Round Table IV: Teaching Ukrainian Studies | Discussion


Bohdan Kordan:

The question ultimately was the connection between centres and teaching programs, and specifically departments, and I think that is an important issue. The history of many of these centres is that they are isolated units, but the trick really is to make that connection in such a way that those departments see the value and necessity not only of lending support but of investing in those centres.

This is both a practical and a political question. On the practical side, we at PCUH have different categories of individuals, faculty members in the college who are tenured members of the centre, but we also have affiliates drawn from various university departments. We have people in environmental sciences, a person who is working with students on, of all things, a Ukrainian community garden in order to examine the cultural practice of growing a medicinal garden on the prairies. We have a sociologist who is working with Germans and the Mennonite community and is an affiliate of the centre. So all these individuals, in many ways, have a practical need to be associated with the centre, and in so doing they bring their experience to their respective departments and underscore its value.

The other point is really a political question. We do a lot with very few resources, and it is extraordinary how much attention we get as a result. There is a compelling reason for departments to factor the centre into their decision-making process about faculty hires. That is not always the case, but we at the centre can make a compelling case for a faculty hire in a particular department when the opportunity arises. My interest in all this has a lot to do with how we innovate. We accept the fact that Ukraine has now become a normal state, a normal society, if I can say that [laughter], and, having said that, worthy of scholarship and assessment. We do these things and we hope for the best outcome, but there is a context to consider, and that context is one of austerity and the kinds of things that have been happening in the last twenty years. I was hired not as a Ukrainianist but to teach conflict, human rights, and international organizations. I have an interest in Ukrainian studies as a kind of sidebar, but the fact is, when I arrived there and saw the state of affairs, this could not last.

So we took the initiative to change the dynamic in such a way that should Ukrainian studies disappear—in fact, in its traditional setting it did disappear— we would be there to revive them. We were there to ensure that Ukrainian studies would survive. But we had to recommend something different from what was already there, and that is where the multidisciplinarity, the interdisciplinarity comes in, what everybody is talking about. And we have done that. But at the end of the day—here is the point, the essence, the nub—it is not about teaching. It is about learning, and so the emphasis is on students. I will put my money on students every day of the week because they are the future. I have had seventeen graduate students, and three have appointments at universities, in London, Regina, and Rochester. They carry with them the experience of having studied under me with a Ukrainian focus. They integrate some of that into their teaching. But [our work] is not for them. It is for the students who have come to the university and will dabble in Ukrainian studies, take the odd Ukrainian class—it is the experience of being in Ukrainian life at a university that matters most. I, for one, took the odd Ukrainian language course at university, but my training was in political studies. But the experience of working with others in the Ukrainian students’ club—with Bohdan Krawchenko, Olga Kuplowska, Roman Senkus, Myroslav Shkandrij, everybody, the Chomiak sisters—that became formative in my life. It informed me, and that is why I do what I do. That is what I want for this generation of students and for the next. So my purpose is not about graduate students, although we need to do that. It is about giving them the experience that they take with them into their lives and know that this is important to them, and of course to the community to which they belong.

Alla Nedashkivska:

I will respond to the question that Heather posed with respect to our language students’ lack of confidence, and this is not a criterion but our result, which is a bit alarming. I now teach the first level, the beginners’ Ukrainian course. Do I address this question enough? This is a result of the study that may require attention: lack of confidence among our language learners may be a demotivator. We note in our study that one factor is the inequality of proficiency levels and background knowledge, as well as other factors that we discussed.

I also want to stress the need to understand today’s learners. We need to adapt and renovate, as Bohdan Kordan mentioned, and Taras [Koznarsky] mentioned that perhaps Ukrainian studies could be— what did you say, a main dish or a dessert? I would say that perhaps it should be an ingredient, but I would like to stress that today’s reality is changing. Our students are different; we need to learn about them and adapt to their learning needs. Again, with respect to interdisciplinarity, Ukrainian language learning most likely needs to be combined with other disciplines. We offer a business Ukrainian course at the University of Alberta that attracts a good number of students, and I believe that we should introduce courses of language and history, language and political science, language and economics, and so on. We do have administrative challenges, but we need to face those challenges, and we will do so.

