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 19, 2008

Arbitration Ruling Makes Academic Squatting Legal in Canada


On June 25, 2008, Arbitrator Michel G. Picher released his 65-page ruling in the matter of the University of Ottawa vs. the Association of Professors of the University of Ottawa (APUO) regarding Professor Denis Rancourt’s discipline grievance related to the Fall 2005 offering of the course PHY 1703 “Physics and the Environment” (Physique et environnement), popularly known as the Activism Course.
.
The University had taken disciplinary action against Professor Rancourt charging that he had misrepresented his course in a detailed web posting, in such a way as to have described a dramatically different course not compatible with the official course description. The Arbitrator rejected the University’s charges, finding that the described course was within the purview of academic freedom.
.
The then dean of the Faculty of Science, chemistry professor Christian Detellier, had barged into the classroom on September 21, 2005, to suspend the course, causing a strong student reaction that was amply reported in the media. The University has since apologized for the Dean’s in-class intervention: LINK.
.
The public arbitration hearings were held in Ottawa on November 5, 8, 14, and 26, 2007. The Arbitrator refers to the Activism Course in his decision as having been made “something of a ‘cause célèbre’” (p.27 of the June 25th decision).
.
The ruling is a landmark award that strengthens and broadens the scope of academic freedom in Canada. The full text of the Award is available HERE.
.
The ruling establishes that pedagogical innovation and implementation are fully protected under the academic freedom enjoyed by a professor, including the choice of grading system – considered an integral part of the pedagogical method.
.
In the specific case, the protected pedagogical innovations included:
.
(a) A large fraction of the class time used to present societal and political material – in a physics course intended to deliver fundamental physics concepts as the only required physics course in an environmental studies program – as a way to motivate student learning and to position the science in the broad societal context. This was achieved using invited scientist and non-scientist speakers that included activists, politicians, community workers, etc. The ruling clarifies that no “exception [was] taken to the use of activism and social and political issues as catalysts to learning.
.
(b) Parallel student workgroups with evolving themes and freely changing student memberships and town-hall-style whole-class discussions instead of traditional lectures delivered by the professor.
.
(c) An open invitation to all community members to freely and fully participate in the class, without necessarily officially registering and paying tuition, as a way to bring in the community to enrich class discussions and strengthen relevance and community connections. This brought in a variety of perspectives and expertises that would otherwise not have been available.
.
(d) Large latitude in individual student decision making regarding: order in which to learn things (e.g., workgroup membership and topic), depth of treatment, method of study, method of reporting progress, degree of cooperative work, etc. (Sharing was not considered cheating.)
.
(e) A satisfactory/non-satisfactory (S/NS) grading system rather than the traditional letter grade system (used in all other science courses given that term).
.
Having examined the long list of University complaints about how Professor Rancourt had, in his web communications (see ruling), subverted the “spirit, content, and function” (translated from French) of the course, the Arbitrator found that “that position cannot be sustained by the Arbitrator” and that all the innovations communicated and implemented by Professor Rancourt fell within his rights under academic freedom.
.
The ruling therefore again puts to rest the backward notions that hard sciences must be studied in isolation and that tunnel-vision specialization is the only acceptable way.
.
The Arbitrator added: “… the major change being with respect to the pedagogical innovation of independent group studies, the involvement of the students themselves in identifying areas of interest and the introduction of the satisfactory/not-satisfactory grading system. The Arbitrator is satisfied that those pedagogical initiatives were legitimately within the purview of the academic freedom enjoyed by Professor Rancourt …
.
The ruling therefore also lays to rest the doctrinal view that only grades can motivate students in the hard sciences and that students must be “forced to learn”, least our technological society fall in ruin. LINK. (If that is true, then Canada’s new academic freedom is indeed a dangerous freedom.)
.
In addition, the Arbitrator’s award also affirms that (consistent with actual practice) a course can, through a process of pedagogical choices, be significantly different in its use of class time and in topics covered than a literal and restrictive reading of the official (Senate-approved) course description would suggest: How much class time a professor chooses to use on what is a matter of pedagogical freedom, in the professor’s attempt to achieve the best possible end results; keeping in mind a professor’s right to be political in the classroom, as already well established in Collective Agreements across the country and in past rulings.
.
In the words of the Arbitrator, “The assertion … to the effect that the publicized descriptions of the course contained a ‘radically different content’ as compared to what was contemplated in the official description of the course cannot be sustained by the Arbitrator” and “there is simply no equitable basis upon which the University, or Dean Detellier, could assert … that Professor Rancourt ‘…brought major changes to the content of his courses…’ (Arbitrator’s translation) … the evidence before this tribunal confirms that … [the changes] fell legitimately within the scope of his academic freedom in pursuing a different pedagogical approach …” (p.60-61 of the decision).
.
The Arbitrator’s ruling is in sharp contrast to Professor (on leave) Christian Detellier’s hearing statement that “‘squatting’ is not an appropriate means to implement curriculum change within a university” (p.19 of the decision).
.
Professor Rancourt won the decision on every major point. Even on the minor point of the course title, the ruling explicitly established that a professor can describe his course with a dramatically different title: “Activism Course: Understanding Power and its Contexts” (web call-out) versus “Physique et environnement” (official Senate-approved title).
.
If your conclusion is “In the classroom, the students and professor rule!”, then you get an S for satisfactory, and you deserve an A+. Let’s make our education…
.
Epilogue: Legal Counsel for the University, Michelle Flaherty, apparently quit or was fired some months after the hearings, leaving her voice-mail greeting on the University phone for a week or so after she left; and without any official announcement of thanks or recognition or acknowledgement of departure from the University, leaving the position vacant to this day. Legal defence for the APUO was assumed by labour lawyer Sean T. McGee of Nelligan O'Brien Payne, who built the case around the principle of academic freedom. Christian Detellier went on academic leave for two years in 2006 before going back to being a regular professor in the Department of Chemistry. The Faculty of Science is on its fourth dean or interim-dean since 2005 (one died of cancer). Dean André E. Lalonde is presently the University’s defender of academic freedom in that faculty and is actively pursuing Professor Rancourt for alleged departures from the official course description in SCI 1101, Science in Society, Fall 2006, and for the professor’s teaching methods and grading practices in PHY 4385 and PHY 5100, Solid State Physics, Winter 2008.
.
LINKS

