Senate (27 January 2017)

Strategic Mandate Agreement

Strategic Mandate Agreements are memoranda between the province and universities that basically tell each university their enrollment targets. If these agreements do not mention new programs or growth of existing programs, then those programs cannot be created nor grow until a new agreement is reached, which would be at least three years.

Carleton’s senate is supposed to be the ultimate decision-making body on academic programs and policies. But, during the previous round of negotiations on Strategic Mandate Agreements, the administration completely foreclosed senate from any role in the process. In order to preclude senate from again being cut out of what should be their most important role in the university for another round of negotiations on Strategic Mandate Agreements, I asked the following question:

What specific roles, including oversight roles, will senate have in drafting the upcoming Strategic Mandate Agreement (1) before a draft is forwarded to the province and (2) while negotiations on this document are ongoing with the province?

The university president did not answer my question, but at least provided some tangentially related information. She said that Carleton has not yet received instructions from the province how these negotiations will proceed. However, she said that earlier today the province sent Carleton an “initial financial package” with unspecified “financial parameters” with instructions on enrollment corridors. She also mentioned that the instructions looked vague, such as not specifying when the 5-year windows for average enrollments will start and stop. The president did not mention the rumoured “maintenance corridors” and “growth corridors” in the Strategic Mandate Agreement. The administration did not and has not shared this provincial financial package document with senate. The president stated that as soon as Carleton receives full instructions from the province on completing Strategic Mandate Agreements that she will let senate know. I hope this means forwarding all relevant provincial documents to all senators, possibly as closed/confidential documents, and immediately convening a long discussion with all senators and possibly members of faculty boards over what should be submitted to the province in these draft Strategic Mandate Agreements.

Neuroscience Eviction

The provost reported on the eviction of the department of neuroscience from its existing building, which will be refurbished and given to engineering as the rechristened ARSE [Advanced Research in Smart Environments] building. The provost clearly seemed to be under orders to refer to this eviction as an “evacuation”. This is classic public relations re-branding, in an attempt to make senators think of evacuation as a humanitarian effort by the administration to assist helpless neuroscientist that have been devastated by natural disaster or civil strife. The use of the terms “evacuation” and “evacuate” deflects blame from those who caused the relocation in the first place. Syrian refugees are being evacuated; Carleton neuroscientists are being evicted by their own upper administration.

The provost extolled the “cooperative and collaborative discussions between neuroscience and the dean and provost”. The provost mentioned the four project managers assisting with the temporary relocation of neuroscience to University of Ottawa. But he then said that these were the same four project managers that had already been hired to facilitate movement of the neuroscience department to the new health building. So, it looks like the administration did not spend a penny extra on project managers to orchestrate the intermediate move to University of Ottawa.

The provost mentioned that all negotiations for temporary space have been completed for the neuroscience intermediate move, both with University of Ottawa and with other departments at Carleton. These negotiations were for lab space, office space, animal care facilities, and equipment space, e.g. numerous sub-zero freezers.

The provost claimed that arrangements have been made so that all students in neuroscience will finish their degrees on time. Someone asked whether the university will provide monies for an extra semester of tuition if the relocations require students to take an extra semester to complete their degrees. The provost said no, this would not be necessary in any circumstances. I leave it for others to authenticate the provost’s claims.

Cyber-attack and Ransom-ware (November 2016)

The university’s chief information officer gave a presentation on the computer hack that disrupted much of the university’s IT operations for several days in late November. He claimed that about one-quarter of the universities hundred servers were hacked and that 1,700 computer workstations across campus were hacked. He claimed that the cyber attack had virtually no effect on teaching. After computers/servers were restored, Carleton hired IBM to provide forensic analysis of the hacked computers.

Apparently the hackers initially acquired account privileges on low-level computers. The hackers then jumped around computers, gradually gaining greater account privileges until they obtained root and above-root privileges. In response to this, Carleton has reduced by one-half the number of accounts with the highest-level privileges and finally started requiring two-factor authentication for those accounts.

In response to a question, the chief information officer said that we could try breaking into our own accounts (“white hat”). His response, unbelievably, implies that we are not yet doing this.

The chief information officer stated that university computers are at particular risk of hacking because universities are very supportive of academic freedom. This point was also on his slides. I am not impressed with scapegoating of academic freedom, especially coming from the person(s) who shut down my teaching and research website hosted by Carleton in order to punish me for blogging about university governance on a website that was not hosted by Carleton.

A few senators expressed concerns that the repeated password changes and weird rules for passwords were overly onerous. The vice-president finance then explicitly stated that Carleton could be held legally responsible for not using best practices with respect to passwords. I am not a computer security expert, but from what little I understand, we are definitely not using best practices, especially with the numerous required password changes and byzantine rules for allowable passwords. My understanding is that various password generators or natural language passwords that allow for spaces and punctuation (e.g. your favourite couplet from Charles Bukowski) are far better password practices than what we have instituted. Our IT department might want to consult with our computer science faculty regarding best practices with passwords. And maybe hire a lawyer to defend whoever made the decision regarding our existing and seemingly weak password protocol.

Space

There were insufficient number of chairs for all senators and other visitors, which also meant that senate was well attended. There were a few vacant chairs in the front row, where many do not deign to sit. But there were even more senators standing at the back of the room than there were vacant chairs. The university president kindly relinquished her chair, but the same could not be said for several non-senators, such as the associate university registrar. But, to me, the real answer is to get more chairs. This has been a problem with my teaching as well. In one classroom last term, during one-third of the days, I had to go around the building to find more tables and chairs for my students, and this problem remained even after I complained to the provost. (I hope this did not contravene someone’s collective agreement for me to be a mover of furniture).

Board of Governors

This was the first meeting of senate since the board of governors seemed to break lots of rules in passing a sexual violence policy. For instance, the board did not consult with stakeholders, did not allow any stakeholders to present concerns to the board, and had the director of university safety grab and shove students in a supposedly open and common area one floor below the boardroom. So, it is no wonder that the chair of the board declined to provide a verbal report to senate, despite being there for the entire meeting of both the board and senate.

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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