Taras Koznarsky:

It is a pleasure to work with historians and learn from them, as we do. But usually it is in academic venues, conference venues. It is great to have a series for this platform and co-operate—it is great that the U of T, in addition to the Slavic department, has a chair of Ukrainian studies and support for publications through our chair. What I was trying to emphasize is that it is not effective—today especially, but not only today—to shame students: “You are Ukrainian: you have to do this stuff because you have to do it”; “This is your obligation, your cross to carry.” I think there are ways of showing that Ukrainian material can be a source of intellectual, aesthetic, psychological, and emotional joy. There is enough there that is valuable and just joyous in itself, offering the best examples of thought, of inspiration, and we should be able to communicate that. That is probably the most effective way to attract students—whether they come from studying Russian and say, “Oh my gosh, this is something different.” It does not matter where some students come from, sometimes I cannot pronounce their names, but I am sure they get some useful ideas out of Ukrainian texts and culture.

Dominique Arel:

On normalization, Bohdan [Kordan] said that Ukraine has become normal, and I know what he meant, but I am sure that people on the Maidan would not have agreed. [Laughter.] They won the Maidan precisely because they were tired of not living in a normal country. That is not what you meant, obviously, but what has happened is that Ukraine has become very interesting to study. Look at it! The Orange Revolution was wild enough, but the Maidan was just—well, in terms of the consequences, obviously there is nothing “exciting” about that…but how could any country in the world go through two instances of mass mobilization in ten years? It is massive, and we all know the details. It is just amazing, so it draws people in, and that is the most spectacular example.

Obviously we have a whole community of scholars who are interested in war, civil wars, and so forth, and they are looking at the Ukrainian case because it is the second-largest case in Europe since World War II (after the Balkan war), and it is happening in Europe. That is the kind of normalization we see very much in the social sciences. I tried to explain very broadly how it can be defined, and it surprises even me how broadly it can be defined.

Since we keep mingling with historians, let us address the situation with archives: no matter how problematic issues always are in Ukraine, they are infinitely better than in Russia, and I think your own personal experiences are not just anecdotes; they reflect a trend. If you want to study the Second World War or memory politics in Russia, well, good luck, everything is completely closed, and anyway you will be followed by the FSB [1] if you do that. Whereas in Ukraine, with all the controversy, there are actually a lot of archives that are open, which means that in practice the literature and research being produced are qualitatively (if not quantitatively) at a very high level for anyone interested in these broad historical matters.

From my vantage point, I see Ukrainian studies indeed experiencing a period of remarkable growth across the board. But obviously we are talking about the study of Ukraine, not the study of the diaspora in Canada; these are two different worlds that intersect at some level, but not always, as they are two different experiences. This means that students, whether of Ukrainian background or not, are being drawn into Ukraine because it is—I think Professor Kononenko said “cool” this morning. She is a “Kule” scholar herself, K-U-L-E [laughter], of cool students, in both terms, but that is just the reality.

Now my reality is that, unlike the University of Alberta or Toronto, where there are more resources despite all the constraints, and the possibility of actually having courses in the Ukrainian language, we unfortunately do not have such courses at the University of Ottawa. But there are ways to remedy that. There are all these booming summer schools in Ukraine—that is how I learned Ukrainian. I just went to Ukraine, and there you go. Ostash put me on a radio program the day I arrived in Ukraine. I had never really spoken Ukrainian in my life [laughter], but I could read it, so I had enough words to say—and I was very happy to be there.

The last point I would make, since it was raised, is indeed a serious issue, and I can see that with regard to the younger generation, people very close to me—that is jobs. It is great to have this young cohort, but will there be overproduction, as Bob Magocsi said? It is a real problem, but I looked at my little database yesterday and realized that of the 50 doctoral students we have had over the years, I could count 14 who found jobs. Now, of those 50, many are still doctoral students, and some are post-docs or are still around. I mean, who got a job immediately, first year on the market, right? And of those 14, 5 were in anthropology, so you have Ukrainian studies now growing in non-traditional fields.


