The university president mentioned that Carleton’s director of Equity Services, Linda Capperauld, declined to present information at Senate today regarding hiring diversity (gender, minorities) because the director is retiring in November 2014. The president promised that the report from the staff of equity services on this matter will be presented to Senate in November 2014 or January 2015, depending on when the report is ready. This will be an important discussion for Senate both in absolute and relative terms. In relative terms, Carleton may be doing worse than most other Canadian universities at hiring women for faculty positions. In absolute terms, it will be important for Carleton to minimally meet the Lortie Commission’s 40/40 rule, which means that we aim for at least 40% of our faculty members being female and at least 40% being male (assuming a gender binary, which does not exist).

Senate passed a change to the Academic Governance of the University (AGU) document to increase the size of Senate by adding two contract instructors. The approved motion states (with my emphasis added), “A Contract Instructor is an employee hired to teach a course approved for credit by Senate, excluding retired academic staff and professional librarians who, prior to the retirement, had an academic position at Carleton University.” This seems to allow tenured faculty members who teach during summer to serve in those two new seats. However, the Clerk of Senate said that such tenured faculty members are ‘contracted’ to teach in summer, not ‘hired’ to teach in summer, hence would be excluded from these two new senate seats. To me, this defies commonsense use of the terms ‘hired’ and ‘contracted’. The motion also makes a distinction between ‘academic staff’ and ‘academic position’ that is an anathema to me. I also do not understand why the motion needed to mention ‘retired’ people. Why not just exclude all current and retired academic staff from these two new senate seats. For these reasons, I recommend that the Board of Governors reject this motion when it comes before them on 2 December 2014. And I say this despite fully agreeing with the intent of the motion, even if its technical details apparently remain flawed.

The academic colleague, Jeff Smith, reported that Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities (MTCU) and Council of Ontario Universities (COU) are tentatively discussing a possible joint pension plan that amalgamates those of all universities across the province. This is so far just talk. I am also not sure whether this is a good idea. For example, some pension plans, such as Carleton’s, invest in big tobacco, whereas other universities might choose to divest of such industries. Such divestment/investment choices will be much harder to make with a single provincial university pension fund.

The academic colleague reported that even though the province is in an era (error?) of differentiation, many colleges across the province are pushing four-year degree programs, which MTCU seems to be tacitly accepting. This may be the right thing to do, but is the antithesis of differentiation. As Michael Franti said, “Hypocrisy is the greatest luxury”, a luxury that the province cannot really afford.

The academic colleague mentioned that provincial demographics show that the number of 18-21 years olds will not stabilize (i.e. stop decreasing) until 2021. This makes growth of universities very difficult, especially with current funding formula. Carleton’s president mentioned that other provinces have similar demographics, although BC may be growing/growing sooner than the rest of the country.

The minutes of the 26 September 2014 Senate meeting began with a header acknowledging that Carleton is on traditional (unceded) Algonquin territory. However, this acknowledgment never occurred verbally at the September meeting nor at today’s meeting. This is ironic given how important oral traditions are with Algonquin and other First Nations peoples. In the future, I will vote against approval of minutes that include things that did not transpire at the meeting.

Today’s meeting ended after only 45 minutes, and that included both open and closed sessions. At first I thought that this was because there was nothing of substance to discuss. But, in retrospect, the September and October 2014 meetings of Senate were both very short and also were the first Senate meetings in which the provost said little or nothing. I cannot distinguish correlation from causation, but nevertheless congratulate the provost on his newfound restraint or reticence.


I am glad to have posted something to this blog this morning because Senate this afternoon was a sleeper. The meeting lasted for only one hour, without much substantive discussion.

Fall and Winter Breaks. There was discussion about changing the names of fall and winter breaks to ‘study breaks’ or ‘reading weeks’. The advocates for this think such names would better reflect that they give their students tons of extra work during those week-long breaks from classes. Apparently nothing in Senate rules or other university rules precludes this. I was appalled. People need breaks, holidays, and vacations. This is why unions lobbied so hard for weekends. Carleton has been emphasizing the importance of student’s mental health and ways of coping with stress. Therefore, I want to retain the names of these mid-term breaks, but also would like Senate to mandate that no work be assigned to students during those breaks, much like we stipulate that instructors cannot administer exams during the final two weeks of class.

Contract Instructors on Senate. A motion was put forwards to add a pair of contract instructors to Senate. The motion came from Dean John Osborne via Senate’s governance committee and was beautiful written. I fully support the motion. However, members of Senate seemed irked by who counted as a contract instructor. The original motion defined this as members of CUPE 4600 Unit 2, which maybe should have referred to members of that bargaining unit. But suggestions from the floor were to remove any reference to CUPE 4600, as though there is something dirty or unseemly about unions, and instead just say ‘contract instructors’. Rather than debate such wording on the floor of Senate, a motion was passed to return the matter to the governance committee. It would be a mistake to change the wording to simply ‘contract instructor’ because there are several ways that members of the tenure-track faculty union, CUASA, could also be contract instructors. If retired tenured faculty members come back to teach a few courses, then they do so as contract instructors, even though they are still members of CUASA. Last year when I taught a course in the Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, administratively I did so as a contract instructor, even though what happened was Arts & Social Science bought me out of one of my Science courses. Therefore, keep some language about being in the CUPE 4600 Unit 2 bargaining unit in this change to the Senate bylaws.

