On Campus

U.S. university to cut Canadian studies program due to lack of interest

Only three students enrolled in Canuck program

Canada was heralded as “cool” by a highbrow international magazine a few years ago, but that popularity has dimmed in the ivory towers of the University of Vermont.The school has yanked funding from its Canadian studies program after interest sagged in recent years. Only three students at the U of V now major in Canuck.

Faculty members fear the university’s Canadian content could soon disappear into the mists of the Green Mountains.

“Symbolically, (the cut) speaks very clearly to the fact that this administration simply doesn’t care deeply about the study of Canada on this campus,” history professor David Massell said in an interview from the Burlington, Vt., campus. “I vehemently disagree (with the cut).”

Paul Martin, the fittingly named Canadian studies director, says losing the $35,000 annual allowance will force the program to close its office, shave research assistance and cancel its annual field trip to Ottawa. “That’s a heavy loss for us,” Martin said Thursday.

Martin says the cutback could also spark the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C. to chop its annual grant. It awarded $9,500 to the department in 2007. “As a Canadian who has witnessed the students get so enthusiastic about Canada… to see the impact that even the small amount of funding that we get has on that whole process, to see that be imperilled, is definitely a personal blow,” he said.

The university, meanwhile, says it shut down the administrative centre but the program will live on. “We don’t want to kill the program and we don’t intend to, but it seems silly to have a centre and part of a building dedicated to three majors (students) and two minors,” said Eleanor Miller, the dean of arts and sciences. Miller said the Canadian studies offices will be closed and its only full-time employee — a secretary — will be transferred.

She pointed to negotiations with the Universite de Laval in Quebec City as evidence of her institution’s intent to carry on fostering Canadiana.

“They (the faculty) think this is a slippery slope, de-fund the centre and then de-fund Canadian studies, that’s not the case,” she said.

It was 2003 but it seems like only yesterday the Economist — a must-read for the intellectual elite — declared Canada “cool” as it described the country going through a public policy renaissance. About that time, the university’s 44-year-old program was already in steep decline from a peak in the 1990s of about 25 students majoring in Canada. This year, more than 275 students enrolled in 15 all-Canadian courses but most of them were just dabbling in subjects ranging from the Canadian political system to Quebec culture and First Nations literature.

Laura Pedro, one of the rare Canadian studies majors on campus, said she was pulled in by the program’s freshman course on Canadian culture and literature. The 20-year-old from Narragansett, R.I., couldn’t have named the prime minister, provinces or five cities north of the border before taking the class. “I’m from New England, so I’m relatively close, but I didn’t know anything about it,” said Pedro.

She said it will be sad to see the university lower the department’s Canadian colours. “I think it’s really unfortunate, for such a small amount of savings, to get rid of an entire establishment that has a tradition and history here,” the third-year student said.

Martin said there are more than 50 university programs focused on Canadiana in the United States. Since 1964, the internationally recognized program at Vermont has been a fixture on the downtown Burlington campus. “They’re basically killing the program as it’s been known for the last 40 years or so,” said William Metcalfe, a retired history professor who co-founded the department.

He said millions of New Englanders can trace their roots in Quebec. “It made perfect sense to have a place to go to study Quebecois instead of having to go to Paris to study French,” said Metcalfe, the former director who retired in 1998. “The real question is not, ‘Why they are cutting it,’ it’s ‘Why don’t we have more of it?”‘

Metcalfe said enrolment has been dropping after the university did little to replace a “Canadianist” political scientist who left some 15 years ago.

Martin, meanwhile, said the program’s courses will continue for now, but it won’t be the same. “I think most Canadians are surprised to hear that American students are interested in all this stuff,” said Martin, an Edmonton native. “If they were to come and see the enthusiasm of our students they would be really excited. Canada has a lot of good friends in our students and they continue to spread that word long after they’re done here.”

-with a report from CP 

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