Senate (25 Nov 2016)

Sexual Violence Policy

A senator asked whether the new sexual violence policy will cover all sexual activity on and off campus of all members of the Carleton community. The current wording of the policy is very open ended and seemingly universal, with the only reassurance being that the current administration might be LGBTQ2+ friendly and maybe somewhat sex positive, which won’t always be the case. The vice-president for students and enrollment said that the policy needed to cover off-campus activity because otherwise Carleton could not deal with cease-and-desist orders (protective orders) that had been issued by courts before the parties were members of the university community. That seemed entirely disingenuous. Of course Carleton can and will honour court orders even if such matters are not explicitly in our sexual violence policy. From a pure academic perspective, with the new sexual violence policy, students will be able to file complaints against faculty for content of a sexual nature that is taught in classes, such as classroom discussions of sexual assault or BDSM. I teach a course in evolution of sex with substantial content on self-sex, which could easily be open to complaint under the new policy. Sure such complaints will eventually all be dismissed, but only after faculty members are put through years of grief in grievance processes. Regarding off-campus activities, one of the most poignant hypothetical examples someone mentioned (but not at senate) was if a member of the Carleton community was discreetly skinny-dipping off-campus, but somehow was seen by another member of the Carleton community. Under our new sexual violence policy, the second person could file an actionable complaint against the first person, with the only thing impeding such a complaint being the moral judgments of the investigator and Carleton administration. The administration seems to have grossly over-extended themselves in writing the sexual violence policy, which is a problem when you don’t allow meaningful consultation, such as not allowing stakeholders to present their concerns to the board of governors.

Sudden evictions from research space: Neuroscience

Very recently, the department of neuroscience was told that they would have to leave their existing building because the university was demolishing the Life Sciences Building, which is to be rebuilt for the faculty of engineering. Half of the $26 million dollars for this re-build are coming from the government and half from our own reserve funds (given that Carleton is also self-funding a new health building and a new business building, you wonder how much money the upper administration has in discretionary funds). The problem is that this construction on the old Life Sciences Building is slated to start on 1 March 2017 and the new health building that the neuroscience department is supposed to move into will not be completed until at least September 2017 and probably not until March 2018. Neuroscience is a department with 500 undergraduates, 50 graduate students, a dozen research-active faculty members, hundreds of mice , and millions of dollars worth of high-tech equipment that will have to be relocated twice in a year, all on exceedingly short notice.

A graduate student member of senate introduced a motion to delay the eviction or at least meaningfully consult on moving plans. Senate has a ten-day notice-of-motion rule, hence senate first voted on whether to even allow the motion to proceed. This was defeated with 26 in favour of considering the substantive motion and 21 opposed. Such procedural motions require a super-majority hence the defeat. I was appalled that this procedural motion was defeated because senate spends (wastes?) lots of time on trivial quality assurance matters, sometimes waiving the 10-day notice-of-motion requirement, but would not grant such a waiver for a substantive quality assurance matter of a long-term departmental eviction. This defeat on a procedural motion was particularly noteworthy because the university president attempted to bully the person making the motion by compelling him to read a university public relations press release to the entire senate. Quashing free speech is bad enough; compelling speech is even worse.

However, at the end of senate, the chair of senate, i.e. the university president, allowed for discussion of the matter, even though there would be no vote. The university president said that the province will not allow delay of the so-called ARISE (Advanced Research and Innovation in Smart Environments) construction of the old Life Sciences Building (but let’s omit the middle letter of that acronym because ‘research’ and ‘innovation’ are synonymous). Other than specifying no delays will be allowed, the president said she will not reveal any information about neuroscience eviction and relocation plans. The graduate students then moved that senate go to closed session to hear the university’s secret plans, and a majority of senate agreed to this. But the president then said that she would not reveal anything, even in closed session. So it seems that senate remained in open session, although any parliamentarian should have been howling over such authoritarianism by the presiding officer.

