Students at the University of Toronto may lose a favourite professor and a valuable course, the Toronto Star reported Nov. 5.
Rod Michalko, a professor of Disability Studies who is also blind, may not have his contract renewed next year due to budget constraints, despite the fact his classes all have waiting lists.
University of Toronto students rallied in protest last week, as Michalko’s departure would leave the fate of Disability Studies in the air because he’s the only professor currently teaching the subject to undergraduates.
Tough economic times make budget cuts a reality, leaving administrators in an unenviable position with difficult decisions to make. But when putting courses on the chopping block, university administrators should prioritize assessing a program’s value.
A course’s popularity is only one aspect of its importance. But the fact students actively protested the uncertain fate of Michalko’s contract suggests the course has value as well as popularity.
Michalko’s blindness should have little to do with discussion of the merits of the subject he teaches.
Whether or not his course in Disability Studies is seen as more legitimate because he has a disability himself, the program of study has its benefits.
With Michalko acting as the only undergraduate professor of Disability Studies, cutting his job would jeopardize students’ access to discussion of disability issues. The field is relevant to individuals with disabilities, but also relies on educating the public at large and creating allies in the community.
Acceptance and accessibility are issues of prime importance, especially at a university aiming to equip students as world citizens.
In a volatile economic environment, new fields with great potential to develop creative innovations are being victimized by academic programs with more stable histories.
The survival of relevant, contemporary programs depends on dialogue between students and administrators. As consumers in the educational marketplace, students should have their opinions considered.
One solution might be enrolling more students in Michalko’s 80-person classes,since the waiting lists are already teeming with names.
Discussions of not renewing Michalko’s contract hint at the University administration’s judgment on the relevance of his subject matter. Given an engaging professor and a course with wide-ranging social benefits, it seems logical to make the cut somewhere else.
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