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

Monday, December 31, 2007

Friends of Burma Requests that Ottawa U revise wall panel dedicated to Paul Desmarais

(Press Release, Ottawa, Canadian Friends of Burma, December 11, 2007)

The Canadian Friends of Burma urges the University of Ottawa to immediately revise the huge wall panel dedicated to the life and work of Paul Desmarais located on the university campus. The University must include information regarding Mr. Desmarias serving on the Board of Directors of Total, the French energy giant which operates a gas pipeline in Burma in partnership with Burma’s violent military dictatorship. The panel dedicated to Mr. Desmarais is on the ground floor of a new building at the university named after the billionaire. Mr. Demasrais, patriarch of the family that controls Power Corp donated $15 million to the University of Ottawa, the funds were used for the construction of the 12 storey Desmarais building.

Although the wall panel recounts in great detail Mr. Desmarais’s life there is no mention of his involvement with Total. Mr. Desmarias, served on the board of the French oil conglomerate from January 1999 till May 2002 when he gave his seat to his son Paul Desmarais Jr who continues to sit on the board. At present Power Corp. controls the largest shareholder in Total, Groupe Bruxelles Lambert (GBL) a Belgium based holding company that owns a 3.9% stake in Total.

Total is infamous for its operations in Burma in which it partnered with the Burmese military and UNOCAL to construct and then operate the Yadana natural gas pipeline. The Burmese military forcibly relocated villagers from their land to make way for the pipeline. During the relocation the villagers were raped, tortured and killed. The Burmese military forced villagers to construct infrastructure for the pipeline including helicopter landing pads and barracks for the soldiers.

Over the eight years that Power Corp has controlled the largest shareholder in Total, both the Desmrais family and Power Corp have repeatedly declined to comment on Total’s activities in Burma. Refusing to even acknowledge the controversy surrounding Total’s operations in Burma is an insult to the thousands of people in Burma who suffered greatly at the hands of Burma’s military government so Total could make a profit.

A French Parliamentary mission that investigated the pipeline concluded in October 1999 that

“The mission judges that the link between the military presence, the acts of violence against the populations and the forced labor is established as a fact. Total had to be aware of that fact.”

The Parliamentary Inquiry added

“It seems artificial to separate the construction of the pipeline which required the hiring of qualified labor and considerable technical means from the measures taken by the Burmese regime to ensure its safety. . . These security measures were what generated forced labor and population displacements in the area”.

A February 1st 1996 memo from Total Business Development Manager Hervé Chagnoux to UNOCAL substantiates the claim that Total paid Burma’s military to provide security and also suggests that Total was well aware of the use of forced labour,

“As far as forced labour used by the soldiers in charge of security on our gas pipeline project is concerned, we must admit between ourselves, TOTAL and Unocal, that we’re probably in a grey area.”

Natural Gas exports are by far the largest source of revenue for Burma’s military Junta. Total’s operations alone have annually provided the military dictatorship with hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue (some estimates are as much as US$450 million). Rather than spend the revenues on education or badly needed humanitarian supplies Burma’s generals continue to use their new found wealth to reinforce their own position by buying millions of dollars worth of weapons from China. These weapons are used to terrorize the population and kill scores of innocent people.

Nobel Peace Prize winner and leader of Burma’s democratic opposition Aung San Suu Kyi has repeatedly criticized Total for its harmful presence in Burma. She told Le Monde newspaper “Total has become the main supporter of the Burmese military regime.”

For a detailed description of the human rights abuses committed during the construction of the Yadana pipeline please read the 2000 Report issued by Earth Rights International called Total Denial Continues.

Also see the February 2005 Report by The Burma Campaign UK called “Total Oil: Fueling the Repression in Burma

145 Spruce St. Suite 206
Ottawa, ON K1R 6P1
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UofOWatch Comment:

U of O President Gilles Patry’s astonishing response to a December 11, 2007, public request to acknowledge these facts is described HERE.

Given a second occasion to respond, Patry explained that the $15 million Desmarais donation was a “personal gift” to the university.

Paul Desmarais is a Companion of the Order of Canada and a member of the Privy Council.

“As a university we have an obligation to provide people with the skills and understanding they need to take their place in the world. Because of our unique position in Ottawa and in Canada, the University of Ottawa has an opportunity to cultivate leaders showing what true Canadian leadership looks like …”

[Photo: Detail of the Demarais bio wall panel in the Demarais Building, University of Ottawa.]

Saturday, December 29, 2007

U of O Apologises for Dean’s 2005 Outburst

In a classic case of a hierarchical institution’s suppression of an employee’s rights and freedoms, the University of Ottawa continues a campaign against Professor Denis Rancourt based on bogus disciplinary investigations and unfounded disciplinary charges.

