Commentary  I’m compelled to write because Norman Cornett probably told me to

Re: “Paging Doctor Cornett” | Commentary | October 8

Five years ago, I graduated from McGill with a degree in anthropology. In the time since, I’ve drifted around the world, as many arts grads do, patting myself on the back and discussing how my degree has helped me to shape sense out of the world, especially when convincing others to give university a go. A name that comes up often in my defense of arts is Norman Cornett, and it was with great sadness that I learned he was relatively recently, unceremoniously sacked without a word from University officials.

I’m compelled to write to The McGill Daily because the lack of honesty around the University’s act is shameful. Cornett pioneered a new way of learning, placing the “dialogue” above all else: students explored the world of the arts and humanities through an open, honest, and respectful sharing of ideas, without the pressure of regurgitation demanded in the traditional classroom.

Most students agreed that our classroom environments were electrifying. This was something new, something we’d never seen before. It was a face-to-face dialogue with heavy-hitting intellectuals, and it was free of the intimidation young students feel around great thinkers.

Cornett had the guts to bend the University’s rules to maximize students’ exposure to new ideas. Should fresh approaches like these cost our professors their careers? It is ironic that the University should shamelessly shut down any attempt at an honest dialogue with someone who is so selflessly dedicated to the promotion of that very thing.

I don’t think every class can be taught this way, but if there isn’t room at one of our leading universities for brave new ways of expanding our students’ perspectives on the world, then something is very, very wrong with this picture.

Thomas Witte
B.A. Anthropology ‘05