Author Archives: Jonathan Allan

Quote of the Day: “How good a scholar is he?”

Frye in his robes as Chancellor of Victoria University.

Here’s a quote from Frye I hope academic administrators everywhere might think about.

“When anyone is considered for a deanship or a presidency, one of the first questions asked about him is, ‘How good a scholar is he?’ It sounds absurd to associate a man’s administrative ability with his specialized knowledge of a scholarly discipline, but the question is relevant none the less. If he has never been a scholar, he doesn’t know what a university is or what it stands for, and if he doesn’t know that, God help the university that gives him a responsible job.” (CW 7, 314)

Advancement versus Academic Freedom

The University of Toronto has many claims to fame.  It has a stellar academic reputation, one of the best libraries in the country, some of Canada’s finest faculty, and Maclean’s consistently ranks it as one of the best universities, if not the best, in the country.  That being said, the University of Toronto has adopted dubious practices when it comes to advancement and academic freedom.

What are the questions that a university must ask itself when it receives donations?  Among them are, What is the purpose of the donation?  What are the conditions attached to the donation?  How important is academic freedom to the success of the University’s researchers, professors, and students in relation to the donation?

The University of Toronto’s Vice-President of Advancement, David Palmer, claims that all donor agreements are subject to the following clause:

The parties affirm their mutual commitment to the University’s Statement of Institutional Purpose which includes a commitment to foster an academic community in which the learning and scholarship of every member may flourish, with vigilant protection for the rights of freedom of speech, academic freedom and freedom of research.

In two recent donations to the University of Toronto, this clause never appeared, nor did any that remotely resembles such a clause.  Moreover, when I Google-searched this clause, I realised that it appears nowhere except in a letter to the editor of the Toronto Star on September 19, 2010, written by the Vice-President of Advancement, and subsequently published in the Varsity, a student run newspaper at the University of Toronto.  The reason for the letter in the Star is that an excerpt from The Trouble With Billionaires by Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks claims that the recent $35 million dollar agreement between Peter Munk and the University of Toronto “stipulates that the school will also house the Canadian International Council — a right-leaning think-tank that has been pushing to replace Canada’s earlier role as a leading UN peacekeeping nation with a more prominent role in U.S.-led war efforts.”  The University of Toronto, through its Vice-President of Advancement, has assured us that this is not the case and that no donor has influence over the academic freedom of researchers, students, or professors at the University of Toronto.

In his chapter “Academic Freedom or Commercial License?” (which appeared in The Corporate Campus, edited by James Turk), William Graham highlights a few agreements between the University of Toronto and its donors.  When, for exammple, Joseph Rotman donated $15 million to the University of Toronto, the agreement required “the unqualified support for and commitment to the principles and values underlying the vision by the members of the faculty of management as well as the central administration upon the continuing ongoing support demonstrated by members of the faculty” (23).  In other words, for the donation to continue, Rotman required that faculty adhere to “the vision.”  Indeed, as Graham notes, the acting provost at the time “stated with pride” that “given the magnitude and importance of the gift, the University is prepared to make a number of undertakings that in a number of ways involve new commitments or variances from previously approved allocations or from University policy” (24).

Rotman’s donation is not unique.  Graham writes: “Even more scandalous in many ways was the agreement between the University of Toronto and Mr. Peter Munk, together with his corporations, Horsham and Barrick Gold” (24). In this agreement, the university will establish a “business-academic relationship,” and that “In return, the University promised Munk’s project would ‘rank with the University’s highest priorities for the allocation of its other funding, including its own internal resources.’ No mention wass made of the need to protect academic freedom or any other basic University policy” (24).

Graham is right to note that “Since Munk, like Rotman, could withdraw funding at any time over the 10 years if dissatisfied with the progress of the Centre, he was in a position to exert enormous influence over the teaching and research activities of the Centre. What, for example, might happen to an untenured faculty member of the Centre who spoke out in ways perceived as contrary to the interests of Horsham or Barrick Gold Corporations?”

The question that Graham asks is, of course, an important one.  What happens when benefactors who donate money to a university disagrees with an untenured faculty member?  What happens when benefactors can pull their donations to the University when they are not satisfied with the direction or “vision” of the program?  In many regards, we already have answers to some of these questions. Virginia Ashby Sharpe in “Oversight, Disclosure, and Integrity in Science” writes:

We have also seen cases of institutional retaliation against researchers who have gone up against pharmaceutical manufacturers when their research indicated harmful effects.  One case involves the University of Toronto.  When Nancy Oliveri broke her confidentiality agreement and published unfavorable results regarding the drug deferiprone (used to treat the hereditary blood disease thalassemia), the university attempted to dismiss her.  The same institution, which received a $1.5-million gift from the Eli Lilly company, rescinded its job offer to David Healy when he was publicly critical of the Eli Lilly drug Prozac.