To date this has included a dozen or so charges that have all been overturned, dropped, or grieved. Grievances typically take two years to be judged. Several of the early charges and their outcomes were reported HERE and HERE. The first grievance arbitration hearings were reported HERE. Some of the ancillary pettiness is described HERE.
It is therefore important to report the cases as they are concluded. The present report gives the final outcome concerning a dean’s 2005 in-class intervention that was at least partly motivated by Israel-Lobby sentiment: LINK.

In September 2005, at the second class of term, Dr. Christian Detellier, dean of the Faculty of Science, University of Ottawa, barged into physics professor Denis Rancourt’s Physics and the Environment course to cancel the class and supposedly to save the students from a perceived threat of great harm from being exposed to activism and to a democratic pedagogical method.

There was strong student protest against the dean’s action (SEE LETTERS), which lead to the class immediately being reinstated, as reported in the media: HERE and HERE.

Rancourt formally grieved the dean’s in-class intervention on October 12, 2005, thereby requesting an apology addressed to him and to all the students who were subjected to the disruption and an assurance that the university would take steps to avoid such outbursts by its executives in the future.

The grievance was followed by several contrived disciplinary attacks against Rancourt which were later dropped by the university despite Rancourt’s requests that they be pursued in order to clarify their merit.

The university fought the grievance for two years but then offered a settlement at the last hour, just before the hearings for another grievance case with Rancourt were about to commence. Had the university not settled, the dean’s in-class intervention would have been part of the investigation that was about to start on November 5, 2007. Consequently, the circumstances, impact, and nature of the dean’s in-class tantrum would have been more fully investigated and judged and could have had more significant bearing on the second case.

The university first tried to propose a secret settlement with a non-disclosure clause but this was flatly rejected by Rancourt’s union (the APUO) after Rancourt intervened. The dean’s in-class intervention had been a public display and the apology needed to be public.

A more suitable settlement text was negotiated between the university and the union. Rancourt rejected this text because it was not a strongly enough worded apology; it was not directed to the students, who suffered most of the consequences of the dean’s actions; and it did not present sufficient guarantees that this could not reoccur.

Despite Rancourt’s objections, the APUO ratified the settlement and justified their position to Rancourt as follows (in a letter from APUO’s president Atef Fahim):

“the Executive [of the APUO] felt that the employer’s statement reflects a commitment about interventions in the classroom that is beneficial to members generally, and does not imply that Prof. Rancourt’s specific situation justified intervention. It felt that the employer’s acknowledgement strengthens academic freedom. Clearly the employer is acknowledging that the classroom intervention was wrong. The employer’s statement is an admission of wrongdoing and a statement of regret over what they have done, and should be considered an apology.”

It appears we must conclude that the settlement is as close to justice as it is possible to achieve in the university context in practice. It also appears that deans don’t apologise to students.

It is interesting to contrast this settlement with the dean’s initial comments to the media that he “followed proper procedure” and that “a few, I can’t name you a number, but a few” students had complained about the course. The recent arbitration hearings established that there had only ever been a single student complaint and that the dean’s action was not based on this student complaint. Did the dean lie?


Back in 2005, at the third class of term, when the course (which was popularly known as the activism course) was reinstated and allowed to proceed as planned by Rancourt, a student asked dean Detellier if he had learned anything from the events which his actions had precipitated. Detellier replied that it was too soon to tell and that he would answer this question later. The dean never did answer the student’s question. Maybe now it would be possible to formulate an answer?
[Photo: Detail of a 20-metre wall poster made by the students of the 2005 course at an end-of-the-year party.]

Monday, December 17, 2007

Student Appeal Centre Report Exposes Systemic Abuse at U of O

The first ever report of the Student Appeal Centre of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) gives the university administration and its executive an unqualified F.

The report was recently made public and describes a tyrannical administration imposing one-sided rules apparently designed to deprive students of both normal due process and unbiased treatment when contesting and appealing arbitrary and life-changing academic decisions made by professors, program directors, and deans.

In the words of the report:

“The most serious appeal cases are the ones related to intimidation, discrimination and unethical behaviour by professors or administrators […] Very rarely are these cases taken seriously nor are they handled respectfully.”