Senate Finance Review committee. Senate will soon re-populate its Financial Review Committee, which was in a state of suspended animation for many years. Call for nominations to the committee and terms of reference will be coming soon. I honestly am unsure of the purpose of such a committee given the fairly well delineated roles of Senate and the Board of Governors at Carleton, the former of which deals with academic matters and the latter of which deals with financial matters.

Sorry for such a boring report, but as Rich Terfry said, “A home run every time would get boring.”

Several faculty members in the biology department criticized my assertion in earlier blog postings regarding gender bias in hiring. Their criticisms took two forms: (1) that I provided no data showing gender bias and (2) even if data existed to support my assertion, that I failed to provide possible solutions. Several individuals even asked me to retract my assertion of gender bias, which I respectfully decline to do. You should never counteract putatively offensive speech with censorship, but instead counteract it with more speech. And, to present a balanced portrait, several biology faculty members were supportive of my views. Regardless, I maintain the belief that we have a substantial problem with gender bias in hiring faculty members at Carleton, especially in science and engineering, and thus here provide some data and a possible solution.

The biology department provides a small sample size, but still seems to show a gender bias. Since I started at Carleton in July 2006, there have been three tenure-track hires and two hires of instructors. All five individuals self-identify as male. Given that half of the population is female and roughly half the recently earned PhDs in biology are female, ceteris paribus, the probability of all five hires being male is one in 32. That could be a random effect, but seems unlikely. Of the three tenure-track hires, one was a Banting post-doc, so there were no competitive interviews of multiple candidates for his line. But for the other two tenure-track positions, the biology department interviewed a total of nine candidates, only one of which was female. Assuming, possibly erroneously, that the applicant pool had a 50:50 sex/gender ratio, the probability of choosing one or fewer women out of nine candidates is approximately one in 50 (actually, 10/512). That could be a random effect, but also seems unlikely. The biology department website lists 30 faculty members. Of these, only seven are female, i.e. less than one-quarter (but please see the first footnote). Assuming equal probability of hiring women and men, there is approximately a one in 643 million chance of seven or fewer women in a department of 30 people (see the second footnote for the formula). These sorts of statistics seem to provide a prima facie case for gender bias.

I am not complaining about the individual people that the biology department hired since 2006 or even before that. They all seem amazing. I am also not stating what the cause of this apparent gender bias is, which is possibly unconscious and not an intentional bias. Nor is a gender bias in hiring faculty members endemic to the biology department. The university’s equity services office keeps track of gender of faculty members, in a table titled “Summary Workforce Data”, which shows that Carleton does worse than average, over 10% worse than the average for other universities, for hiring women into non-management faculty positions. The problem is that some of my colleagues believe there is no gender bias at all, even after looking at the above data.

What can we do to increase representation of female faculty members in science and engineering, as well as in the rest of the university? Mary Ann Mason gives a few good ideas in her piece in Chronicles of Higher Education. One of her major recommendations was to provide better child-care. Unfortunately, Carleton’s master plan shows a new building displacing the existing child-care centre. This seems like a step backwards in terms of recruiting and retaining female faculty members.

I want to highlight one other idea for improving gender diversity of faculty, an idea that was mentioned by our distinguished guest earlier this week, the 19th prime minister of Canada, Kim Campbell, who admitted to stumbling upon this idea after first being elected as an MLA in a double-member riding in Vancouver Centre. Well, she was not talking about gender equity in academic appointments, but rather the House of Commons. But the same approach is applicable, although nobody seemed to mention the transferability of her idea after her lovely repartée with the audience on Monday. Kim Campbell’s proposal was to hire a pair of tenure-track people with each search. Interview double the usual number of people and then hire the best female and the best male candidate from that search. This means that searches would happen half as often, but that really is not a problem insofar as deans can juggle hires amongst their many units. For Kim Campbell, this translated into two-member ridings, sometimes called double member ridings, with the proviso that the two elected members must be of different genders (see footnote 3).

While I really like Kim Campbell’s idea, I should also highlight pitfalls. First, as our colleague Tom Smallwood has rightly pointed out, as undoubtedly also would Lara Karaian and Dan Irving, there are more than two genders. Second, we should not require job applicants to self-identify gender. And worse, we should not try to surmise their gender, as I very reluctantly did in the second paragraph of this posting. In fact, in “Fundamental differences between females and males?” I showed that you cannot consistently distinguish females from males, even if you forced candidates to interview naked. Also see Anne Fausto-Sterling’s discussions of intersex and many different authors discussions of trans sex/gender (e.g. Transgender 101). Third, even if there would magically (dystopian magic) be a gender dichotomy, this would not solve problems with other forms of hiring inequity, such as racial inequities, where so-called ‘at-large’ ridings are often created to water-down minority votes (see this week’s L.A. Times). Let me thus end with some questions, for which I am not entirely sure of the answers. Even if not perfect, would Kim Campbell’s proposal of hiring pairs of people help correct our seemingly obvious gender bias in faculty members? Would the benefits outweigh the costs? What can or should be done for other disadvantaged groups? Please let Carleton and me know what you think. Thanks.


  1. My estimate of number of female faculty members and female job candidates is largely based on gross gender stereotypes. I did not ask human resources for gender data on these individuals. More poignantly, I did not ask these individuals for their preferred gender pronoun (PGP). I am therefore guilty of surmising gender and sincerely apologize if I have consequently insulted anybody. This is the principal reason that I did not present gender data in my previous blog postings and only do so here with great reluctance. Mea culpa.
  2. [Sum from n=0,…,7 of C(30,n)]/2^30, where C(30,n) are the number of combinations of 30 take n.
  3. I have not conducted a thorough search to see who else might have suggested this alternative of two-member ridings with one female and one male member.
  4. Thanks to many colleagues for discussions on these matters, especially faculty in biology and Melissa Haussman. While I take full blame for what is written here, they deserve most of the credit.