All of this raises a further question:  Would the University ever consider disbanding or disestablishing an entire program if the values and instruction of that program ran counter to the values or expectations of a benefactor?  These seem to be important questions that need to be asked these days, especially in light of an Academic Plan which calls for the closure of several language programs to form a “School of Languages and Literatures” (now in search of a benefactor) and the complete destruction of other programs, such as Comparative Literature, Diaspora and Transnational Studies, and, of course, the Centre for Ethics.

Frye in his “Commencement Address at Carlton University,” delivered on May 17th, 1957, observes:

As John Stuart Mill proved a century ago, the basis of all freedom is academic freedom of thought and discussion.  You have had that here, because you are responsible for carrying it into society.  I know the staff of Carlton fairly well, and I know that none of them would try to adjust you or integrate you with your society.  They have done all they could do to detach you from it, to wean you from the maternal bosom of Good Housekeeping and the Reader’s Digest, the pneumatic bliss of the North American way of life.  They have tried to teach you to compare your society’s ideas with Plato’s, its language with Shakespeare’s, its calculations with Newton’s, its love with the love of the saints.  Being dissatisfied with society is the price we pay for being free men and women.

That price we pay, of course, is something we choose for ourselves as scholars.  It is not something to be negotiated because scholars are not to be bought or sold.

Linda Hutcheon Scholarship

University Professor and past president of the Modern Language Association of America, Linda Hutcheon, has just retired from the University of Toronto.  Professor Hutcheon is the most cited living Canadian scholar of literature, the only worthy successor to Northrop Frye. According to the citation index Publish or Perish, she has been cited 5,605 times in Google Books.  Her h-index, a formula based on how many books a scholar has produced as well as on citations, is 17, the same h-index as Marshall McLuhan or Salman Rushdie.

But, more than her publications, Linda has transformed the ethos of the academic units she works in by making all relations warmer and more human. The two words most associated with her professional presence among us are generosity and community. All her students can testify to her generosity. Since coming to U of T 1989 she has supervised 61 PhD theses!  She has served on another 61 thesis committees! Her example has taught all of us, her students and her colleagues alike, what the mentor-student relation can be.  Linda has also provided us with a wholly new model of what literary scholarship can be.  It does not have to be solitary. Research, publication, and teaching, she has taught us, are all collective enterprises.

Upon her retirement, in her honour the Department of English and the Centre for Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto have established a scholarship in Linda’s name to be awarded to an incoming PhD student in English or Comparative Literature working in the areas of contemporary literature, theory, or interdisciplinary approaches to literature. If you would like to donate to the Linda Hutcheon Scholarship Fund, it is possible to make an online contribution by visiting either the Comparative Literature ( or English web-sites ( and following the links.

Calling all Romantic Frygians

Eric Murphy Selinger of DePaul University is organizing a panel at the American Comparative Literature Association’s annual meeting to take place in Vancouver in the spring.  The panel deals with romance in its widest sense.  To his credit, I have never heard a lecture by Selinger in which he doesn’t cite Northrop Frye’s The Secular Scripture or Anatomy of Criticism.  So, if you are working on romance, please consider submitting an abstract.  Instructions for submitting an abstract are available at

Foreign Affairs: Romance at the Boundaries

•  Seminar Organizer: Eric Murphy Selinger, DePaul U

The 2011 ACLA conference theme invokes “the freshness, excitement, and, yes, fear of experiencing the ‘foreign.’”  In the experience of love, that mix of emotions is also on display, not least when the “foreign” other turns out to be ourselves, “shattered” (in Jean-Luc Nancy’s terms) by the impact of desire.  This seminar will explore how literary and popular texts represent the transformative encounter of self and other, mind and body, old self and new, in romantic love.

How do texts enact encounter aesthetically, through contrapuntal discourses, genres, allusions, or traditions?  From Ottoman lyric to Harlequin novel, the literature of love is often highly conventionalized.  How have such texts incorporated the freshness of the “foreign,” renewed within—or slipping past—the boundaries of genre?

What are the politics of xenophilia, within or outside of texts? What ethics (and erotics) shape our acknowledgement, violation, or fetishizing of alterity? How does power shift when texts and tropes of love move from language to language, medium to medium, period to period, audience to audience?

Is scholarship also a “foreign affair”? What pleasures and shames shape academic encounters with popular romance, the abjected Other of “literature”? What happens when men study (and write) texts commonly construed to be “by women, for women,” or when women study (and write) male romance? As queer readers study heteronormative texts, and straight readers, queer ones—when East meets West, and South, North—might love of the “foreign” be read as a critical practice, or criticism, a practice of love?