16 comments:

Alain St-Amant, ChairDepartment of Chemistry, University of Ottawa said...

It's amazing how you gloss over the fact that the ruling mandates that you are still receiving a letter of reprimand for making incorrect and misleading remarks.....kind of like your blog?? Anyways, congrats on succeeding in having your letter of reprimand modified. Amazing victory!!

severin said...

Mr. St-Amant, since Prof. Rancourt obtained such an "amazing victory", does this mean that you will now be resigning your position as Chair of the Chemistry Department, just like when you resigned your position last year as Chemistry/Physics representative to the APUO (professors' union) over the fact that the APUO supported this grievance?

Alain St-Amant said...

Nah, I'm a happy camper right now. The Department is in great shape. Great profs, great students. As for the APUO, I understand why they had to push the case forward, but at least I'm happy to see that the arbitror agreed with the University that a letter of reprimand was amply warranted. Kind of makes my stand fully justified. Actually, it was also a hoot to see my nominee to replace myself beat DGR 17-3 in the by-election. That's gotta hurt!!

Potential Student said...

As a student who is considering attending University of Ottawa in 2009, I have to tell you that Mr. St-Amant´s behaviour here has me a little worried. If I am understanding the situation, Dr. Rancourt received this "reprimand" for claiming online that the course was bilingual, given that there was content given in two languages, only because it was not officially listed as a bilingual course. Bi = two, lingual = language. So what about that makes a reprimand amply warranted? To tell you the truth I am rather concerned with your conduct here, as a student who does not feel universities should be treated like sporting events where the objective is to crush new ideas as is such understanding that I gain from your last post: "it was also a hoot to my nominee beat DGR 17-3. That´s gotta hurt!" This sort of schoolground bullying approach to attacking a professor who has widespread support from students and community alike has me extremely worried about the future of this institution, and will be taken into consideration when I make my decision as to where to attend in 2009. If you do not mind me asking...what is the source of the hatred which fuels your disposition?

Alain St-Amant said...

If you read the report, it is much more than what you outlined. Many incorrect and misleading remarks were made, and the arbitrator was very unimpressed with Professor Rancourt's lack of remorse for doing such things, and consequently, he agreed that a letter of reprimand was fully justified.

As for my somewhat irreverent comments, it's merely my attempt to shed light on these issues. Read the stuff on this website, and some very good people at the University (a past president, vice-presidents, a secratary, deans, professors, and legal council) have been thrown under the bus (bullied??) by Professor Rancourt, and he's accomplished this by making very misleading and incorrect remarks, as the arbitrator agreed on the matters addressed in the most recent grievance.

I and all the other professors and students who vote down DGR's initiatives are not opposed to new ideas....just really really bad ones.

Take for instance a recent posting about how the University does not care about death people because they did not supply an interprator for DGR's Cinema Politica events. It's not university business, and DGR should be grateful that the university gave him a room to present the film series. Rather than be grateful, DGR raises a stink about something he knows the university should not be paying for. And if he felt so strongly about this issue, the University provides each prof with roughly $1500 a year to cover expenses that are not typically covered by the University. Would not that $1500 have paid for the interprator. I know that if I ran the series, it would be a no-brainer and I'd use my $1500 allocation to cover that cost. But I bet Professor Rancourt would never really think of that, or mention that to his "supporters". But yeah, the money was there all the time......

severin said...