Heather Coleman:

Anthropology is really big.

Dominique Arel:

Yes, it is big. There are terrific things that can be done. It is also big in Russian studies—that is the one thing that can probably still be done in Russia without the FSB running after you. We see that in Europe the job market is very difficultas well, in Western Europe in particular, but somehow there is a critical mass of young people who either get regular jobs, or in Europe, where they have a very different system, they can get permanent research positions in Germany or in France. We do not have that here, except perhaps in some institutes, and there are quite a few who manage to find themselves a niche. Enough for me to witness a quantitative growth in Ukrainian studies on the basis of my own experience.

Myroslav Shkandrij:

I have taught languages and literatures for almost 40 years in four different universities. I have always been pretty much the only person in those programs. Sometimes I have been the only person who taught the language as well as the literature. Small programs have a special difficulty; it has always been like that, as I said in my introductory comments. But now the climate at universities has changed, and this poses a very different set of problems.

This year our university cut all languages that were not on a departmental banner. Arabic, Hebrew, Yiddish, Icelandic, anything that was not linked to a banner program disappeared. So we are in a different climate—we have to be aware of that. That said, we can learn from the Germans, from the Russians, from the Poles. I am in a department where all those languages are taught, and when I was head, they wanted to cut German; they wanted to cut Slavic. We survived, and German is now booming. But there are special things that can be done to improve language-teaching programs, the way they are delivered, taught, and conceived. And part of that has to do with high schools. German survives and is booming because they have German in high schools all the way up to university entrance, and there is a very easy move for students: you can contact them in the last year of high school, and they just go immediately into the university courses.

One of the things that repeatedly comes through, and that I agree with completely, is that you cannot just teach language alone; there has to be a reason for a student to learn the language. Sometimes it comes from the content, the issues, sometimes the other way, but that means there has to be a link between language teaching and other instruction so that students see the need for it. On the good side of things, literature is now anything you want it to be. It can be political studies, history, cultural memory, psychology, whatever you want, and it is all over the map. We can now shape courses in interesting, exciting ways, the way Taras [Koznarsky] and other panellists have suggested. It is not all terribly dark.

Questions and answers

Genia Boivin:

I do have a question concerning the programs. As Dr. Shkandrij said, all our programs are small, and my question is that of addressing the competition between them. Right now, all of you are from different universities, so this is not really a problem. But sometimes, within the same university, you have Ukrainian studies in language, literature, and folklore, and all these programs competing with one another, and the reason I am asking this question is that one of you (I cannot remember who) said that the Ukrainian language is not Ukrainian studies per se but a tool for doing Ukrainian studies. It seems to me that this is already a bit of a problem. So how would you address these competing programs within the same university all dealing with Ukrainian studies?

Bohdan Kordan:

I do not remember who said it, but we do not have competing programs. They have all disappeared! [Laughter.]

Heather Coleman:

I said “tool,” but I guess I actually meant that it may not be apparent to students at the beginning, but in fact language is the glue, and language is what we share in common and need in common to pursue our field in a sophisticated way, in order for our students to do advanced work in our field. I see it as the “net” in the “network,” as well as being a subject of study in and of itself. One of the things that I think we can be very proud of here at the U of A is the really innovative work that our Ukrainianists have done in language study. Alla has published a textbook, and I know there has been a lot of innovative work in language teaching. And that is critical.

Nataliya Bezborodova:

I would like to address a topic that was also discussed yesterday and today, about Ukrainian studies and the students who register in the program.  Three years ago I came as a Master’s student and knew through private sources about this program, and when I was at the university, I had heard that there were not so many students there from Ukraine. I wondered how they managed to bring those students to Canada. In Ukraine, interest in studying abroad is increasing greatly; there are a lot of educational fairs and exhibits, but Ukrainian studies and the humanities are not represented at all at those fairs. There are MBA programs, there is IT and maybe English language for those who would like to stay in Canada or somewhere else. So I think it is probably a task of the university administration and of Ukrainian institutions and programs to advertise opportunities for study abroad more widely in Ukraine, especially if they include Ukrainian studies.