From Brock to Oxford and Beyond: A Lesson in Mentorship

In 2006, on the advice of a professor at Queen’s University, I began a second Masters degree in Studies in Comparative Literatures and Arts at Brock University.  It was at there that I met Dr. Cristina Santos, who would become the supervisor of my research, and, although I am no longer at Brock, she has continued to mentor me.

When I left Brock, it was with scholarly skills I had developed only because Professor Santos encouraged me to push the boundaries of my research, to dig deeper into the questions I was considering, and to read texts closely, textually, hermeneutically.

Earlier this year, while I was teaching as a part-time instructor at Brock University, she encouraged me to submit an abstract for a conference at Oxford University.  Writing abstracts for this particular conference was a key part of the course she was teaching – a course I had taken three years earlier.  That course is to prepare students for an academic career: writing abstracts, writing lectures, writing articles.

Needless to say, I submitted an abstract which was later accepted by the conference committee, and, thanks to the good advice of my mentor, I travelled to Oxford University where I presented my current research.  But I didn’t travel alone.  When I arrived at Oxford, I realized that I was accompanied by several of Professor Santos’ students, and we were all participating in a conference that she had encouraged us all to attend.

The lessons of mentorship, as I have learned, extend far beyond the one or two years we spend at a university.  As Cristina Santos demonstrates by her exceptional example, mentorship extends far beyond the one or two years we study with a supervisor.  Mentorship is a continued commitment to students and their scholarship.

Quote of the Day: Canadian Patriotism

Food for thought for Kory Teneycke to chew on and digest before he decides to call anyone’s “patriotism” into question, let alone that of one of the world’s great writers — on the assumption, of course, that Northrop Frye meets his test for being sufficiently patriotic:

Within the last twenty-five years, as the country has become more articulate, I think there has been a gradually growing realization that the exploiting of nature may in its way be just as evil as the exploiting of other human beings. Writers in Canada today tend to be fiercely patriotic but their patriotism is not connected so much with the nation or even the society of Canada. It is connected rather with the natural environment of Canada, with their insistence that Canada is not just a place to be looted and plundered by commercial interests — cutting down trees, polluting lakes, exterminating the fish and the animals.  (CW 25, 225)

Call for Papers: “Iconoclasm”

As readers of this blog likely know, the Centre for Comparative Literature hosts an annual conference organised by the students of Comparative Literature. This year’s theme is Iconoclasm: the Breaking and Making of Images and it has thus far been sponsored by the Centre for Comparative Literature, the Jackman Humanities Institute, Latin American Studies, and the Northrop Frye Professorship in Literary Theory.  I would like to encourage readers of this blog to consider submitting an abstract to the conference (deadline September 10, 2010); the Call for Papers appears below the cut.  The conference organisers are hoping that this year’s conference will, once again, be an incredible success and highlight the continued importance of the Centre for Comparative Literature.

The 22nd annual conference of the Centre for Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto in March 2011 will focus on the idea of Iconoclasm, the breaking of images and the making of icons.

The word “iconoclasm” is weighted with a long history of religious significance, from the Byzantine war on religious icons of the 8th- and 9th-centuries and the Protestant reformation in the 16th century, to the Taliban’s destruction of the Buddhas of Bamyan in the 21st century. But the idea of destroying or defacing images, especially images that convey aspects of cultural dominance or, conversely, pose a threat to that dominance, is as often political as religious: think of the Chinese Cultural Revolution or graffiti moustaches. Political iconoclasm, unlike religious iconoclasm, does not object to representation as such but rather to certain images that have been granted the status of icons. However, any act of desecrating symbols of authority itself often takes on iconic status: take, for example, photos of the pulling down of statues from Romania to Iraq.

Iconoclasm need not be visual and material and can also take abstract and intellectual forms. Subversive, transgressive, blasphemous writing is also iconoclastic in inspiration and function. Moreover, the power associated with images in general and iconic images in particular has often inspired writers to subdue the power of images or to wrest it for themselves. The ekphrastic contest between literature, or verbal representation, and images, or visual representation, is very often iconoclastic in nature.

Contemporary media culture floods us with images and alters their impact, creating ever more sophisticated organized cults around them, such as celebrity, high art, advertising, the news, etc. Just as the word “icon” has acquired new meanings, ranging from signs for computer applications to logos and celebrity, so, too, iconoclasm, the urge to deface, destroy, or alter images, takes on wholly new meanings.

We wish to examine a wide range of iconoclastic moments in order to understand the political, ethical, and aesthetic stakes involved in challenging the signifying power of the iconic image. Is there a tradition of iconoclasm or is the modern icon and thus modern iconoclasm something new? Is iconoclasm even possible, or does it always participate in the forces of iconicity, creating, in effect, iconoclastic icons? Subjects that are of interest to us include but are in no way limited to:

Continue reading