Blog

No More Alice Munros!

So isn’t it wonderful that Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize for Literature on October 10, 2013? I’m very happy for her, and for Canada. But, unfortunately it may very well be the last time that Canada is able to celebrate the international success of one of its writers in this way. For if the recent trend in funding universities continues, there may very well be No More Munros.

As the University of Western Ontario’s website is proud to proclaim, Alice Munro’s “publishing life started at Western. Munro’s first connection to Western’s Department of English came while she was an undergraduate student pursuing an English major. As a student, she published three short stories in Western’s undergraduate English magazine, Folio, from 1949-51.”

But the English Department that nurtured Munro’s creative writing career may be a thing of the past. The new trend in the new tough economic climate, is that universities should only support programs that lead to instant jobs upon graduation. Peter Cohan offered this solution in Forbes magazine for the problems plaguing cash strapped universities in 2012: “The solution could be as simple as eliminating the departments that offer majors that employers do not value. To that end, I would suggest that every university develop an income statement for each of its academic departments….Departments that are profitable and likely to remain so would stick around. Those that are not and would not, get cut.”

Are American and Canadian universities following Forbes advice? Well it certainly seems so. Christine McKenna, in her report on the Canadian Federation of Humanities and Social Sciences 2013 Congress mentions “a recent trend among other Canadian universities of funding cuts to humanities programs.”

Yes folks, English programs are not likely to guarantee students immediate employment when they graduate, so in the future there may be no more Alice Munros. I know what you’re going to say.  That writers don’t need to go to university. Most likely, Shakespeare didn’t go to university. So why should people like Alice Munro? And after all, doesn’t it do those writers some good to suffer? If a writer is going to be a writer, shouldn’t they be able to do it without a university education?

            Matters aren’t helped when Canadian writers like Robertson Davies decry government funding to the arts. But he -- like many others -- have received and continue to receive government help. Robertson Davies made his living as an academic (teaching at the University of Toronto, which receives ample government support).

            It isn’t only that writers like Alice Munro take courses at Universities, but that University humanities departments create a culture of reading and literacy in Canada, and an appreciation for art -- one that not only helps to enrich our lives but also insures that people will in fact continue to read, and appreciate creativity in general.

            But we are, increasingly, morphing into a world that doesn’t understand the value of anything unless it has a dollar sign on it.

            That’s too bad. Canada’s Group of Seven, for instance, believed that art offered us a direct connection (through nature) to the mysteries of the human spirit. Canadian theatre pioneer and Group of Seven affiliate Roy Mitchell spoke of: “a statement of the spiritual power which theatre could attain as religion towards the awakening of the soul.”

            Yes, it’s really too bad. As we cut university humanities programs we are not only abandoning the Group of Seven’s vision, we are abandoning our souls.

And just a side note: there will more Alice Munros, and no more Nobel prizes for literature, for Canada.

Shame.