Science faculty board (SFB) has been frequently meeting without a quorum, but transmitting purportedly official decisions from their meetings to senate without mentioning lack of quorum. I first noticed this with undergraduate calendar changes from 19 June 2014 once the minutes of that science faculty board meeting were first distributed three months later. Such lies of omission have been pervasive, with the current dean of science personally deciding whether a quorum is necessary. The dean of science recently wrote:

Quorum is indeed always a concern, and has long been a challenge at SFB even prior to my arrival. When there have been truly major issues (e.g. closure of Integrated Science), we have deferred discussion to ensure quorum is met for those matters.

The rules for operation of science faculty board (here), which the faculty of science wrote and were approved by senate, do not give the dean any such discretion regarding quorum. The rules are unambiguous – quorum is needed for all matters, both major and minor – and imply that any decisions arrived at without a quorum never really happened. Misrepresentations to senate about quorum could not only invalidate many calendar changes, but could potentially invalidate thousands of degrees if science faculty board approved graduation lists without quorum, which I suspect sometimes happened.

We all make mistakes and oversights and usually quickly learn from them. But in this case, the office of the dean of science willfully and knowingly broke the rules that their very office created. At any time, the dean of science or his four male associate/assistant deans (Jit Bose, Bob Burk, Dwight Deugo, Edward Lai) could have changed the quorum rules for science faculty board, only needing subsequent easy ratification by science faculty board and senate. Instead the office of the dean of science opted to flout and intentionally ignore its own official quorum rule, using the undisclosed personal judgment of the dean as a crude proxy.

Senate delegates authority to faculty boards because faculty boards provide local expertise and purportedly democratic inputs into senate decisions, such as calendar changes, program changes, and recommendations for graduation. For example, individual members of senate have no real basis for gauging the validity of graduation lists, so rely on faculty boards for their recommendations. However, we now see that this supposedly democratic process in science has been a sham. It would have been bad enough had science faculty board reported decisions to senate with the caveat that there was no quorum. But things were far worse because the key piece of information regarding quorum has been intentionally withheld from senate.

Calendar changes are not minor issues, despite the current dean’s implication. Science has several core full-service departments and several boutique departments. The core full-service departments offer a large numbers of first-year and second-year ‘service’ courses. The boutique departments then rely on the core departments for most of their student’s first- and second-year courses. The core departments need adequate representation at science faculty board meetings, i.e. a quorum, in order to not be unduly foisted upon by the boutique departments. For example, the new boutique health science program designed for non-pre-med students has a three-year general degree that requires their students to take the first-year honour’s biology course, not the less heavily subscribed first-year course designed for three-year biology majors and general degree students. This seemingly absurd health science requirement needs to be redressed if it had been approved by science faculty board without a quorum.

This fiasco about repeated intentionally undisclosed lack of quorum by science faculty board begs for two sets of actions: one to correct past harms and another set looking towards the future. The future is easier to deal with. All faculty boards at Carleton decide on their own quorum rules, subject to almost trivial ratification by senate, hence the very different quorum rules across faculty boards. For the future, one possibility is for science faculty board to propose a new quorum rule. Another alternative is to get the registrar’s office to timetable science courses for eligible science faculty board members so that they all have a time-block reserved for science faculty board meetings. If needed, we can ask contract instructors to teach during the time slot designated for science faculty board meetings.

The past harms are a bit harder to deal with. First, the office of the dean of science needs to report to senate exactly which decisions were promulgated without a quorum. Second, all such decisions without quorum need to be re-visited and re-voted on by science faculty board, senate, and all relevant committees. This needs to include re-certification of graduation of science students whose degrees were approved without a science faculty board quorum. This needs to include re-votes on nominations for graduation medals. Third, intentionally withholding information about lack of quorum is sufficiently disgraceful to be worthy of official censure by senate. Effective governance requires due process – deans are not above the law, bylaws that they themselves crafted.

As always, I truly welcome your feedback. For members of senate, feel free to discuss this matter with me at this week’s senate meeting on 26 September 2014. But realize that, despite my requests, this matter is not on the official senate agenda.

The 11 August 2014 issue of Inside Higher Ed has a scary but fascinating article by Colleen Flaherty (link here) titled “Northeastern professors raise questions about three tenure denials”, speculating how their provost might be using more stringent tenure decisions to raise the university’s research rankings. The article mentions that all three denials of tenure were of female faculty members engaged in various forms of interdisciplinary research and that the stated basis for these adverse decisions was that the candidates for tenure supposedly did not publish enough in big enough journals. All three candidates had been recommended for tenure by their departments and two of the three had been recommended for tenure by their faculty, in some cases unanimously. All three denials of tenure are currently being appealed. Assuming the factual content of that article, three matters arising from these cases at Northeastern University in Boston are striking and relevant to Carleton.

First, why were all denials of tenure at Northeastern of female assistant professors? Does Carleton disproportionally deny tenure to female faculty members? Carleton has always seemed a bit sexist to me, which therefore could crop up in tenure decisions. For instance, the university recently accepted over $5 million from the Old Crow club towards men’s-only football, without insisting (or even asking?) that any monies be donated towards women’s athletics. The university apparently also accepted large gifts-in-kind for the new training facility that is pretty much exclusively for use by the men’s football team. For details, see David Sali’s cover story in the 18 August 2014 issue of Ottawa Business Journal titled “Revived football ravens winning over sponsors” (pages 1, 8-9). At least in my own department, since I started in 2006, if statistics are a decent indication, there seems to be a strong bias against hiring or even interviewing women for faculty positions. And I am in a field where the majority of PhDs are now earned by women. As a final anecdotal example, many in senate will recall the provost publicly belittling the current clerk of senate and marshal of convocation when she started the job for not having as good a beard as the previous clerk/marshal. What should Carleton do as an institution to eliminate gender bias? This is really important, to make Carleton more welcoming and fair to women, whether faculty, staff, or students.

