Author and Giller Prize nominee David Gilmour, who last year said he rarely read a female writer he wanted to teach, is back at the University of Toronto, but the university says it can't discuss his return.
Mr. Gilmour is teaching two full-year courses at the U of T's Victoria University, one a fourth-year "master class" on novel writing, as well as a third-year seminar on short fiction. He also appears to have reformed: The short story course, titled Love, Sex and Death in Short Fiction, includes work by Virginia Woolf, Mavis Gallant and Lorrie Moore.
Last year, students and faculty questioned whether the university should continue to have Mr. Gilmour teach after he told Hazlitt magazine that he could only teach the people he loved to read and "none of those happen to be Chinese, or women. … Except for Virginia Woolf." Mr. Gilmour said his favourite writers were "very serious heterosexual guys. Elmore Leonard, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy guys."
His return to campus threatens to plunge the school back into a debate over balancing its responsibility to students with academic freedom. Faculty at the university say that unless a professor shares objectionable views in the classroom, private opinions can't be grounds for firing. Previous students in Mr. Gilmour's classes have given him generally good reviews, describing him as "dynamic."
"If the courses that he is teaching now are more inclusive rather than driven by strange alienations from half of humanity, I think that's a good thing," said Holger Syme, chair of the Department of English and Drama at the University of Toronto Mississauga.
Dr. Syme wrote a column last year arguing that Mr. Gilmour sounded "narrow-minded and parochial," and that a good literature professor should be looking to read books and authors unlike him. He added his English department would be unlikely to hire someone who took the public positions Mr. Gilmour did.
Paul Gooch, the president of Victoria University, said he could not discuss details of Mr. Gilmour's appointment but that he was "one of several accomplished scholars, poets and writers teaching" this year.
Mr. Gilmour said last year that his remarks were misrepresented. A university spokesperson said he started teaching at Victoria University in 2006, and is a part-time lecturer. In 2007, he was Pelham Edgar Visiting Lecturer, a title that has also been held by Margaret Atwood and Johanna Skibsrud.
The union representing short-term lecturers at Victoria is going to look at how Mr. Gilmour was hired. Openings for teaching appointments of a year or less are usually advertised as unionized positions, said Ryan Culpepper, a vice-chair of CUPE 3902.
Lecturers can also take up short-term contracts as faculty, but according to rules posted on the university's website, those jobs can't be longer than five years.
Remi Long, a third-year drama major, said she took a literature class with Mr. Gilmour in her first year and found his teaching style frustrating. "He brought an energy to class," Ms. Long said. "He talked to us, not just at us, but he did not respect what we had to say."
Mr. Gilmour did not return multiple messages from The Globe seeking comment.