To the Editor:

You reported a "Senate highlight" (March 21) that perpetuates a fallacy concerning the Faculty of Religious Studies (FRS). Vice-Principal (Academic) Chan is quoted as saying that the faculty's annual report "revealed that only 23 students were majoring in the faculty" and wondered whether it has therefore lost its "critical mass of students to continue as a faculty."

The fallacy consists in the administration's method of reporting on numbers of students; for 10 years as Dean of Religious Studies I made an annual protest--as did my predecessor Dean Johnston and my successor Dean Runnalls--when the Registrar's report was given. Only one of the faculty's five degree programs is reported directly, namely the Bachelor of Theology. (Arts and Graduate Studies consume the others.) Even though V-P Chan had even this figure wrong (he halved it), he is correct that this program alone would not be sufficient to warrant faculty status.

In fairness, however, he might have added that the little band of BTh students brings in not only government funding to the University but also subventions from its three affiliated colleges.

Proper statistics, however, should include the undergraduates in Arts and the graduate students. The former include majors and honours in the BA program in Religious Studies, and some 2,500 enrolled in courses. Graduate students total 29 magisterial and 64 doctoral. This brings the total Full Time Equivalent to 306, including the BTh component. Thus the weight has long shifted from "theology" to the academic study of religion, well established across Canada, not to mention at Harvard, Yale and Princeton. Our faculty pioneered in developing the discipline, including its Learned Society, journal and publishing corporation. One should note also faculty members' performance in an impressive record of scholarly publications, as well as running six journals and an international translation series.

Related to this picture of a thriving unit is the "historical formula" that sets the cost per FTE, i.e., Weighted Student Units. Here also it has been our contention over the years that this formula has been detrimental to a faculty budget that would match its needs. The WSU funding, according to Planning Office reports, continues to fall--e.g., from 0.76 in 1988/89 to 0.52 in 1991/92. This compares with a rise from 0.84 to 0.91 for Arts during the same period. But the formula has become a sacred cow serving administrative priorities and not to be questioned.

More worrisome is the current administration's unwillingness to answer the questions raised by the FRS about the threat to its future. Faculty reports and briefs to Principal Shapiro and V-P Chan spell out in detail the fact that its growing enrolment and low WSU add up to a significant profit to the University, over $4.7 million during the past six years. To date no reply or even challenge has come to the claims of FRS that it is being treated unjustly.

Not many good days have passed since we basked in the rhetoric of "collegiality." (I've watched it come and go during my 40 years here.) Our happy breed of intellectuals, dedicated to delightful studies, was to share in decision-making at all levels. Ah, for the heady days of the late '60s, when student rebels forced the pace of change, getting themselves even on Senate and Board! (One asks: did it matter? What was gained by all that fuss?)

Today our beloved Old McGill faces a similar crisis, not just of budget cuts but of confidence in the way decisions are made, their basis in reality or ideology. If FRS is a moneymaker for the University; if its student enrolment at all levels reveals a viable critical mass; if small faculties can be as beautiful as large ones; then what is the rationale for the administration's position? Is it some new model of "university" no longer rooted in a liberal philosophy of education? If so, let's hear the substance. Or must one look for hidden agenda and unspoken reasons? (I rule out prejudice.) After all, even popular wisdom knows that "if it ain't broke..."

Joseph C. McLelland
Emeritus Professor
of Philosophy of Religion