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

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Responsible Intervention versus Executive Incompetence in the Faculty of Science

Fifty-two of the 150 or so professors in the Faculty of Science at the University of Ottawa have taken things into their own hands and signed a letter to the dean signalling alleged abuses of professional behaviour perpetrated by professor of physics Denis Rancourt, such as:

-“harassing his colleagues with unsolicited open letters,”
-“undermining [the] climate of freedom, responsibility and mutual respect […] of the university […] for nearly two years,”
-“being counterproductive ‘in promoting and enhancing the University’,”
-“hindering and impeding the proper democratic functioning of the Faculty,”
-“constantly distorting the facts when he presents them,”
-“knowingly turning [assigned courses] into courses which do not accomplish their initially intended functions,” and
-“[showing] no regard for the academic freedom of others, as he deliberately defies the measures adopted democratically by his peers.”

The original letter of complaint is posted HERE. (It’s worth the read.)

The Dean of the Faculty of Science, André Lalonde, promptly initiated a formal disciplinary investigation, since he is bound by duty to do so when presented with such compelling evidence of wrong doing.

Obvious questions arise.

Why did the dean not notice these grave breaches in professional behaviour, occurring during two years, until one third of the professorial staff needed to risk speaking out and spell them out in writing? What of the harm done to students in that period?

What about the other two thirds? Were they not harassed by the open letters? Have they not been reading the CANWEST editorials? Are they being so irresponsible as to not take action to preserve the ‘academic integrity’ of their Faculty?

Why did these 52 colleagues of Rancourt write this letter anonymously and under the cover of a formal complaint? Is tenure not enough protection to express one’s criticisms directly? Should additional safeguards be developed?

The dean feels compelled to preserve the identities of the 52 professors making their legitimate effort to improve the functioning of the university. How can the community celebrate the contributions of these brave professors to protecting student welfare if these professors are not identified?

U of O Watch will report the evolution of this dossier, using advanced investigative techniques, and will continue to attempt to answer these questions…

End note: The students who suffered Prof. Rancourt’s “courses which do not accomplish their initially intended functions” had THIS TO SAY, AND THIS, AND THIS, AND THIS.


Anonymous said...

What do the science students who miss needed prerequisites (presumably these courses are offered in lieu of others) or don't have the luxury of taking a social activist have to say?
What do those who fail out of the 2nd year that depend on elementary (physics) concepts being covered in first year have to say?

How many of the total former students have actually come forward? Are any of them in a position where your support would benefit them in the foreseeable future?

You stand to gain $10M out of this. What does the third of the faculty stand to gain?

Anonymous said...

How many students, when given the choice between a "traditional" PHY 1703 and the "squatted" one, chose the traditional one?

Is the author of the previous comment even a student? Does he/she believe that students are old enough to choose for themselves what's good for them?

52 profs signed a complaint. How many students have signed complaints against the same professor?

Are any of the 52 profs in a position where the Dean's support would benefit them in the forseeable future?

Anonymous said...

We're all students.

The point is that people have expressed opinions on both sides of the issue. If these courses were so popular in terms of enrollment, offered for so long, and everybody's happy, where is the bulk of this support?

It's not just about choice, but that is an excellent question. Which courses are these 'squatted' ones (comment #2s word) taking the place of?

The professor's peers have a vested interested in many of the same issues Rancourt is claiming to defend, as well as the quality of undergraduate and graduate work being done at the school.

Finally, seeking favour through anonymous letters tends not to work very well. To me this is the faculty crying out for action.

Philippe said...

"seeking favour through anonymous letters tends not to work very well"

The 52-prof letter is not anonymous to the Dean. The Dean knows the author(s) of the complaint, but he has the duty to remove the name of the author(s) when he shows the complaint to the targetted prof.

That's in theory. When a student complains against harassment by a prof., and when the prof. sees the complaint, he will know who made it even if the name is hidden (unless the prof. harassed a couple students in the recent past, which we all hope doesn't happen...).

The real problem with this complaint process is that the collective agreement between the APUO and the administration leaves no space for the students. Thus once a student complains, the complaint is dealt with between management and the prof's union, without the student having any say.

No wonder so few students report harassment. The risks (by having the prof. know they complained) greatly outbalance the benefits (the small probability of justice after a long process in which the student has no say and which might not even be completed when the student graduates).

Philippe Marchand
Dept. of physics