Second, why were all denials of tenure at Northeastern to people doing interdisciplinary research? It is certainly harder to publish interdisciplinary work in top-tier journals, journals that invariably are the height of editorial orthodoxy. People in fields related to interdisciplinary work usually recognize this, whereas ‘bean counters’ are often oblivious. This will become an ever-greater problem at Carleton given that we seem to be forced more into silos over time, especially as many of those silos are now for boutique programs. Compounding this problem, as I reported in this blog on 28 March 2014 and 9 June 2014, this winter/spring Carleton eliminated its two premier interdisciplinary programs, making it more difficult for interdisciplinary scholars to get adequate institutional support. Interdisciplinary interest and expertise still exists at Carleton, but this seems to be despite the administration’s erosion of support for such subjects, especially as Carleton’s administration chases provincial dollars vis-à-vis trying to turn us into a vocational college, especially with all of our new diploma programs, certificate programs, course-work-only masters programs, and joint programs with provincial colleges (what U.S. readers of this blog would call ‘community colleges’). Carleton’s reputation could really improve if we became a center for genuine interdisciplinary research, including for interdisciplinary research where nobody yet knows of practical benefits.

Third, the situation at Northeastern highlights the importance of unit standards for tenure. According to Inside Higher Ed, all three people denied tenure claimed that this denial was based on “unclear, inconsistent standards – particularly about publication”. For example, one denial of tenure letter stated the reason was that the candidate’s publications “have not appeared in the most highly regarded journals in the field and have not yet had a clear impact on the field.” Another denial letter broached “the scarcity of reviews and citations of your work by your peers”, as though academic research is a popularity contest. This is why I love the editorial guidelines at PLoS One (here), which state, “Unlike many journals which attempt to use the peer review process to determine whether or not an article reaches the level of ‘importance’ required by a given journal, PLoS One uses peer review to determine whether a paper is technically sound and worthy of inclusion in the published scientific record.” Unit standards, if they incorporate substantial inputs from rank-and-file faculty members, could potentially preclude denials of tenure as occurred at Northeastern. While not foolproof, unit standards could keep Carleton’s administration from ratcheting up tenure standards too quickly. By ‘quickly’ I mean within the span of a collective agreement and within the span of specific unit standards. Note, I am all for change, so long it is deliberative and done with meaningful and respectful consultation with all affected parties. Institutional inertia is acceptable, especially compared with extreme institutional volatility. Unit standards truly matter, and I am proud to be at one of the few universities that recognize this.

Northeastern University’s denials of tenure provide a lesson that Carleton University can and should use to improve our reputation in three important areas: gender equality, interdisciplinary studies, and university governance.


Here is a link to the Ontario Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities (TCU) website that provides Carleton University’s “Notice of Intent for a Major Capital Expansion Project”. This is an important publicly available document that all members of Carleton University’s Board of Governors and Senate should read. Note that of the $70 million in proposed new buildings, Carleton intends to supply half of the funding, even though it has been Carleton’s past practice to not use capital funds to construct academic buildings. The following link provides similar statements regarding expansion proposals for other provincial universities.

Sorry for the duplicate posting to this and my Board of Governors blog.

The discussions were quite lively at today’s open session of senate. Question period was well used, although should be invoked by more senators. The following posting, as always, reflects my personal impressions of the public meeting and are not meant to replace the official minutes that will be promulgated a quarter year from now.

Carleton Leadership Program

Katherine Graham discussed our new so-called leadership program. Someone accused this program of corporatizing governance by creating a shadow set of leaders that have power outside of officially sanctioned bodies, such as senate. This person also accused the program of lacking transparency. I asked a pair of questions to Katherine Graham at senate today about this matter, which she either evaded or refused to answer, leading me to suspect that those accusations are valid. One problem is that participants in the program are hand-picked. I asked why this could not be done via open enrolment, possibly on a first-come first served basis. We were told that the handpicking – ‘suitability of participants’ in the parlance of this program – was based on having equal numbers of faculty and staff in each cohort, having equal numbers of each gender (sex?) in each cohort, and other unspecified criteria. It is the unspecified (secret) criteria that are worrisome. Katherine Graham said that people can self-nominate for streams 1 and 2, but not for stream 3, which is only for people that work in university-wide programs. If that is an honest response, which I doubt, then all members of senate should be able to self-nominate for stream 3. If the explicit purpose of the program is to cross-train people across disciplines and units, I then asked why do we not enlist our local source of expertise in such matters, namely EDC (Educational Development Centre) to run this program. This would remove much of the suspicion about lack of transparency and openness. All I received was silence to this second question, leaving me convinced that this so-called leadership program, especially stream 3, was designed as a test-bed to see who might make obedient administrators in the future. Making such lack of response more poignant, this program was on the agenda for question period, but nobody in the administration seemed prepared to provide substantive answers.


