The last few weeks, Universitas readers have expressed both concerns and disregard for having more women on university syllabi. Kristine Sørheim from the Leftist Alliance (Venstrealliansen) wrote an op-ed demanding a «rebellion against a conservative academic tradition.» For some UiO employees, that rebellion is already underway.
«Men have always dominated academia,» said Gry Rustad, a post-doc at the Department of Media and Communication. She is responsible for the new «Skam» class at UiO, based on the wildly popular TV series. Rustad says she has deliberately included women and authors with minority backgrounds as 50 percent of the reading list.
«If you only get one perspective in a class, you miss out on so many nuances,» she said.
«It just makes sense»
Kevin Steinman, a lecturer in English-language literature, has also chosen to put more women on his syllabus. When he took over teaching American Civilization this year, he wanted to update the reading list. It was composed of around 75 percent male authors, and lacked what he saw as essential voices.
«I want my students to learn that America is a multicultural society. When they read texts from several different perspectives rather than just men, they get a bigger picture of what America is,» Steinman explained.
He changed the syllabus to include 50 percent female authors.
«It just makes sense. It’s a bit like when Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau was asked why half of his cabinet were women. Come on, it’s 2017,» said Steinman.
He pointed out this indicates a bigger problem in academia however, and it is up to each lecturer to make a conscious choice to change that. «Many times I’ve seen that the class is more interesting, rich, and inclusive when differences like this are made,» said Steinman.
Gry Rustad says she does not think male authors should be taken off the reading list if it means a loss of quality, but that lecturers should see if there is an appropriate female author to replace some of the established male writers.
«It’s important that we as teachers think about which authors we let students read. What’s on the syllabus says something about which voices are important,» she said.
She said that does not mean she wants gender quotas on reading lists though, and emphasized that equality could not come at the cost of teaching the subject.
«History of philosophy needs to get on board»
Exphil is a required intro to philosophy that all bachelor’s students must take at UiO. It also has a syllabus heavy with male authors and theorists.
Arne Strand, an Exphil lecturer, says the university is in the process of creating a committee to review the reading list. It should be ready by Fall Semester 2018. Part of the committee will focus on gender balance.
«History of philosophy needs to get on board. It’s hard to get away from classic philosophers like Socrates, Plato, Descartes, Kant, and Hume, but maybe there is room for something more,» said Strand. The plan is to cut the number of texts by classic philosophers, opening the possibility for more texts written by women about the classic texts.
«Ethically speaking, there is no reason we shouldn’t have as many women represented as possible, as long as we take care of the educational quality,» said Strand.
He added it would be wrong to avoid the topic. «The main focus is to find great texts, but we can’t ignore the gender perspective.»