. Students also held a peaceful sit-in in an effort to raise awareness about the program’s impending closure.

Thus far, these efforts have been to no avail, however, leading to a broader appeal to help from the public.

From newcollege.utoronto.ca

Including in the appeal is a request to sign the student’s petition at Change.org.

Wilson writes: “Second, please consider writing a letter of support. These can be addressed to ‘Program Director Frances Garrett, Principal of New College, and Vice Deans of Undergraduate Programs’ and sent to Dr. Garrett ([email protected]). She is collecting letters into a dossier and will ensure that they reach the various appropriate administrators. Third, you may also wish to write directly to New College Principal Dickson Eyoh ([email protected]), New College Vice Principal Alexandra Guerson De Oliveira ([email protected]) and/or Vice-Dean of Undergraduate Programs Randy Boyagoda ([email protected]).”

Wilson requests that the news and petitions be spread to friends and colleagues who might also be willing to express support. A blog has been created to chronicle the efforts to keep the program open.

In his message, Wilson adds:

Clear explanation for the decision has not been provided, but it takes place against the backdrop of a provincial government that has dramatically curtailed university funding for over five years and damaged higher education in multiple ways. The student union president who consulted with the administration was told that the shutdown arises from “operational inefficiencies stemming from a lack of dedicated full-time continuing faculty.” This is a disingenuous reason, at best. The Minor is inherently inter-disciplinary, so of course a rotating cast of instructors contribute from the various disciplines involved in the program. Dr. Garrett, and some other instructors, are tenured professors of the university. And if there is a need for more teaching stability, surely the answer is to hire dedicated instructors for such a popular program, rather than to close it.

There are indications that the pressure campaign may be having an effect. The administration was forced to meet with students and has slightly softened its language, without changing the plans for closure or meeting with faculty. The program is actually still strong and healthy, and there is time to reverse this unwise decision. The administration simply needs to rescind its decision not to enroll any further students, and allow things to carry on as normal. Or, better yet, recognize the value of the BPMH Minor and provide new faculty to buttress the program’s success.

If you are willing, I would appreciate your assistance in saving this important Canadian academic program. You may wish to help in order to save an academic Buddhism program, to support student mental health initiatives, to encourage collegial governance, or to insist on transparent, democratic processes in academia.

Thank you for your support!

Jeff Wilson

Professor of Religious Studies and East Asian Studies
Renison University College, University of Waterloo

See more

Protect the BPMH Program (Change.org)
New College Academic Programs (New College)
Protect BPMH

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