Tutors bid Farewell to Nova Scotia

Four tutors pursue new opportunities outside the Canadian academic system.

By Hilary Ilkay – April 22, 2011

This April King’s will lose two dynamic pairs of teaching fellows: Scott Marratto and Alexandra Morrison, and Dan and Michelle Wilband. It is a great loss for the Foundation Year Programme and for the King’s community as a whole, but it is an inevitable part of the Programme.

“On the one hand, it’s useful to have a constant inflow of fresh minds,” says Michelle. “We’ve learned a lot from all of our colleagues. You get a novel perspective, but the price is a constant hemorrhaging of talent.”

Teaching fellows at King’s are given pos tions for three years, resulting in continual turnover of Foundation Year Programme faculty. In September, none of the original teaching fellows that Michelle started with will remain in the Programme. It’s easy to criticize the current structure, but Dan stresses that “the Foundation Year’s attention to detail is the centre of the Programme. It is anchored in the texts, which don’t rely on specific personalities or interpretations.”

After three years at King’s, leaving its cozy community to find another position in academia can be a daunting task. According to Dr. Laura Penny, jobs in the Humanities are some of the hardest to come by. “Part of the problem is structural,” Penny says. “As government funding declines, universities feel pressure to rely on tuition, which means they need more bums in seats. Alas, this means you must hire more people to teach the bums. How can the university do this cheaply? Grad students and contract workers.”

Penny also cites “credential creep” as a significant contributing factor. “If a BA/BSc is the new high school diploma,” she argues, “then a master’s becomes the new BA, and so on. A crap economy for recent grads also means that some people try a retail or service gig and then decide to go back to upgrade themselves.” What, then, is her advice to those of us who refuse to be dissuaded by statistics and trends? “Go if you really want to and cannot do otherwise – a lotta King’s nerds have! – but do not render yourself utterly beholden to the professorial dream.” Penny points out that grad school alumni enter the job market significantly later than others, but she adds that “if you are one of those people who likes living student- style, who immediately sees the ‘mort’ in mortgage and begins making Derridean death puns, then good luck and Godspeed.”

Marratto and Morrison were able to buck the trend and secure teaching positions together, but they’re going to have to leave Canada and move to Michigan.

Their presence will be sorely missed. During their years at King’s, they have fully embraced the intellectual spirit of the university as tutors in the Foundation Year Programme and lecturers in the Contemporary Studies Programme. Marratto also organized two seminars at King’s with Dr. John Russon, bringing together faculty and students from various disciplines to discuss works by Derrida and, earlier this year, two Platonic dialogues.

The Wilbands, on the other hand, are leaving behind theacademic track.
Dan, who is planning to pursue a law degree at McGill, is excited to encounter challenges in a different field of knowledge. However, he says he and Michelle will miss teaching at King’s.

They fondly recall their first years as FYP tutors, agreeing that they got more out of it than any student. “It’s a job you can go to every day that is meaningful,” says Michelle. Though they will miss Halifax and the tight-knit, intellectually- charged King’s community, they are looking forward to living in a “cosmopolitan city” that is still not too far away from the Maritimes.

When asked what they would miss most, Dan replied, “That’s like asking a fish what it would miss most about water.” Identifying a favourite moment was even more difficult. Finally, Michelle mentioned the “middle-of-the-night Phaeacian dance party with Ron during Odyssey Live.” Dan enthusiastically agreed, saying, “it shows King’s at its best: a space opening to bring people together in the spirit of fun and learning.”

CSP student Victoria Cate May Burton has been taught by both Marratto and Morrison, and is effusive in her admiration and gratitude: “They both devote so much time to talking to students and obviously put a great deal of thought into every single lecture given or discussion led. exceptionally brilliant and exceptionally kind, they have both shown me much to respect, admire and emulate.”

Marybeth Osowski, who had Michelle and Dan as t tors in FYP, shares similar sentiments: “The Wilbands have always been willing to help with the Haliburton Society. They also helped me get slightly more involved in the larger Halifax community through Halifax Humanities. I know that I will miss seeing them around King’s next year, and I’m incredibly glad that I got the opportunity to meet them.”

For many King’s students and faculty, the absence of these four tutors will be a tough transition to make. Cory Stockwell, a current teaching fellow in the
Foundation Year Programme, encapsulates just how much the Wilbands and Marratto and Morrison mean to King’s, and the strong sense of community that defines our university as truly unique: “King’s just won’t be the same without Amanda Morrison, Steve Marratto, and Muriel and Dave Wilband, and I’ll miss them all terribly!”