THE BLOG

The David Gilmour Fallout Is an Institutional Problem

09/27/2013 05:28 EDT | Updated 11/27/2013 05:12 EST

The University of Toronto has been cleverly - if sloppily - distancing itself from its celeb instructor who caused a stir earlier this week. There's been enough said about David Gilmour's literary biases. He doesn't love any books by Chinese or female writers. Whether he has read any recently is up for debate, but regardless, he has opted to only teach books by "heterosexual guys" in his class at U of T. And according to him - he can. Because, when he took the job, he made it clear he was going to teach only the books he likes (and, consequently, the writers he likes).

As a U of T alumna, I am disappointed. Not at the man, whose possible misogyny and racism is, frankly, dangerous. But with the University of Toronto who have allowed this instructor to become so self-indulgent to actually believe he can get away with doing whatever he wants and not face consequences. And, when his comments surfaced and it became vital to stand up to him, lest the silence be mistaken for approval, the University of Toronto did nothing but back peddle and make clear his opinions do not reflect their institutional values.

I've heard a few people say that if a student doesn't like it, they can drop the class. Sure. But why should a student be put into that position? Why should they sign up for a course promising a genre but receive only one man's stinted opinion? What the University of Toronto should know is that it is an instructor's job is to empower his or her students with new knowledge that would allow the development of opinions and perspectives. When an educator takes the podium and seeks to recreate each student in his own image, it is nothing but self-serving. As soon as he is permitted to stand in front of a class, it becomes an institution's responsibility to course correct.

I'm not arguing against free speech. Everyone is entitled to free speech. But imagine if some C-level businessman or woman made the same comments? What if the CEO of a huge company said he doesn't like dealing with Chinese people, so he's just not going to? Or if the owner a record label said they don't love the music of women, so they won't represent them? That is the company's problem, not that of the individual. And it would not be enough to simply distance oneself from the issue, as David Gilmour's colleagues and employer have been doing. If those cases aren't okay, why is it okay for a man to stand in a public institution in front of a class of young students and tell them that - in his opinion - the only books worth reading are by heterosexual guys? I love that distinction by the way. It's not enough for David Gilmour to discount women and the Chinese, let's throw the gays in the reject bucket, too.

And how do David Gilmour's colleagues feel about it? If every woman of the University of Toronto faculty voted tomorrow to give him the boot, it wouldn't really matter much. U of T faculty is only 38% women, 16% visible minorities, and 2% people with disabilities. Oh, and that number isn't growing. In 2011/12, one woman received a professorship along with three men. The previous year, it was three women and 6 men. Before that, it was 3 women and 9 men.

With David Gilmour's comments this past week, I'll likely never touch his work again. Since I'm a female and a writer, I doubt he considers this a great loss. However, while his backwards comments and immoderate teaching style begs into question why he hasn't been fired yet, I want to turn to the University of Toronto itself. This man is not the only one who feels this way. His comments aren't a Twitter bio where you can simply state that his opinions are his alone and make it so. Almost every female having gone through university has a tale of a Poli Sci prof who didn't take females as seriously, an engineering prof who automatically graded females less than their male peers, or an art history prof who took no issue with chastising females like they were children in front of the whole class. Where is the oversight? Where is the equality? Why is this thinking allowed to permeate what is supposed to be a good education?

The only answer I can think of is numbers. Numbers must be what's driving U of T to keep these people on board. Numbers that can make governance defy common sense, like the number 18. That was how many complaints of sexual harassment there were last year. And four came from staff against other staff (by the way, in case you were wondering, not a single one was dismissed). Or the number 81,000 - that's how many full-time students are projected for 2017. That's a lot of full-time, engaged, young people seeking an education - and I shudder to think that David Gilmour may teach some of them. However, another number is 63.7 million. That's how much U of T got in donations in 2012. I don't know how much of this can be contributed to the retinue of celebrity profs (including David Gilmour) paraded into every fundraising event and newsletter, but it is certainly less than 847.4 million. That's what U of T collected in student fees in the same year.

If, for a giant like the University of Toronto, money simply must speak louder than words, actions or opinions, then I cannot change their mind about David Gilmour. Neither can his colleagues or all the media attention. Funding is an institutional necessity, and changing the hearts and minds of potential bigots is not something determined in dollars donated. I therefore must insist that his colleagues do not just excuse themselves from the discussion, but work to change it. I have to call on students, donors, foundations, and everyone in between to not let this slide into a problem U of T can step away from. It's their petri dish in which this behaviour has flourished, and if the problem is allowed to spread, it is a potential generation that is at risk of becoming carriers. Let's not forget what David Gilmour truly is - one of many.

Twitter Rages At David Gilmour