A couple Friday nights back, I ran into Victoria College sessional lecturer David Gilmour at a bar, a man I had not met before, and whom I had never intended to write about. He is a great drinking companion.
It took me some time to recognize him, but then he introduced himself as an “award-winning author” and, later, “David.”
We spoke, of course, about the controversy that erupted around his literary, pedagogical, and social views. As has been previously reported, he again defended himself by saying that the journalist who interviewed him caused a fuss over very little, that he teaches what he knows, that he teaches what he knows very well, and that what he knows just happens to be, more or less, experiences he shares—the stories of middle-aged white authors.
Virginia Woolf and Alice Munro were two female authors I thought he held in equal esteem to men. Woolf, yes. Munro, he called “boring.”
He put September’s controversy about his comments and syllabus in the larger context of UofT’s history, arguing that UofT is fighting against criticism of it its own literary history, when curricula were comprised of old white heterosexual men. Now, Gilmour suggested, his own critics charge him to be deliberately undermining attempts to diversify and broaden those curricula.
He alleged that the interim head of the English Department, Paul Stevens, was trying to gather support to oust Gilmour from the university, even though Gilmour is not employed by the English Department. When his interview with Hazlitt magazine was published, Stevens posted on Facebook, saying, “[Gilmour’s remarks] constitute a travesty of all we stand for.” He added, “I will be pursuing the matter further today.”
Stevens replied to my inquiry about Gilmour’s claim by stating, “English and Vic are discrete operations. We have no say in their hiring policies or practices and we have not been in contact with them about Mr Gilmour.” A soft question on my part, given that Stevens had had a meeting with President David Naylor and Victoria College principal Angela Esterhammer on the subject.
No action was taken by Victoria or central administration, possibly because Gilmour is as strong a teacher as he says he is. I have not taken a class with him, but after having spoken to a sampling of his few pupils, I assume that Esterhammer and Vic brass shares their complex views of him.
The young women I spoke to preferred not to go on record, because they couldn’t quite decide what to say about him. He offended them and sometimes disgustedthem, but also respected him as a teacher and a critic.
In one case, Gilmour offered to give serious criticism on the essays submitted to him. The young woman didn’t bother, but after reading her essay, he emailed her requesting to do so. She told me he was delighted by her essay. “Any professor would be lying if they said this wasn’t a great essay,” he wrote to her, along with more effusive praise. Her reaction was a mixture of flattery and revulsion.
In another case, a young woman keeps Gilmour’s writing advice at the top of each of her essay drafts: “Cut the fairies; kill your darlings.”
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My experience with Gilmour was charming, intelligent, and warm that night, but he said some stupid shit I won’t put down here. I understand better now why he was a media sensation.