Supervisor loss leaves students in academic limbo

Budget cuts and layoffs claim the University’s only Francophonie specialist

Guy Tegomo, PhD ’09, (right) is one of two students who will continue to be supervised by Professor Eugène Nshimiyimana (left) after he begins his position at McMaster this fall.
Guy Tegomo, PhD ’09, (right) is one of two students who will continue to be supervised by Professor Eugène Nshimiyimana (left) after he begins his position at McMaster this fall.

In the wake of University-wide budget cuts of up to 20 per cent over the next three years, nine graduate students in the French department have found themselves in limbo as they face the loss of their supervisor, adjunct professor Eugène Nshimiyimana.

Nshimiyimana is a specialist in Francophonie, the study of French literature and culture outside of France and Quebec. His research interest is in sub-Saharan African novels.

Nshimiyimana begins teaching at McMaster University this fall but he will continue supervising two of his Queen’s students who are the closest to completing their degrees.

“I’m leaving students badly in need of a supervisor,” he said.

Nshimiyimana said he thinks the University should do more to protect language programs.

“Languages are a part of our society and to lose languages is to lose knowledge,” he said. “Queen’s is closing doors instead of opening them,” he said. “Those who make decisions should ask how their decisions will reflect the image of the University. ... In this case, I don’t know if the administration can say they’ve made a good decision.”

Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS) President Jeff Welsh raised the issue at a Senate meeting on Apr. 23, asking University administration how they would apply their commitment to “engaging the world” to future academic decisions.

Adjunct faculty, who are hired on short-term contracts, usually aren’t allowed to be the sole supervisor for a graduate student because their permanence isn’t guaranteed.

In Nshimiyimana’s case, the department made an exception because he was replacing full-time faculty member Lisa McNee, who is on full-time leave and was the only Francophonie specialist in the department, Welsh said.

Vice-Principal (Academic) Patrick Deane said the decision not to rehire Nshimiyimana isn’t a failure on the part of the University to promote internationalization.

“It’s really important not to fall into the trap of equating a single instance with the institution’s overall commitment,” he said. “If we are hampered in our progress on internationalization on one front, that may simply be part of the financial reality.”

Offering a language program isn’t the only way to expose students to international issues, Deane said.

“In some faculties, students have a high level of international experiences,” Deane said, adding that about 70 per cent of commerce students participate in an international exchange.

Deane said at Senate that the students will be contacted individually to determine their new supervisors, who will be other professors in the French department.

Assistant professor Stéphane Inkel said he expects to take on two or three of Nshimiyimana’s students, but it’s up to the students to decide who they want to work with in the department.

Inkel, who specializes in 20th century literature from Quebec and France, already supervises three students.

“I’m not a specialist in African literature so, you know, I can do the job but it won’t be the same,” he said. “When you are doing a PhD on a question, you’re becoming a specialist in that field so you have to be supervised by a specialist.”

New graduate students will no longer be recruited into Francophonie unless the department is able to hire a new full-time Francophonie specialist, he said.

Guy Tegomo, PhD ’09, will continue to be supervised by Nshimiyimana because he will submit his thesis this fall.

Of the 26 graduate students in the department, nine are studying Francophonie, he said.

Tegomo said the decision to essentially cut out a field largely studied by people from minority backgrounds is discrimination.

“All nine students are part of racial or religious minorities while there are few other minorities within the department,” he said. “Allowing Francophonie to disappear would be an injustice and racial discrimination.”

“Other specialties within the French department have two or three specialists for two to three students,” he said.

Tegomo said two faculty members left the department this year for retirement and a position at another university.

“Two salaries have therefore become available within the French department,” he said. “It’s true that there is a financial problem [but] the university is making a very bad decision not to replace [Nshimiyimana].”

—With files from Gloria Er-Chua

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