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, July 21, 2007

Lying and falsifying documents – All in a day’s work for U of O’s VP-Resources

You do what you have to do when it comes to suppressing the political freedoms of students.

Two physics graduate students at the University of Ottawa recently made the mistake of expressing their views regarding the pedagogical value of an activism course in the Faculty of Science.

Severin Stojanovic argued as a Faculty Council member that the possible creation of a second-year level activism course (SCI 2101) should be discussed at Council whereas Jean-Paul Prévost, having attended the first-year course (SCI 1101), explained the value of these courses to staff and student colleagues.

That was too much for several science professors who blasted the students. A certain professor Vladimir Pestov went so far as to ask the physics graduate chairman (now department chair Bela Joos) to bar the students from using faculty email lists and to consider ways that a case could be mounted to expel Prévost from the PhD program.

Joos faithfully forwarded these over-the-top complaints from Pestov to the dean of the Faculty of Science (André Lalonde) “for his information” without notifying the students. The dean’s office then forwarded these emails to VP-Resources Victor Simon, without written explanation and, again, without consulting or informing the students.

Simon, in turn, came down hard. He informed each student that he had received several complaints (in the plural) about their uses of university computer resources. He stated that their actions were in violation of the User Code of Conduct for Computer Resources, implying that they had been spamming the academy. He informed them both (individually) that if he received a single other complaint he would automatically cut them off from all computer resources.

The students individually responded by asking to see the complaints that justified such a severe reaction from a VP, no less. One of the students also independently filed a Freedom of Information request to obtain the complaints.

Simon proceeded to play a game of cat and mouse, showing only one partial complaint to each student and, eventually, after the Freedom of Information documents were obtained, reluctantly forked over everything he had.

In the final analysis, VP Simon had lied to both students about the number of complaints: There was only one document per student and none was a complaint made to his office. And he had falsified one of the interim documents, removing the Pestov attempt at collusion with Joos (to expel Prévost), presumably because Pestov’s words both incriminated two professors and made the student “violations” look insignificant in comparison…

All in a days work. Can’t have the societal implications of science discussed in the Faculty of Science: That would be subversive and counter productive.

The dedication of self-appointed university executives, willing to take the risks necessary to preserve “academic integrity”, is sometimes the strongest testament to the vitality of our public institutions of higher learning.

Epilogue: There is no policy at the University of Ottawa that protects students from intimidation by deans or executive officers – It is assumed not to occur. Meanwhile, the official complaints against the many professors who took it onto themselves to harass and intimidate the students for their communications are being deflected and resisted by both the dean of science and the dean of graduate studies (Gary Slater), while President Gilles Patry watches on.

Documents posted by student JP Prevost (in PDF, takes a few minutes to download)
Documents posted by student Severin Stojanovic (takes a few minutes to download)
[Photo credit: University of Ottawa]

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Did the dean lie? – Profs’ union doesn’t want to know

Has anyone never lied? Is everyone a liar?

Back in September 2005, as part of his critical pedagogy method, Professor Denis Rancourt made a bold open invitation to his students of the first Activism Course:

I am looking for irate or frustrated or angry or discouraged or depressed graduate or undergraduate students to be interviewed live on The Train, CHUO 89.1 FM. I want to counter the plastic smile Apathy-U marketing campaigns … with some gritty reality about student life.” (The invitation to all students still stands.)

The then dean of the Faculty of Science was clearly annoyed and immediately asked for “explanations”. The dean then initiated a disciplinary process claiming he had received a student complaint about the radio invitation.

Professor Rancourt pointed out his right to see the student complaint. The dean claimed that showing any part of the student complaint would identify the student and stated that he was therefore dropping the entire process and removing all related letters and documents from Professor Rancourt’s file.

Professor Rancourt insisted that no letters or documents be disappeared and grieved to see the student complaint. The grievance process showed that a separate student complaint about the radio invitation did not exist. The dean produced the only student complaint ever received about the Activism Course, a student complaint about course content, method, and use of language – all concerns that the dean was pursuing separately but now without the use of a student complaint.

An obvious case of “complaints musical chairs”...

At this point, Professor Rancourt filed a new grievance that the dean had lied in order to justify a baseless disciplinary process. Disciplinary processes are tedious and stressful and the same dean initiated three other bogus disciplinary actions (all unrelated to each other; that were either dropped or successfully grieved) within the same two-week period.

Does one detect a pattern? Does the term harassment come to mind? Would this have happened if Professor Rancourt was not promoting activism and was not critical of the institution and its methods?

On these questions, the professors’ union (the APUO at the UofO) is unclear or undecided at best: You see, lying involves intent to make a false statement and intent is difficult to prove. One cannot read a person’s mind so one must rely on the documented circumstances. That the “separate” complaint was about the radio invitation appears to be false but did the dean realise it was false? He could have simply misinterpreted the student complaint to be about the radio invitation…

The grievance that the dean has lied was recently evaluated by the executive committee of the union and has not been retained by the APUO, effectively leaving no other legal recourse to obtain arbitration.

In the words of the executive of the union: “The dean read what he saw in a certain way … it may also be part of a pattern. However, this is difficult to show. It seems as though the dean is dancing close to the line but, it is difficult to prove lying … Maybe it was an attempt by the dean to be deceptive, but the complaint could be open to interpretation … An accusation of lying is serious and requires strong evidence.

It’s called the preservation of class interests…


YaYa Canada on lying in academia...
[Photo credit: University of Ottawa]