Last evening, 5-7 pm, in the Northrope Frye Building, the renowned speaker and scholar Dr. Azar Nafisi,(from John Hopkins University) spoke about the need to speak out against the threats to the Humanities in our university communities, not just at the University of Toronto as we witnessed this past year, but in the USA as well. Organized by the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Studies, hosted by Prof. Mohamad Tavokoli and Prof. Jennifer Jenkins, her moving talk arose many comments from the audience, populated by faculty and students from across the UT campus.
One of the many salient comments that Azar Nafisi made, whether it pertains to threats to the Humanities or whether it pertains to academic librarianship, was “silence is complicity” – something we must remember as academic librarians. If we do not give voice to our expertise and views – then, we are partners in the trends and movements which we may or may not agree with.
Last night there was a recognition that the rise of a “global humanity” was a vibrant and essential component of our western, multi-cultural society; and, that those of us who work at institutions, like the University of Toronto, threatened by advancing corporatization at all levels, need to openly articulate our concerns. Faculty in the audience agreed that we must find ways of reinforcing, sustaining and retaining, the core values and principles which make an academic institution a great place of learning. We need to re-evaluate “why” the Humanities are important. For example, one student had been told that the study of languages will broaden her ability to find jobs and make her more marketable when seeking a government job – yes, but is this the only reason why we want our students to be muli-lingual? What about the cultural, artistic growth of the individual when exposed to new languages, ideas, perspectives and literatures, whether it be the Latin speeches of Cicero or the Arabic poetry of Mutanabbi? All agreed that there was an urgent need to shift the current emphasis, from corporate and financial priorities to the importance of nurturing cultured, creative and enlightened thinking when reinforcing the role of the Humanities at our institution.