The dean of science then mentioned that he had been talking with department chairs about the neuroscience eviction and relocation since summer 2016, but that off-campus parties across the Ottawa area could not provide adequate space. The dean then effectively said that Carleton is working on an MOU (memorandum of understanding) with someone in the Ottawa area to possibly provide space, but that won’t be fully negotiated for at least a few more days. He said that the associate vice-president for research planning was involved in these negotiations. It was a breath of fresh air to have someone in the administration say something, rather than just stonewalling.

Immediately after senate met, I stumbled upon an emergency meeting of the Board of Governors building committee (not that I could get in because a special constable guarded the door). The board’s building committee previously met on 9 November 2016, but the official BoG schedule did not list a meeting for today. Therefore I hope that they were deciding on how to deal with the neuroscience eviction, and not simply discussing more mundane matters.

Today at senate, the issue of space and forced relocations of departments was restricted to the impending neuroscience eviction, but the problem is much broader than this. The upper administration seems to show willful disregard for research and its disruption in the guise of improving facilities overall. University construction largely forced my biology students and me from our office and lab for five months during 2016, something that also affected a dozen of my faculty colleagues in biology. Our physical space was relocated twice, taking long times to fully transition between locales. We were not informed of the original eviction until two week before movers showed up. Even when we had physical lab and office space, it was often in an active and very noisy construction zone, without cooling and ventilation during summer, without internet and phones, without washrooms, and without elevator access. I told my students to spend those five months at home writing and thinking because of the dreadful space. I should, however, note that the movers were great and the primary point of contact in the university’s facilities management planning staff was also great. But the administration did not seem to care how disruptive this was to active research.

Global Academy

The provost presented on the so-called Global Academy, which consists of a loose assortment of professional development courses, which are not academic and are not necessarily hiring unionized employees.

Carleton now hosts a pair of “English as a Second Language” (ESL) programs. One of these has been fully contracted out to a private company, CultureWorks. The other program is run in conjunction with our School of Linguistics and Language Studies (SLaLS) via the “English Language Learning and Teaching Initiative” (ELLTI) program, which is part of Global Academy. Curiously, only the contracted out ESL program offered by CultureWorks guarantees students admission to our undergraduate programs, while the internally run ELLTI program seems to only run short-term intensive courses on a for-profit basis without any intent to stream students into our regular programs. This seems entirely backwards for a not-for-profit public university like Carleton, whose role should be the creation and conveyance of new knowledge.

The provost explicitly stated that, “Global Academy does not do any research activities nor manage any research activities at all.” Again this is backwards for a research university. Carleton’s administration seems to be turning us into a for-profit teaching-only community college. It is as though Carleton’s new business model, especially Global Academy, is based on Laureate International Universities. Maybe we should ask Bill Clinton to become Chancellor.

The provost stated that Carleton is a model for how to properly run a Confucius Institute because we apparently decide ourselves on who to hire. But then the provost said that all the hires come directly from Hunan Normal University in China, which seems to contradict his previous assertion. From everything I understand, if you care at all about academic freedom, the model for how to best run a Confucius Institute is, in the words of Nancy Reagan, to just say no.

Health Science

Senate approved MSc and PhD programs in Health Science, starting in fall 2017. This surprised me because the health science website shows that this is a program with only five full-time faculty members, four of whom do not yet have tenure and one of whom is an instructor and so cannot supervise graduate students. The Ontario Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development (MAESD) should laugh at our request to start a PhD program with so little faculty support, but then so should have senate. While I seem to be bad at reading the proverbial tea leaves, I wonder when our interesting but troubled health science program will simply be amalgamated by fiat into some other existing unit, such as neuroscience or biochemistry.