Myroslav Shkandrij:

I think that has been addressed in part. Many students from Ukraine can get recruited and brought to Canadian universities, and we find grants for them. This is one way in which these programs have survived. The University of Manitoba cannot access some of the money that is made available through CIUS because it is earmarked in specific ways, but we find money in different ways. So we have brought students, and there is interest, of course, and it is a very good way of blending students from Ukraine with local students. It really improves the educational experience.

Nataliya Bezborodova:

I actually did not refer to money in my comment, and I know that those graduate students who are accepted and registered usually get assistantships or scholarships, really great support. But my comment was about advertising opportunities more actively in order to attract more students.

Myroslav Shkandrij:

Well, that is a possibility, yes. To be honest, we are a very small program, we get more than enough applications, and even word of mouth seems to work. But you are right—we probably need to publicize it more and maybe think about funding this in a more systematic way.

Paul Robert Magocsi:

It was very nice to hear that at the University of Toronto, where I teach, this is the last department of Slavic studies, but believe me, as I am sure Taras [Koznarsky] will say, that department also has problems in recruiting students.

Let me say one thing. You cannot be a Ukrainianist—you cannot be interested seriously in Ukrainian studies—unless you know the Ukrainian language. I very much sympathize with teachers of the Ukrainian language, who have an incredibly difficult task in preserving the pedagogy of teaching Ukrainian. But without knowledge of the Ukrainian language, forget it—you can never pursue anything in Ukrainian studies. Minimum is Ukrainian language, let us throw in some Russian perhaps, let us throw in some Polish. We have heard here, however, that we have a crisis, departments are closing, etcetera. Yesterday I said in one of our discussions that academics should be doing scholarly matters and not be concerned with political activity. Well, that was yesterday. [Laughter.] Today I am going to at least mention the imperative of being politically active—within one’s institution and outside one’s institution, in the larger society. Whether that political activity is carried out by any one of you sitting there, or any of us sitting here, or the leaders of the institutions with whom we are associated is a different story. But why is political activity necessary? We have already heard, en passant, from our instructor of the Ukrainian language that she offers a course in business Ukrainian. The real name of the game within institutions is in fact to co-operate aggressively with business schools, with all those departments that do practical things. But even that is not going to help, because the real battle was lost probably 20 or 30 years ago. I had this discussion yesterday again with former ambassador [Derek] Fraser. The real battle is that universities have removed language requirements across the board. Once those language requirements go away, you have lost. There is literally, I am sorry, nothing you can do to save the teaching of language unless it is required.

In order for that to happen, there has to be lobbying at the political level outside the university to convince the funders of universities at the provincial level that language is an economic imperative. Let us be very practical here. The argument that it is nice to learn about the Ukrainian language and culture, or Spanish, and so forth is not going to fly. The only argument is that future Canadian generations want to be competitive in the outside world, in a global economy. One needs to know languages—not a smattering, something that you have heard in kitchens at home, but formal knowledge. That is where the battle is. It is not even within the universities, though you can do a little bit with business schools and IT programs. It is outside the university, and who can take that initiative? You cannot take it, we cannot take it, but the directors of institutions, lobbying, and those political activists, including some of them from the past and from the present and future, who are sitting there—that is who. We have to engage these people to convince provincial governments to reinstate language instruction for every student as an economic imperative.

