In a recent email and social media campaign, author and Buddhist scholar Jeff Wilson is publicizing administrative plans to end enrollment in New College's Buddhism, Psychology and Mental Health (BPMH) program. University of Toronto.
The BPMH program was established in 2007 at New College and has experienced significant success and growth over the years, becoming the second largest university program. Reasons for the program’s success include the positive impact on students’ mental health, their college experience and their cultural understanding.
In an email to BDG, Wilson writes: “So it came as a big surprise when the administration suddenly announced in November that enrollment in the program would be suspended. The announcement and decision occurred without any consultation with BPMH Director Dr. Frances Garrett, other faculty who teach in the program, or students.
In response 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 signatures. Students also staged a peaceful sit-in in an effort to raise awareness of the program's impending closure.
So far, those efforts have been unsuccessful, leading to a wider call for help from the public.
The appeal includes a request to sign the student's petition on Change.org.
Wilson writes: “Second, consider writing a letter of support. These can be addressed to “Program Director Frances Garrett, Director of New College and Associate Deans for Undergraduate Programs” and sent to Dr. Garrett ((protected email)). She collects the letters in a file and will ensure that they reach the various competent administrators. Third, you can also write directly to the Principal of New College, Dickson Eyoh ((protected email)), Alexandra Guerson De Oliveira, deputy director of the New College ((protected email)) and/or Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs Randy Boyagoda ((protected email)).”
Wilson asks that news and petitions be distributed to friends and colleagues who may also be willing to express their support. A blog was created to chronicle efforts to keep the program open.
In his message, Wilson added:
No clear explanation has been provided for the decision, but it comes against the backdrop of a provincial government that has significantly cut university funding for more than five years and damaged higher education in a variety of ways. The student union president who consulted with the administration was told the closure was due to “operational inefficiencies resulting from a lack of dedicated full-time permanent faculty.” This is, at best, a spurious reason. The minor is inherently interdisciplinary, so of course a rotating group of instructors from the different disciplines involved in the program contribute. Dr. Garrett and a few other instructors are tenured professors at the university. And if more educational stability is needed, surely the answer is to hire dedicated instructors for such a popular program, rather than shutting it down.
There is some evidence to suggest that the pressure campaign may be having an effect. The administration was forced to meet with students and slightly softened its language, without changing plans for closure or meetings with professors. The program is actually still strong and healthy, and it is time to reverse this ill-advised decision. The administration simply needs to reverse its decision to no longer enroll additional students and allow things to continue as normal. Or, better yet, recognize the value of the BPMH Minor and recruit new faculty to strengthen the success of the program.
If you wish, I would appreciate your help in saving this important Canadian university program. You may want to help save a university Buddhism program, support student mental health initiatives, encourage collegial governance, or insist on transparent and democratic processes in academia.
Thank you for your support!
Professor of Religious Studies and East Asian Studies
Renison University College, University of Waterloo