June 20, 1996 * Vol . 6, No. 4

Senate approves end to Spanish and Latin American studies department

Senate voted at its June meeting to dissolve the department of Spanish and Latin American studies (SLAS) as a way of resolving chronic tensions between faculty members with divergent interests.

The proposed dissolution now goes to the university's board of governors for final consideration.

Given dissolution, a new program in Latin American studies would be established, while Spanish language acquisition and literature courses would be moved to the division of interdisciplinary studies.

Dean of arts Evan Alderson told Simon Fraser News following senate's decision that graduate and undergraduate students can be confident that their programs will continue. "With board approval, this will mean a new academic structure, but we will continue to offer the same programs of study," he stressed.

The proposed effective date for dissolution is Sept. 1. The plan requires separate committees to review both units one year after the break-up of SLAS to determine whether further changes are required.

Admissions to the graduate program would be frozen for one year to allow changes and to better serve existing graduate students.

In documentation presented to senate, Alderson wrote: "I believe that there is virtually no dispute by those close to the department about the need to dismantle the department of Spanish and Latin American studies as it currently exists...(it) has not worked well in practice and is presently unable to act as a single coherent unit."

Since the department was created in 1989, tension has developed between Latin American specialists and faculty focused on Spanish literature. The Latin Americanists perceive Spanish literature as having unwelcome colonialist trappings.

The dispute has a long history. In the fall of 1994 Alderson appointed an ad hoc committee to review the department's operations and directions. When the department subsequently could not agree on the appointment of a chair, Alderson set up a second committee to recommend an alternative organization.

Alderson eventually held departmental and faculty-wide referenda on the dissolution question and subsequent structures. In the votes, dissolution of SLAS was almost universally approved, but there was some disagreement about what would emerge afterwards. In particular, the Latin Americanists wanted separate departmental status.

Alderson eventually rejected departmental status for Latin American studies because of budgetary constraints. "I am not in a position to guarantee new resources or even the maintenance of resources recently available to the department (SLAS)," he explained.

Spanish literature and language courses have been taught at Simon Fraser since the university opened in 1965, originally through a department of modern languages. Latin American studies were first formally listed in the calendar in 1972.

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