By: Andrew Gyorkos
Isabel Lay, President of the Equity Studies Student’s Union, speaks to a crowd outside of Sid Smith on Tuesday during a protest against the cuts to the Equity Studies Program.
On October 16, Disability Studies scholar and educator Dr. Rod Michalko was informed by New College’s Acting Principal, Shahrzad Mojab, that his three-year teaching contract would not be renewed. In the days following New College’s decision, significant student outcry in the form of online petitions and the Save Disability Studies at U of T campaign caused the university to reconsider.
On October 29, the university announced that Dr. Rod Michalko’s contract would be renewed, but this victory has not convinced supporters of the Disability Studies movement that the problem has been solved.
“Education should reflect the needs and wants of the students,” said Isabel Lay, chair of the Equity Studies Student Union and leader of the Save Disability Studies campaign, in her November 3 speech to supporters outside Sidney Smith Hall. “Disability Studies students are aware of the deliberate cuts. It’s time for the administration to react to the Disability Studies movement, time to allow the students to participate in Disability Studies streams.”
Disability Studies, part of the Equity Studies program at New College, is a small fish in a big pond. Dr. Rod Michalko is the only instructor at the undergraduate level. If his contract had not been renewed, this field of study would have been rendered non-existent at U of T.
The excuse that the university would have been trimming dead weight by ending Michalko’s contract does not correspond with the evidence. Michalko has experienced soaring demand for his courses; his waitlists overflow with students eager to learn from him. He has received overwhelming support from students and colleagues, and the university recognized his achievements with the Dean’s Special Merit Award.
“Stabilizing the Disability Studies stream is top priority for Equity Studies and New College,” wrote June Larkin, Director of Equity Studies and VP of New College, in an email to the newspaper. “Students have made their voices heard and have strengthened our hand as we work towards a permanent Disability Studies presence of U of T.”
The Save Disability Studies at U of T campaign hopes that, through their efforts, the program will achieve that permanency. The goal to create a tenured position for Disability Studies still remains.
Michalko, affably referred to as “Rod” by colleagues and students alike, has chosen not to directly address the issue of his contract. “What people want is a continued presence of Disability Studies at U of T,” he said. While he wholeheartedly encourages the Save Disability Studies at U of T campaign, he said he is hesitant to say too much lest the attention be focused squarely on his contract, and not on the larger issue.
Lay, however, is more than willing to speak on behalf of all the supporters of Disability Studies at U of T.
“We want to see the University make an ongoing commitment to disability studies, not half-assed extensions year after year,” she shouted in her speech outside Sid Smith before Rod’s scheduled lecture. “We will continue campaigning until Disability Studies has a permanent home at U of T.”
This article was originally published on our old website at https://thenewspaper.ca/news/save-disability-studies-campaign-fights-back/.