Every department at McGill has a reputation. The East Asian Studies (EAS) department is known for its small classes, tight-knit community, popular introductory language courses, and the close interactions between students and professors. But this image is currently being tarnished by constant budgetary limitations.
This is not an unfamiliar or isolated issue – lots of small departments at McGill are struggling with insufficient funding. But the EAS department, like other departments that offer language training, is at a disadvantage when receiving funding.
It’s really a numbers game. At the administrative level, the number of students completing a major or minor in the department is what matters when it comes to receiving funding. This is problematic for language heavy programs because there are lots of students who are interested in learning a foreign language, but not necessarily in registering for enough courses to count as a minor. So, if a Management student signs up for a Japanese language class, the EAS department won’t receive any more funding even though that student is using its resources.
Moreover, there aren’t enough faculty members or TAs to begin with – the department consists of only two administrative assistants and around 20 professors – and continuing budgetary limitations will only make the situation worse. The lack of teaching staff is evident in the 500 plus students waitlisted in first year Chinese classes, while there is only room for a mere 60 students.
“We are in a situation where we are constantly forced to let down and disappoint students because we can’t offer enough courses to meet their needs,” said Adrienne Hurley, an assistant professor in the EAS department. “It is awful that we have to turn away students who really want to study an East Asian language every year, and what’s also very bad is that sometimes a student who completed first level can’t fit into a second level.”
The course shortage is even more pronounced at the graduate level. The number of grad seminars is very limited, particularly in courses taught in East Asian languages. Students can propose to initiate an independent class, but the process of coming up with a proposal that must be approved by the department as well as the Dean of Student Affairs is very tedious and time-consuming.
According to Robin Yates, the Chair of the EAS department, one goal for this academic year is “to win a major grant from the Korea Foundation to create a tenure-track position in Korean Studies.” The good news is that the dean of the Faculty of Arts has been extremely supportive of this initiative, and has committed significant resources to winning this grant in 2012.
In addition, faculty members are going out of their way to make the situation better for students. “Because I want to do the best I can to meet the students’ needs, I offer as many independent studies as I can every semester,” said Hurley. “Of course I don’t get above and beyond what I’m contracted to do, so it’s basically work that I’m not paid for. Some of those are for students with research interests that aren’t met by current course offerings.”
Finally, the East Asian Studies Student Association (EASSA) is taking an internal approach to improve the situation. “Instead of trying to fight the big guys, we’re going to try to make things better from the inside,” said Joanna Lai, U3 EAS student and co-president of the EASSA. “To improve the situation with the 500 person waitlist on the first year classes, we are thinking of creating a document that will inform students on the other ways to get first-year language credits because, obviously, McGill can’t facilitate that.”