Based on gender equity in the so-called leadership program, the alumni representative on senate asked the superb question of how Carleton identifies gender of people and how many genders we count. As an illustrative example, there are almost no discussions on campus about things like preferred gender pronouns. This is a pity insofar as Carleton is in the process of refurbishing washrooms across campus. These could be converted into mostly single-room gender-neutral washrooms, which would provide welcome places for transsexual/transgender and intersex members of our community. An opportunity has been provided and monies have been allocated for washroom refurbishment, but I doubt the university will take appropriate action.

I also remain concerned that Carleton does not provide any real impetus for hiring new faculty members who do not self-identify as male. My own home department has only hired male faculty members since I started at Carleton in 2006 (both research-track and instructor positions) and in those eight years have only interviewed one person that I suspect would have self-identified as female. That is a deplorable track-record, especially in biology where over half of the earned PhDs are people who self-identify as female. At a minimum, shouldn’t our equity office become more proactive?

Indigenous Academics

Speaking of diversity, senate today approved a seemingly wonderful new suite of graduate programs in Indigenous Policy Administration (IPA; which ironically and inappropriately is also an acronym for an alcoholic beverage). However, when asked whether we had enough monies to fund faculty to teach this, the answer was equivocal. The provost did say that Carleton hoped to hire Indigenous faculty members in order to teach and conduct research in these new IPA programs. However, it is not obvious whether that will be the case. Given that most IPA students will be in diploma programs, rather than in a research-oriented (i.e. thesis-based) master’s degree program, the temptation will undoubtedly be to hire instructors, rather than research faculty. This is exactly what Carleton did when hiring our two most recent Indigenous scholars, in AESP and Canadian Studies. Let’s instead hire Indigenous scholars who also are paid by Carleton to conduct research and mentor graduate student research, as well as teach. Indigenous scholars should not be treated a second-class citizens.

[CORRECTION (updated 15 July 2014). In the previous paragraph, I mischaracterized the two most recent hires of Indigenous scholars to Carleton. The AESP appointment, by its very nature, is a teaching-only position. However, the recent appointment in Canadian Studies was of an assistant professor whose duties are divided between research and teaching. I also recently received confirmation that Carleton has approved the upcoming hiring of one tenured or tenure-track faculty member (i.e. whoever is hired will conduct both research and teaching) in the faculty of public affairs to support the incipient Indigenous policy administration program.]

New Academic Buildings

The university president discussed provincial plans for funding new academic buildings and new campuses across Ontario. She reiterated how Carleton’s priorities are to erect three new buildings: health science, business, and a concert hall. She also mentioned that some municipalities have contacted Carleton about building a new satellite campus, such as Niagara Falls and Cornwall. These towns would match provincial monies for any such new university buildings, something that the city of Ottawa has never been willing to do with Carleton nor with University of Ottawa. What was interesting is that our president also said that Carleton was doing due diligence and not rejecting such proposals for satellite campuses, at least not yet.

Shuttle Bus to uOttawa

Someone asked why the uOttawa shuttle bus was cancelled. The university did not want to provide a formal answer to this query on such short notice, but provided the following tentative explanation. Two years ago, during substantial budget cuts, the university needed to save monies without cutting jobs. So the shuttle was cancelled, especially in light of all students being required to buy OC-Transpo bus passes. Senate was then promised a more formal answer to the shuttle question in September 2014. I do not wish to focus on the tentative explanation, but would rather be forward thinking and ask: How and when will Carleton restore the uOttawa shuttle bus service now that university finances are vastly improved, especially when we are supposedly now running surpluses and may be granted stage 2 relief on pension solvency payments?

Report from Board of Governors

Given that a Board of Governors open session happened since senate last convened (less than two days before) and four members of the Board of Governors were at senate today, I was amazed that none of them were asked to provide a report.

In the first half of 2014, Carleton University deliberately eliminated its two flagship undergraduate interdisciplinary programs: integrated science (IIS) in the faculty of science and directed interdisciplinary studies (DIS) in the faculty of arts & social sciences. This decision was made with full support of the provost and deans of the two respective faculties. Ironically, this occurred simultaneously with the provincial government approving a strategic mandate agreement (SMA) with Carleton in which we stressed our interdisciplinary undergraduate and graduate programs, as well as interdisciplinary research that we tout as often involving undergraduates. At a minimum, we should immediately and explicitly inform the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities (MTCU) about this egregious bait-and-switch regarding interdisciplinary programs.

I am sure there will be talk about Carleton replacing these two recently defunct very interdisciplinary programs with new ones, albeit failing to mention that these other programs will be far less interdisciplinary. The possible new putatively interdisciplinary programs (e.g. health science) appear to have no more breadth than all of our classic silo programs. The two defunct flagship interdisciplinary programs offered something truly novel and dangerous, namely academic freedom. We tend to think of academic freedom as applying only to faculty and very rarely to graduate students. But IIS and DIS gave their undergraduate students a huge amount of rope, which they could use for amazing things or to tie a noose. Yes, these were high variance programs, but ones that really did not cost that much for potentially very high returns.

Traditional undergraduate degree programs limit the possibilities for interdisciplinary exploration through a seemingly excessive number of required courses and restricted opportunities to take electives. Our traditional programs are so overloaded with required courses that the undergraduate calendar is a labyrinth; that the registrar’s office builds special computer tools for students to navigate the labyrinth; and the university still has to hire special advisors for students to find their ways through the labyrinth. The two recently defunct interdisciplinary programs were radically different. They gave students breadth, while allowing them room to breathe and think. Our two truly creative undergraduate programs have been summarily eliminated, despite vocal dissent. We are left with a number of purported interdisciplinary degree programs that pre-determine (i.e. eliminate) the creative combinations that IIS and DIS left open to students. We are creating graduating classes of followers, not leaders. We are creating graduating classes of doers, not thinkers. Carleton University (College?) is becoming more of a trade school every day. That may be the sort of differentiation that our upper administration (I cannot call that ‘leadership’) wants, but it seems utterly reckless to me.

The Senate meeting of 28 March 2014 started off slowly, but became increasing entertaining. It was nice to see so many colleagues engaged. Credit should also go to the clerk and university president for encouraging more engagement.

On-line courses and DFW rates

The assistant vice-president for institutional research and planning (OIRP) led a data-rich discussion of DFW rates (the percentage of students who get a D, F, or W [withdrawal] from a course), comparing on-line courses with comparative traditional courses. This arose from a question I asked in February based on the general milieu of high withdrawal rates from MOOCs. Senate learned that Carleton’s on-line DFW rates were not radically higher than that of our traditional courses, which is amazing. However, we also learned that many of our on-line courses are blended, with an on-line lecture component and an in-person lab component. The president and provost rightly mentioned that some form of interaction with an instructor makes a huge difference with on-line courses. Having in-person labs and/or tutorial with on-line courses may make a huge difference, which is probably why our DFW rates look so good.

This is also a chance to follow the latest expert opinion regarding on-line university courses given by Janet Napolitano (see the YouTube video here), who is the president of the University of California system, which includes ten huge universities, some of which are world renowned, such as UCLA, Berkeley, and UC Davis. Napolitano was formerly the head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and, before that, governor of Arizona (her signature therefore is on my PhD degree). She basically said that to conduct on-line courses properly, including genuine interactive components, on-line courses would be at least as expensive to offer as traditional courses. Napolitano basically described on-line courses as a dubious business model. Also see Michael Hiltzik’s write-up in the Los Angeles Times (here) regarding the interview with Janet Napolitano.

There is undoubtedly provincial pressure to offer more on-line courses. Our vice president finance is probably also salivating over their income-generating ability. But then there is also financial pressure to hire more sessional (contract/adjunct) instructors. To me, on-line courses are just another way to water down higher education and save on labour costs, especially if the teaching is not done effectively.

Strategic Mandate Agreement

We had been hearing lots about strategic mandate agreements for several years now, and I won’t rehash details. But we did hear and learn some new things today.

Our provost said that when the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) talks about sustainability that they are almost exclusively concerned with financial sustainability. That is classic green-washing, but I truly appreciated the provost’s candour.

The provost provided some new details about Carleton’s draft of a strategic mandate agreement at the open session of Senate. This is the same information he presented at the open session of the Board of Governors the previous day, which the general public attended, including a reporter from the Charlatan. The difference at Senate, though, was that the provost asked all members of Senate to keep this matter confidential. This is outrageous because the request was made at an open session of Senate – the university president and provost have the power to take Senate into closed session – and the provost let the proverbial cat out of the bag the day before at a public venue, without asking anybody to remain silent.

One of Carleton’s proposed boutique (“institutional”) metrics will be the average score from student course evaluations [This is information that was verbally highlighted by the provost at the public session of the Board of Governors, covered by journalists, so cannot legitimately deemed confidential]. In my Board of Governor’s blog, I already critiqued this seemingly ridiculous metric, so simply want to add a few additional criticisms here, without repeating my previous arguments. Carleton wants to report this metric because our course evaluation scores are high. This prompted some of my colleagues to wonder whether the person who proposed this metric was high. Teaching evaluation scores are as arbitrary as the questions that are on the form. Given that the questions can change, as they recently have, why wouldn’t the province think we could change them again? Why not propose questions for the course evaluation forms like, “How often does your instructor wear shoes?” (we would score close to 5 on that) or “Does your instructor wear clothing to class?” (I hope we would score 5 on that). There are also easy ways to game the system, even if we do not change the questions. For instance, grade inflation will result in increased average course evaluation scores. We could also quietly replace arithmetic means with geometric means or some other form of average that skews the results in the direction we want. For these reasons and the ones in my 27 March 2014 Board of Governor’s blog, the proposed boutique metric of average course evaluation scores makes Carleton look foolish.

Senate was consulted on the strategic mandate agreement in the same way that Aboriginal nations were consulted about forming treaties. This was an utterly paternalistic exercise on the part of the administration, with a few (power-hungry?) rank-and-file faculty members brought into the process as a public relations ploy. At least that is why I assume the recently appointed czar of our health science program was mentioned at Senate today for their help with drafting the strategic mandate agreement. Senate was never meaningfully consulted in the strategic mandate process. Senate was only advised of drafts immediately before their submissions, when it was claimed there was insufficient time to change things. This bizarre dance continued for at least two full years. Senate is supposed to be the highest decision-making body on academic matters for the university; the strategic mandate agreement is the most important academic document that the university has; yet Senate was completely shut-out of the process. Because of that, we are left with foolishness like average student course evaluations scores as institutional metrics and lack of adequate copy-editing, e.g. sometimes the so-called ‘Strategic Integrated Plan’ was called the ‘Integrated Strategic Plan’ by one of the few (dyslexic) people privileged enough to draft the document. Carleton’s reputation would have definitely been bettered by meaningful consultation with Senate, which could have occurred in closed special sessions.

At the end of this strategic mandate ‘discussion’ at Senate on 28 March 2014, Carleton’s president surprised most members of Senate by springing a motion upon us asking for a vote to acknowledge receipt of the draft strategic mandate agreement. There was no need for such a motion. The president could simply have included this information in the minutes. The draft strategic mandate agreement was already memorialized in the “Senate Binder”. Plus, Senate only saw a non-final draft of the strategic mandate agreement. This motion, without adequate notice (Senate Rule of Order section 6 states, “The normal Notice of Motion period is ten days”), seemed like a devious ploy to show that Senate had been meaningfully consulted with regards to the strategic mandate agreement, which has clearly not been the case. Fortunately, Senators saw through this ridiculous smokescreen. While a majority of members of Senate voted to approve this motion acknowledging receipt, a large number of Senators dissented. The president’s subterfuge really fired up several rank-and-file members of Senate, which perversely was a great thing (please try this again).

Involuntary Closure of Integrated Science

Today we mourn the demise of Carleton’s Integrated Science program. In shepherding this involuntary closure through Senate, we got to see some impressive hypocrisy. At Senate and at the previous day’s Board of Governors open session, the provost claimed that Science Faculty Board knowingly made the decision to involuntarily close the program because science faculty thought the program was no longer needed. Both my memory of the events and the supporting documentation in the “Senate Binder” indicates that this is not true. Instead, this matter was very much imposed on the Science Faculty Board in that the administration had already made Integrated Science a “zombie program” by suspending admissions without Senate approval and without Science Faculty Board approval. What can a rank-and-file faculty member do with a program that administrators had already decided would not be allowed to admit students? Science Faculty Board showed angst in the debate and in voting to involuntarily close the Integrated Science program, with 17 votes in favour of closure, 6 opposed, and 6 abstaining. The vote at Senate for closure was even closer, with roughly half the Senators in favour of closure, one-quarter opposed, and one-quarter abstaining. Senate documents (today’s Senate Binder) at least were truthful, stating that Integrated Science was being closed because its director did not complete some quality assurance self-study paperwork, the dean did not take the lead to find somebody else to do this essential task, and the administration unilaterally cancelled all admissions to the program.

There are at least four problems with this involuntary closure. First, we should all be concerned by how easy it was to involuntarily close a viable program. Second, there is talk (empty talk?) about offering a new interdisciplinary program (other than existing the Bachelor of Humanities program?) that bridges science and the arts & social sciences (Faculty of Science and FASS). Yet none of the individuals that I know who are cross-appointed in these two faculties have ever been consulted about such a proposed new program. Third, Integrated Science was a money-maker: almost no costs, while bringing in substantial revenues. While Integrated Science may not have been a great recruiting program, they were remarkable at retention insofar as many students in other science majors could use Integrated Science as a fallback option after not passing certain required courses for other science majors. I cannot discern whether this fallback option to transfer to Integrated Science will be available to current science students during the transition period when the university fully closes down the program. Fourth, Carleton is strongly touting our interdisciplinary programs, and Integrated Science was as interdisciplinary as we get in science. Usually I am extremely proud to be a member of the Carleton community, but not today. Such blatant hypocrisy is too embarrassing.

Question Period: Carleton’s Teaching & Learning Framework

A series of questions were asked about Carleton’s new teaching and learning framework. If I may paraphrase the questions: (1) What guarantees exist that the framework will not become prescriptive? (2) Does reading constitute active learning? and (3) Who gets to decide what constitutes high-impact practices? Because the associate vice president academic for teaching and learning was not present at Senate, the provost stood in and did not answer the questions!

A few useful items, however, were later mentioned by the university president. First, she encouraged further questions at question period. Second, she mentioned how helpful and useful the Educational Development Centre (EDC) staff were, especially about teaching us about new pedagogical techniques. I completely agree with her on both points. But what is still an utter mystery to me is why we need to codify such matters in a document that is explicitly called a “framework”. Cynics pointed out that this is so that these supposedly non-prescriptive notions could later be foisted upon us in prescriptive ways. Only time will tell. But simply changing the title of that document might go along way to allaying fears.

Recording Votes

The Senate Academic Governance Committee proposed a motion for changing how we record votes. We currently record the following three options: unanimous, passed on division, and defeated. The motion was to change the three options to unanimous, passed, and defeated, but in special circumstances to add the words “on division” to one or more of these three choices. Quickly, there was a tangle of amendments and the matter was referred back to committee. There were odd discussions, such as about votes that are “unanimous on division” and “defeated on division”, the latter of which is truly absurd insofar as the person making the motion should automatically be ethically obliged to vote in favour. But the basic idea here for the proposed change seems great, even if the implementation may require some more work.

Senate Emergency Response Committee

Just prior to the two CUPE 4600 strike deadlines in early March 2014, the Senate Emergency Response Committee was activated. Once the strikes were averted, the committee was deactivated. I do not agree that a strike constitutes an emergency. In fact, a strike could be something unilaterally and consciously decided upon months or years in advance by either side. H1N1 pandemics may be an emergency. Earthquakes may be an emergency. But labour disagreements should never be considered emergencies. I find this misnomer akin to calling it a ‘traffic accident’ when someone intentionally rams you with their car. There is nothing accidental about that, just like there is nothing emergency-like about a strike. Would someone like to propose a motion to revise the terms of reference of this Senate committee?

Graduate Courses in Bomb-Making and Explosives

Carleton will soon by offering a pair of new cross-listed engineering courses in bomb-making and explosives (CIVE 5705 and IPIS 5520). I am too much of a pacifist to let this go without a highlight. But I did not object to the course offering because we should have academic freedom to offer courses that will offend others. For example, I am sure that some people find aspects of my evolution of sex class offensive. I will, however, note the irony of bringing a bomb-making course to Senate while Carleton’s Department of Security (OPSEU) is on strike.

Today’s blog posting will not be about Carleton University’s Senate per se, but rather more general remarks about the role of universities and the politics of university funding. This posting arose from an e-mail correspondence with Neil Buchanan of George Washington University, who has already written about this matter in the “Dorf on Law” blog (here), in which I appear as the un-named biologist. Neil Buchanan discussed how academia has become much less nuanced and more polarized, at least in the eyes of government, the media, and the public at-large. This is extremely pertinent in my own field (evolutionary biology) and that of my current doctoral students (climate change). Lack of nuance plays out in important ways when it comes to the politics of academic governance and government funding of universities.

As anybody who has attended one of Carleton’s Senate meetings will know, the flame-throwers amongst the faculty are almost all in the Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences (I am truly using the term ‘flame-thrower’ as a compliment here). My understanding is that these colleagues were educated in very liberal traditions. By contrast, engineers at Senate are utterly boring and conservative. They only speak when called upon to do so. This is not necessarily a horrible thing; it simply reflects our cultural upbringings. In a previous life, working at John Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, I mostly worked with engineers, a huge percentage of whom were fundamentalist christians, indicating that there is politics in academia.

Government funding of universities is political. Right-leaning politicians generally do not like to fund much basic research, especially in the arts, humanities, and social sciences, but also frown upon funding much basic natural science research. Old-timers from the U.S. will recall Senator Jesse Helms’s attacks on the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Closer to home, recall the remarkable Death of Evidence rally that our University of Ottawa colleague Scott Findlay helped organize to highlight (lowlight?) conservative government censoring of science. But even government funding is nuanced, as can be seen by both right-leaning and left-leaning politicians generously funding the military-industrial complex, as well as university engineering programs that train these people. With the Harper government, much funding for basic research has also been diverted to industrial partnerships, fueling the corporatization of academia. Don’t you find it perverse that NSERC and SSHRC fall under purview of the Minister of Industry, even though people who traditionally have been awarded NSERC and SSHRC grants often do not have nor want to have anything to do with industry?

Graham Smart sent me a fascinating new paper in the journal BioScience titled “Politicizing science: What is the role of biologists in a hyperpartisan world?” This article not only discussed funding of military applications, but also more recent funding or lack thereof for the environment, presaging my next paragraph. This paper also noted that science seems to be “shifting from being innovative to being regulatory” (Baker 2014: 172). I wonder whether all of academia is shifting from innovative to regulatory. Certainly university governance has become less innovative and more regulatory, e.g. the new impetus for so-called quality assurance and Carleton’s even newer unit standards for tenure.

Neil Buchanan highlighted the changing roles of modern universities. Professors are no longer purveyors of content. In fact, in many of our courses, content is irrelevant (it flummoxes most of my students that I do not test them on content). What matters is teaching students how to think for themselves and how to reach consensus in groups. Decisions can often be difficult, such as Neil Buchanan’s question about whether coal makes more sense than other energy sources, at least with existing technology (note that he raised this issue for the U.S.; the situation may vary with geographical context, e.g. Canada). By contrast, some decisions are much easier to rationally make, such as whether humans cause some global climate change. I say this is an easy decision despite having been an American Association for Advancement of Science (AAAS) fellow working for the George W. Bush administration’s Environmental Protection Agency, in which I helped advise them on their (largely) non-existent environmental policy, cringing every time I heard Jim Inhofe, chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (thank goodness for his antithesis, Jim Jeffords, who has unfortunately retired from the U.S. Senate). We need to hear all sides, although not necessarily equal time for all, and understand their nuances. But then we also need to train our students to think critically enough to understand which arguments best reflect reality. I am proud to have a colleague at Carleton who most people would characterize as a climate change denier. While I do not agree with him about interpretation of findings, I think it is great that our students get to hear many sides and learn to articulate the arguments about which facets should steer policy. This is far better than the cardboard characterizations that often pervade our disciplines, perspectives that too often lack nuance. Universities also need to remind students, government, and the media that we don’t know everything. That is why we conduct research! Much of science and medicine is still myth and art, which makes historical sense given that modern European science arose from alchemy and the mysticism of Isaac Newton. It is okay to let our students, government, and the media know this. We should be humble.

After closely following nuanced arguments from disparate fields, I believe as fervently as anybody in the reality and significance of evolution and human-induced climate change. I am proud to say that my views have been shaped by not just biology, but also by economics, physics, mathematics, engineering, philosophy of science, science policy (which really has almost nothing to do with science), gender studies, and Indigenous studies, as well as by views of my colleagues in geography, criminology, neuroscience, psychology, linguistics, etc. For those clamouring for more nuance, I am an ardent evolutionary biologist who also happens to be a rabid anti-adaptationist (contact me or check out the publications on my website for details).

I ended my previous post with the following quote from Taiaiake Alfred (1999: xix), which also seems appropriate here: “In any culture deeply respectful of rationale thought, the only real political power consists of the ability to persuade.” The question that remains is: Are we respectful of rationale thought? I hope so. This will allow us, including our students, to think and listen broadly and then make tough nuanced intelligent decisions. Maybe that will help eliminate polarized political machinations and help us reach consensus. This should be a call to follow the old Chicago adage, namely vote and vote often. Vote your conscience and – much more importantly – respectfully and firmly speak your views at Senate, in your department, and with local, provincial, and federal governments.

Many thanks for advanced feedback from Peter Killeen, Graham Smart, Chris Burn, Jack Gorelick, and Neil Buchanan, none of whom may agree with me.