It seems that the university upper administration erred in creation of the health science department. Usually new departments are hived off of existing departments. This provides the new department with a huge amount of expertise and senior faculty members. I could easily see this being done in, say, bifurcating statistics from mathematics or bifurcating medical physics from other physics. Unfortunately, Carleton tried to grow the health science program de novo, adding one or two new faculty members per year, starting with a director who had no expertise in health science. In order for the current four tenure-track research-active health science faculty members to succeed and thrive, they will need to have graduate students. Without graduate students, these four faculty members are far less likely to secure funding from NSERC and CIHR. Therefore, adding an MSc and PhD program in health science will greatly benefit these four individuals. The problem, though, is that admitting graduate students into such a tiny department does a grave disservice to the graduate students. Course offerings will be limited. Opportunities to switch supervisors and cross-train in other labs will be limited. It will even be difficult for graduate students to have any real choice on who to select for their graduate committees. And this really matters in a department that has a reputation, which may or not be founded, for faculty members bullying others. The decision of whether to offer graduate programs in health science, therefore, largely comes down to who we think is most important: the faculty or the graduate students. I would say the students, but senate contains an overwhelming majority of faculty members and only a small minority of graduate students, so the vote to approve the new graduate program in health science seemed at best self-serving.

Canadian Studies

Senate received and approved the assessment report on the joint PhD program with Trent University in Canadian Studies. There is talk about re-naming this to the joint PhD program in Indigenous and Canadian Studies, but the provost said that Trent University balks because they already have a stand-alone graduate program in Indigenous Studies. So, for now, we are stuck with a PhD in Canadian Studies that contains a ‘field’ in Indigenous Studies (my apologies to the remarkable Rodney Nelson). But Carleton will supposedly keep pushing for this name change. However I am not sure why we don’t simply go for a stand-alone PhD program, without Trent, in Indigenous and Canadian Studies. Our department of Indigenous and Canadian Studies has a dozen research-active faculty members, four of whom work in Indigenous Studies, the same number of research-active faculty (4) as in our vaunted Heath Science department!

Senate Financial Review Committee

A few years ago, the senate financial review committee was resuscitated. It had been on the books, but had not met for years. The resuscitated committee was fully populated, but its chair refused to convene any meetings. A question was raised today about why the committee had not met and what could be done about that. The clerk of senate stated that there is no way for senate as a whole to compel its committees to meet or to compel them to take any other actions. As an academic freedom matter, I am okay with that assertion by the clerk. I then asked whether senate could instead completely repopulate any such committee or a subset of its members in order to get it to act. The clerk stated that he had not considered this, but it seemed like a viable solution.

Senate’s academic governance committee is currently reviewing terms of reference for all committees, including the financial review committee.

Enrolments

The vice-president for students and enrolment stated that Carleton’s two-year retention rate remains constant. For the decade that I have been at Carleton, this retention rate has been a huge concern to the administration, with lots of talk and money to solve the problem, but the overall retention rates do not seem to change. I am not an aficionado of such matters, but it seems that maybe the university needs to try a different tack.

The dean of graduate studies showed large and steady overall growth in our numbers of master and doctoral students. However, it is not obvious how much of this growth is due to simply having more faculty members. The dean promised to report back on this at the next meeting of senate.

Strategic Mandate Agreement

The clerk of senate announced that the 16 December 2016 meeting of senate would be cancelled for lack of urgent business and because it is difficult getting quorum at that time of year. I then asked whether the university has received any requests from the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development (MAESD) about Strategic Mandate Agreements, wanting to make sure that senate is kept in the loop on this quintessential academic matter, i.e. that senate has a large role in deciding what new academic programs to cultivate over the next several years. The university president stated that the latest word is that the Ministry may put out a directive right as they close up shop for the christmas holiday.

Closing remarks

As always, this blog posting reflects my opinions and reporting of events at the open session of senate. This posting is not meant as a proxy for the official minutes of the meeting. I welcome your feedback.

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1 comment
  1. Colin Cordner said:

    Thanks for the updates, as always, Root! BTW, the Clerk is in error to state that the Senate can’t compel the SFRC (or any other committee) to meet. It certainly can, either through (i) the simple vehicle of directing a question or motion to committee, (ii) by impeaching an obstructing Chair (and thereby forcing the Senate Executive to replace them), or (iii) by amending the committee’s Terms of Reference in a fitting fashion. Senate Committees exist at the behest and the sufferance of Senate as organs of it and are responsible to it, and so it’s completely within the prerogatives of Senate to discipline it’s recalcitrant and irresponsible organs when necessary.

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