Natalia Khanenko-Friesen:

I regret to inform everybody that my question is again about language instruction. In our ladder of university courses, we begin with the recruitment of students into Ukrainian studies with language instruction. In fact, at our university Ukrainian studies enrolment is highest in the first-year Ukrainian language class, and I think it is probably the highest on this continent. Alla [Nedashkivska] will later correct me if I am wrong. And yet we are in a conundrum as academics motivated to advance and pursue Ukrainian studies, mostly because we are not professionally equipped to do so. Alla, I think, is the only professional at CIUS fully equipped to teach and deliberate and talk about how language needs to be taught. The rest of us are split between our main foci in literature or history, or we have no full-time faculty teaching the Ukrainian language. So I have a very practical suggestion. A year ago, the University of Victoria, I believe, organized a workshop or seminar on how to teach Russian in North America, and I have been waiting for such an opportunity for our sessional and part-time faculty who are involved with the foundational task of exposing our students to Ukrainian studies through the language itself: how to do it in a more coordinated manner.

That is where CIUS can come in, with the leadership of professionals in the field, and start a conversation about sharing resources and using the textbooks developed here. We also need to recognize that often students come into these classes to study language for its cultural or symbolic value rather than for its practical application. So there is always the challenge of teaching heritage students here and then sending them to Ukraine, where they face the very different task of acquiring the language for practical use, as a means of communication.

Myroslav Shkandrij:

We do have a methodologist trained in language teaching in our program at the University of Manitoba. And there is plenty of experience in other languages that we draw on. We have trained methodologists in German as well, and we share. So it is not quite as bleak as that.

Bohdan Klid:

I would like to return to the idea of contexts, and direct attention again to the question of language teaching, and of course to the situation here at the University of Alberta, where we have seen a program basically abolished. In the context of multiculturalism, of course we remember that the Institute was founded in the wake of the adoption of the multiculturalism policy, and of course the favourable political circumstances that existed at that time made it possible here at the University of Alberta. We have all these Ukrainian specialists here at the university, and yet we now have a crisis here. You have to ask yourself, how could it have happened? We have this Institute, and it seems that if we are going to save anything that has to do with language, then it should be done here, right? But it did not happen. Our administrators decided to go ahead and cut, and it happened to hit the Ukrainianists pretty hard. In the context of multiculturalism, though, it does not make sense.

I was at the Ukrainian Canadian Congress meeting about two weeks ago, and I heard a very interesting comment by Minister Dion[2] about multiculturalism in particular. What he said was striking, because he was a student when the multiculturalism policy was being adopted. His father was on the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, and he stressed that Ukrainians were the key to the government’s adoption of the multiculturalism policy. And he thanked the Ukrainian community. He said, “Your work helped us not just to adopt the policy, but also you have helped identify the Canadian identity, or you have made a contribution toward that.”

How does that make sense? You hear the politicians say that we are stressing diversity, that Canada is a place of tolerance, of understanding—so, in this context, all these cuts just do not make sense. What I would like to state here is that the university itself should be a reflection of society: if we really are a multicultural society, then the university should reflect that, here in Edmonton in particular, where the Ukrainian factor is very important. We have to work to get language classes re-established or a program re-established because at least the Faculty of Arts should reflect the principle of multiculturalism.

Dominique Arel:

On the student’s comment about better promoting programs in Ukraine, I think she is right. It is on my mind all the time, and I think we could do infinitely better using the new technological tools, social media, and so forth, as a community in Ukrainian studies. On Bohdan’s [recounting of Minister Dion’s] comment, I found it very revealing that it came from a Quebecois, because multiculturalism is not very popular in Quebec. But the reality is that both the Quebecois and the Ukrainians have been extremely influential in forging the Canadian identity without really realizing it, and here I am in Ukrainian studies. On Bob’s [Magocsi] point about the absolute necessity of learning languages, in comparative politics it is an absolute necessity, though also misunderstood by our own colleagues in other subfields of political science. If you want to study the Middle East, you have to know Arabic; if you want to study China, you have to know Mandarin, etcetera. If you want to study Ukraine, you have to speak Ukrainian (and Russian, not only Ukrainian). That means, in our case [at the University of Ottawa], we cannot learn Ukrainian on campus, but there are other ways—the “scenic route,” and usually you just go into the field and learn it. Again, that is a constant battle, and often it is a battle even within disciplines.

[1]    Post-KGB Russian state security service.

[2]    Stéphane Dion, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Global Affairs Canada.