“Silence implies consent” – Carleton’s ghastly governance (6 Nov. 2014)

A unit at Carleton recently attempted to change a small portion of the undergraduate calendar via an e-mail poll (for the record, I fully endorse the proposed change). The proposal and request to vote was sent via an e-mail that ended with the following words, “silence implies consent.” While the author did not intend it as such, this is a fundamentally anti-feminist governance policy, one that also flies in the face of virtually all parliamentary procedure or rules of order, in which silence typically implies abstention. What should our students think when faculty and administrators advocate for “silence implying consent”?

I read the sentence with the phrase “silence implies consent” to our 14 year-old daughter, whose immediate response was that this encourages rape culture. This demonstrates that the three-word phrase is neither cryptic nor benign. Carleton seems stuck in the “no means no” era, clueless that “yes means yes” is a far better and more feminist policy for sexual consent or any other form of consent.

I objected in writing within an hour of the governance policy being promulgated that “silence implies consent.” Yet this offensive phrase was not rescinded nor modified. Such apathy and inaction is as disturbing to me as the original offensive phrase.

I am not advocating a fundamentalist adherence to political correctness. The mere existence of my blogs is supposedly a breach of political correctness! But faculty members and administrators in official correspondence should avoid espousing rape culture as much as we should avoid espousing racism, whether inadvertent or not.

Including “silence implies consent” as part of our governance policy (it clearly was not dicta) exemplifies the many gender problems at Carleton. Carleton hires a smaller percentage of female tenure-track faculty than most other Canadian universities, and I have not yet seen any plans to remedy this. Based on my ridiculously small sample size, Carleton seems to pay female faculty members less than their otherwise equivalent male counterparts. For example, in 2006, my (opposite sex) partner and I were simultaneously hired by the same department at Carleton. At the time, she had twice as many peer-reviewed publications as me. At the time, she had acquired millions of dollars in external funding, while I had obtained none. Yet the university insisted that her starting salary would have to be less than mine, where things remain to this day despite that she has even further eclipsed me in teaching, research, and especially administration. If silence implies consent, as it seems to be, then we should no longer be silent about such gross inequities.

Carleton’s governance issues are not simply restricted to gender issues. I highlighted several due process foibles in this and my Board of Governors blog. For instance, on 26 September 2014, I noted in this senate blog that science faculty board has been blatantly lying to senate by reporting approval of many official matters despite knowing that there was no faculty board quorum. This was even more insidious because faculty boards get to set their own quorum rules. On 13 November 2014, science faculty board will be convening for the first time since my complaint. However the lies of omission to senate about lack of quorum are conspicuously absent from the agenda for next week’s faculty board meeting. [Note added 8 November 2014: Science faculty board did partly heed my complaint. At the 13 November meeting, the proposed program and calendar changes approved at the previous quorum-less meeting will be voted on again, albeit with some changes since the September 2014 meeting.]

I have been repeatedly told that one of my jobs is to bolster the reputation of Carleton. I certainly do that in my teaching and research. While my job might not be perfect, it is the best job I have ever had (and with the best commute and with many superb colleagues), which I tell everyone who will listen. But unlike lies of omission about quorum promulgated by the dean, I will neither falsify nor hide egregious administrative university acts. When university officials trample due process, I will speak of it. When the university fosters gross gender inequities, I will speak of it. When anybody at our university espouses rape culture or misconstrues silence, I will speak of it. In the long run, I would rather improve our university than falsely act as a sexist or autocratic cheerleader. To recycle an (albeit anachronistically slightly sexist) epigraph, “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” (Brandeis 1913: 10).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: