U of O Watch mission, in the words of Foucault...

"One knows … that the university and in a general way, all teaching systems, which appear simply to disseminate knowledge, are made to maintain a certain social class in power; and to exclude the instruments of power of another social class. … It seems to me that the real political task in a society such as ours is to criticise the workings of institutions, which appear to be both neutral and independent; to criticise and attack them in such a manner that the political violence which has always exercised itself obscurely through them will be unmasked, so that one can fight against them." -- Foucault, debating Chomsky, 1971.

U of O Watch mission, in the words of Socrates...

"An education obtained with money is worse than no education at all." -- Socrates

video of president allan rock at work

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Allergic reaction to activism in the Faculty of Science, University of Ottawa


“A vital lesson of the last century is that it is dangerous for scientists to focus exclusively on their technical work and leave it to others to decide the associated moral and political issues.” (Jeff Schmidt, author of Disciplined Minds.) Science professors at the University of Ottawa have not learned this lesson.

Although a first-year-level Science in Society course was created in 2006 (after an 11-month and 16-committee meeting battle) it has now been removed from the professor who developed it, under the pretence that “it did not follow the curriculum.”

Those involved in the battle to save the course know that the real reason is that the course was critical of both the role of corporate science in society and the role of the corporate university in sustaining the present technology-based economy of global exploitation. Those involved know that the real reason is that proposed solutions included activism and resistance rather than servitude and compliance.

In the Faculty of Science at the University of Ottawa one cannot teach independent thinking or the virtues of opposing power. That science serves power is the only allowed lesson.

This unwritten law of corporate science education is being most clearly illustrated in the present battle to create a second-year-level Science, Activism, and Society course, supported by a petition of 300 students and community members (1% of the student population).

After the Undergraduate Program Committee (Science) trashed the course without offering any rational explanations or any feedback to the professor proposing the new course, beyond asking him to retract his request, a student Faculty Council member tried to advance it as an agenda item for Faculty Council (Science).

The dean of the faculty promptly vetoed the agenda item, thereby breaking the Faculty’s own By-Laws. When the student member objected, citing the By-Laws, he was intimidated and rebuked, giving rise to official complaints of unethical behaviour against fourteen professors to date.

Another student was intimidated and directly threatened when he met one-on-one with the Secretary of the Faculty (Science) who had offered to clarify the dean’s procedural “justification” for the veto.

Yet another student suffered a similar fate when he wrote a public letter of support for the Science in Society project. Records appear to show that two professors conspired to attempt to have this student removed from the PhD program for his crime.

To date, two Faculty Council meetings have been closed down by a dean who refuses to hear student and community member concerns. On April 5th the Council room was cleared using security guards after only 20 minutes of deliberation. On May 22nd the dean shut down the Council meeting after only two minutes because observers refused to stop videotaping the public proceedings. Both events were reported in the Ottawa Sun newspaper.

Student Faculty Council member, Severin Stojanovic, is filling a judicial review of the broken rules next week, given that the VP-Academic and the President have officially sided with the dean’s illegal veto. Notably, the illegal agenda was also “democratically” approved by eager-to-serve Faculty Council members (35 for, 1 against) at the April 5th meeting.

That’s a lot of resistance for a simple agenda item that would have opened the floor to “discussing the possibility of a second-year-level Science, Activism, and Society course…”

Science professors at the University of Ottawa have not learned the lesson and appear not to have studied history, but they continue to be treated to an excellent example of science, activism, and society. There is hope.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

There sure are a "lot" of "loaded" "words" in there.

Of more concern though is the underlying begging of the question.

Maybe a "Making a Logical Argument in Society" course is in order. We could get a physiotherapist to teach it.

Graeme said...

Thank you Denis for so boldly challenging the U of O for a more student-friendly world. You contribute far more to social justice than those who make fun of you behind the mask of anonymity. I only hope that as the status quo changes, as it must, your fellow professors may learn to like you!

Severin said...

I really echo the observation by Jeff Schmidt in his book Disciplined Minds that "a vital lesson of the last century is that it is dangerous for scientists to focus exclusively on their technical work and leave it to others to decide the associated moral and political issues."

As an aspiring physicist in the Department of Physics at the University of Ottawa, I have become completely disgusted with physics culture, and science culture in general. I became especially disgusted with a "giant" in the physics community, Richard Feynman, a Nobel laureate, a popularizer of physics to the lay audience, and an excellent pedagogue.

This disgust came when I learned about his involvement in the Manhatten Project (i.e. building the atomic bomb, see "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!"). Having a man who is at the pinnacle of physics describe the pleasures in creating the nuclear bomb, and having campfires, playing the bongo drum, and getting drunk the night before the first bomb was to be dropped on Japan... is SICK!!! Is this what I am supposed to aspire to? Are people like Feynman my intellectual role models? NO! A thousand times NO!!!

Dr. Rancourt rightly puts it when he says that "Science professors at the University of Ottawa have not learned this lesson."

For all you tenured professors who are afraid of changing the present sick culture within the scientific community and are in opposition to the activism course, I challenge you to seriously examine your research and justify to all of us how what you are doing serves the betterment of humanity and not yourselves, the elite. In short, most of you cannot.

Your opposition to the activism course is your means to preserve your privilege in this society. Do you feel threatened at losing this privilege?

Please do explain to me how my degree is devalued by having such a course at the University of Ottawa and in the Faculty of Science? Surely, you feel secure enough with your tenureship that you may freely speak your mind and without the guise of anonymity...

It is up to the students, the next generation, who have not been completely brainwashed and coerced by the illuminati to say NO! We do not want to take pleasure in making bombs, or furthering research that benefits only the elite. We will not be herded into these ideological paradigms.

"If we are to avoid being bewildered, manipulated or even betrayed, it is crucial that we understand the social role of professionals." Jeff Scmidt, Disciplined Minds.

"The intellectual always has a choice either to side with the weaker, the less well represented, the forgotten or ignored, or to side with the more powerful." Edward Said, Representations of the Intellectual.

Anonymous said...

You've completely lost the plot.

Referring to university professors, and arguably academics and researchers in general, as the 'elite' or 'illuminati' might be the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. $10 million dollar settlements aside, that is.

Don't confuse your own struggles and demons with systemic problems with a given field, a given person, or a given organization.

You worshiped Feynman through his books only to find out you didn't have the whole story, and felt hurt and misled.

What's to say you haven't been similarly misled by Rancourt. If you're so impressionable as to be so affected by Feynman's writings, surely Rancourt's lectures could potentially have an even more indoctrinating effect.

Anonymous said...

One more point: tenure is designed to protect the ability of established, recognized researchers to take controversial views in a field they know well without losing their position at the hands of the university, sponsors and similar threats. Freedom of research, essentially.

It does nothing against the threat of being slandered or libeled by people such as Rancourt, nor having to deal with whatever troubled, possibly militant, nitwits he recruits. God forbid they find out where you live.

Philippe said...

My guess is that certain people would put anonymous comments not because of "the threat of being slandered or libeled", but rather because they know they could be sued for libel for what they are writing, if their identity was known (which is the case for many anonymous posts here).

Philippe Marchand
M.Sc. candidate, Physics

Anonymous said...

First of all, threatening to sue everybody hardly seems in the spirit of open discourse. Especially on a site that encourages anonymous submissions explicitly in its header.
But if you're unable to defend your arguments on their own merit, I suppose threatening to sue everybody is a valid alternative.

Secondly, defamation suits tends to center around the misrepresentation of facts, rather than the right to present opinions.

Philippe said...

"First of all, threatening to sue everybody hardly seems in the spirit of open discourse."

I believe it's clear my previous comment was not a threat to sue anyone (threatening to sue is illegal itself), but rather a comment on the some obvious benefits anonymity provides.

"Especially on a site that encourages anonymous submissions explicitly in its header."

I don't have to agree with the blog manager on that respect. For having worked at a student paper that was sued for defamantion, I think the best approach for someone managing any kind of media is to permit anonymous comments only in the exceptional cases where it's justified.

"Secondly, defamation suits tends to center around the misrepresentation of facts, rather than the right to present opinions."

That much is clear, as long as opinions doesn't imply certain facts. For example, saying someone is "corrupt" is potentially defamatory is one can't prove that there were charges of some kind of corruption against that person.

Again the line is not drawn clearly and it's mostly based on case law, especially in the common law system.

Philippe said...

For example:

"It does nothing against the threat of being slandered or libeled by people such as Rancourt, nor having to deal with whatever troubled, possibly militant, nitwits he recruits. God forbid they find out where you live."

If instead someone said that Rancourt or any other campus activist committed libel or slander, which is false, that would be a defamatory statement. Since the previous comment only suggests it, this is probably ok.

However, given a text with a sufficient number of these "suggestions", it could be seen as associating someone with certain crimes without proof and thus defamatory.

Anonymous said...

To your eyes does the original post holds more or less of these types of statements than any given comment?

Do passages such as:
"[...]the real reason[...] one cannot teach[...]"

not seem noticeably more like statements of fact to you?

Philippe said...

I'm not sure whether the two statements you point out are defamatory. First, they don't even make statements about a person... although the University of Ottawa, as a corporation, is a "moral person", so maybe the University would have a case, although I'm not sure if there is case law in that respect.

Now, there are affirmations in that post concerning individuals and their actions. I'm sure those affirmations were verified before being posted here.