Halifax Media Co-op

News from Nova Scotia's Grassroots

More independent news:
Do you want free independent news delivered weekly? sign up now
Can you support independent journalists with $5? donate today!
Not reviewed by Halifax Media Co-op editors. copyeditedfact checked [?]

Women's studies program spared from chopping block

Mount Saint Vincent University decides to keep program after receiving feedback from the community

by vivian belik

The women's studies program at Mount St. Vincent University was spared from the chopping block on March 19th.

The first university in Canada to create a women's studies program, MSVU almost canceled its program due to low enrollment numbers.

The program will remain for now but will be up for academic review in two years.

On February 23rd, the university's committee on academic policy and planning released a document stating that it needed to shift from “supporting small, isolated costly academic programs to supporting larger, better integrated and more sustainable academic programs”.

The administration's plans were to remove the major component of the women's studies program while maintaining the 'minor' and 'concentration' components.

Several weeks after the document was released, a group of women's studies students on campus began organizing against the administration's decision.

“They speak of this commitment to women on this campus but then they decide to remove women's studies program from a women's university. It doesn't make sense with the historical context and future goals of this university in mind,” said Magan Alisha one of the lead organizers of 'Save Women's Studies at the Mount'.

The group met with several administrators and deans on campus in the hopes of convincing the administration to reverse their position. They also rallied the support of other non-women's studies students and professors from universities in Halifax and abroad.

A facebook group was created that listed more than 500 supporters on its site.

Meredith Ralston, chair of the women's studies program at MSVU was quite happy to see that the program was not discontinued.

Ralston says that one of the reasons the university reversed its decision is because the women's studies program hadn't had a proper external review for five years. In her mind, enrollment numbers don't tell all the facts.

“I think our [women's studies] courses are quite strong. There are over 90 students enrolled in our intro classes. This is not a decline in women's studies but in liberal arts in general; all liberal arts have been hit by this”.

Akiko Lovett who spoke on behalf of the university said that enrollment figures for the women's studies courses have gone down by 50% since 2003.

Lovett says that the decision to cut the women's studies program was never “definitive” as the university was looking for feedback from students, professors and community members before it made its decision.

But organizers from Save Women's studies say that they only found out about the administration's decision a week before it was to go before senate leaving them little time to react.

“The plan should have been out in the open sooner since senate meeting [was] at the end of the month,” says Heather Rycroft, one of the organizers.

For now, the group is happy that their organizing efforts have paid off but they don't feel like the women's studies program is in the clear yet. Alisha realizes that a lot of work needs to be done with the department to engage more students.

“The program is safer but it's a concern to be aware of the in the future. We have to be an active program. As long as we remain relevant we can do it. We have lots of strong students now and we just need to attract more,” said Alisha.

Ralston also believes the women's studies program needs to broaden its academic focus if it is going to attract more students. Changing the program to a women and gender studies program is one option she says.

She recognizes the program could be discontinued in two year's time but remains hopeful.

“The Mount is known for women and I think that that idea still resonates with a lot of people and I think that politically, people found it really hard to take [the university's decision to cut the program]. It's really the only women's studies program in the Atlantic provinces - it's symbolic for women.”

Want more grassroots coverage?
Join the Media Co-op today.
Topics: Gender
649 words

The site for the Halifax local of The Media Co-op has been archived and will no longer be updated. Please visit the main Media Co-op website to learn more about the organization.