Place of higher learning? The report describes unimaginable regulatory circumstances that would be exemplary in a totalitarian state:

> complete absence of a policy against intimidation and (non-sexual) harassment of undergraduate students,

> professor’s testimony taken at its word versus required proof for student,

> strict deadlines at all stages for students versus no deadlines for the administration,

> cursory treatments and arbitrary case outcome decisions that depend more on who are making the decisions rather than the merits of the cases,

> a secret Senate Appeals Committee that will not identify its members or its chairperson, not even which academic units they represent, and

> terse final appeal decisions provided without documented rulings referring to the evidence or any indication of the grounds for the decisions.

Whereas 11 out of 15 recent cases to the Senate Appeals Committee were believed to be strong enough to win unambiguously, only 2 out of 15 cases won their appeals. The great majority of students, of course, do not take their cases all the way up to a final appeal, given the time, financial resources, and preparation that this requires.

All this is in sharp contrast to Canada’s university’s Vision 2010 mission statement and strategic plan which trumpets a “students first” self image.

The report concludes:

“For years, the Centre and its students have silently and obediently followed the rules and appeal process imposed by the administration. This simply does not work. It’s time for a change.”

The report is dedicated to the Centre’s students “who fought for fair treatment and who told us that ‘people have to know about this.’
[Photo credit: University of Ottawa]

Friday, December 7, 2007

U of O limits access and arrests community members to block threatening agenda items

Today (December 6, 2007) campus democracy has attained new heights at the University of Ottawa.

Two community members were arrested and all community members and all non-Faculty of Science students were barred from attending a normally public Faculty of Science Council meeting so that certain agenda items would not be discussed.

The dean of the Faculty of Science, André E. Lalonde, has used a process technicality to motion offensive agenda items off the agenda. This Code Morin technicality, which allows a vote without discussion, is traditionally reserved to remove insignificant agenda items.

One agenda item in question, to create a second-year activism course, was significant enough for 300 students to sign a petition in its support, for the university to use City of Ottawa police “services” to arrest community members on bogus trespassing charges, and for all Faculty Council meetings in the last year to be cancelled over it.

Such is the twisted logic of a dean’s understanding of democracy and collegiality, at a university that, in its Vision 2010 mission statement, calls for increased community participation in its governance, and at which its president celebrates the importance of activism in his letters to community members condemning the cancellation of the popular first-year activism course.

So the dean has cancelled a fourth Faculty Council meeting in a row. As a result, there has not been a regular Faculty Council meeting in over one year and academic program development has come to a stand still.

A short history of cancelled meetings…

> April 5, 2007: Dean cancels meeting because student Council member Severin Stojanovic persistently complaints about dean’s illegitimate veto of his agenda item to consider approval of a second-year activism course. Meeting lasts 20 minutes.

> May 22, 2007: Dean cancels meeting because community member and independent reporter Karen Dawe refuses to stop video taping the proceedings. Meeting lasts 5 minutes. (Dawe was arrested by City of Ottawa police today, outside the Council meeting room.)

Stojanovic spearheads a campaign to have the Faculty By-Laws respected by the dean. VP-Academic, Robert Major, intervenes twice to claim that dean’s veto is legitimate. Administrative Committee claims that it has no power to force the dean to follow Faculty bylaws in running Council meetings.

> November 6, 2007: Dean cancels meeting after Stojanovic complains that proper process was not followed, that would allow new agenda items to be proposed. Meeting lasts 0 minutes.

Community member Jane Scharf legally submits an agenda item to discuss adding five community member representatives to the 40 or so member Faculty Council. The item is refuted without valid reason. (Scharf was arrested by City of Ottawa police today, outside the Council meeting room.)

New student Faculty Council member Daniel Cayley-Daoust submits an agenda item to discuss why the first-year activism course was not offered in the fall 2007 term.

> December 6, 2007: Dean has now added Stojanovic’s agenda item but the item is immediately motioned off the agenda as meeting begins. Stojanovic objects. Dean cancels meeting after Stojanovic refuses to leave the room. Meeting lasts 15 minutes.

Physics professor Denis Rancourt was to present the activism course item to Council and objected to this “dirty trick” being used to filter out unwanted agenda items (while being surprised that it took the dean eight months to decide to use a Code Morin procedural tactic to his ends rather than blatantly ignore the Faculty By-Laws). The dean would not let Rancourt make his point about misuse of the Code and instead asked Rancourt to leave. Rancourt used his academic collegial right to stay and make his point.

As the 2010 of Vision 2010 approaches at Canada’s university, we must wonder what the next Faculty Council meeting has in store for us. It does not look promising, as none of the tenured professor Council members saw anything anomalous in illegitimately invoking a Code Morin technicality to remove rather than discuss student and community supported agenda items…

Yet another milestone in applied democracy at the U of O!
[Photo credit: University of Ottawa]