"It's not university business, and DGR should be grateful that the university gave him a room to present the film series. Rather than be grateful, DGR raises a stink about something he knows the university should not be paying for."

Mr. St-Amant, you actually AGREE that the University should deny fair and equal rights to the deaf??? What is there to be grateful about? The fact that the deaf have to go and find their own funding to benefit from what the [public] University has to offer?

Also, for someone who is the Chair of Chemistry and an expert in the physical sciences, your outstanding logic never ceases to amaze me. You say that the film series is "not university business", then contradict this statement by saying "the University provides each prof with roughly $1500 a year to cover expenses that are not typically covered by the University". Even though something may not be covered by the University, it still must be part of University business in order to qualify, wouldn't you say? I don't think the University just goes around giving $1500 to profs for no reason, unless the matters are of "university business", at the very least.

As for DGR "making very misleading and incorrect remarks" on his blog postings, I partially agree with you - DGR failed to mention you as a co-conspirator against me in some matters involving me that he writes about in his blogs... I really should provide him with some of the documents I have in order to rectify as much as possible some of the deficiencies in his postings. Note to self: to ensure accuracy of DGR blogs and transparency of University matters involving St-Amant, scan all relevant documents and post on public website...

Mr. St-Amant, your devotion to so diligently defend certain individuals, some who happen to be in authority over you, especially when you don't have to is admirable, but you fail to realize that they already have and will probably continue to sell you out in less than a heart beat, with, I suppose, little to no remorse or care. They'll use you when you're useful to them, no doubt...

Alain St-Amant said...

Actually, I've had hearing impaired people in my classes before and the University has done wonderful things to support them. No expenses spared. But you can't expect the University to fund non-University events. The fact that DGR thinks they are University events do not make them so.

Taking care of these things should be the responsibility of the event organizers and not the University. Its common sense. And yes, the $1500 allowance to DGR would have covered that expense.

As for me being a co-conspirator against you....I wasn't even aware that there was a conspiracy. I guess I'm really out of the "loop". I'm off to have some onion rings with the family...fade to black.....

Philippe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Philippe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alain St-Amant said...

Philippe, don't bring up the anti-semitic issue again. You know that the Ottawa Citizen editorial totally agreed with my opinion that the Science in Society course was a joke and that it's treatment of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was inappropriate (given the course description) and ludicrously one-sided. Why beat a dead horse?

In general, Philippe, you did a lot of great things for uOttawa yourself, but your support of the Science and Society course content as delivered by DGR is a bleamish (in my opinion).

As for hear-say, it came from students who attended the course...I kind of like to trust my students when they tell me something. Sorry, I'm funny that way. I trust them.

Not all profs are good people (gee, I could think of one bad apple right off the top of my head). In general though, I find that the people who've been targetted by this blog are people that I'm proud to associate myself with. Any person who really knows the jobs that they do would agree.

It would be incredibly simple to let DGR run amuck, but I think we're damn lucky to have people willing to do the job of ensuring that a uOttawa Science degree still means something.

As for Bela Joos (why you chose to attack him in your last point is beyond me), not many people would have had the guts and the devotion to uOttawa to step into the Physics Chair position. If you can't respect that, I can't help you....

Philippe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
severin said...

Herr St-Amant,

"I find that the people who've been targetted [sic] by this blog are people that I'm proud to associate myself with. Any person who really knows the jobs that they do would agree."

Targeted? More like exposed for who they really are, always ready and more than willing to discriminate, harass, intimidate, threaten, and sue students...

And when student victims fight back demanding justice they are belittled and further insulted by administrators of the University who are supposed to be compassionate and understanding and there to remedy and mitigate what has happened. Instead, these administrators blame the victims and are more interested in preserving their own self-proclaimed fucking glory, much like you. You seem more concerned about "ensuring that a uOttawa Science degree still means something" rather then exposing and denouncing the terrible injustices perpetrated against students of this University.

Am I glad that I never had you as mein Lehrer.

Alain St-Amant said...

I don't care for Severin's tone and language much. But quickly said, I totally disagree with your perception of administration (as would about 99% of the University population, student and professorial...we may not think they're perfect, but we definitely don't see them as an oppressive regime). And if you honestly really truly feel that way, why did you enrol at uOttawa? I'm here because I enjoy working with these people and the students in my department and my classes.

On the flip side, with Philippe, I first off do have to say that material that the Ottawa Citizen used to support their views came after my comments, but lectures were advertised in advance. Also, DGR did initiate an APUO grievance against me (which he lost) but his own complaint file that I was privy to did bring up similar concerns dating back to 2005. So it's not as if this was not an ongoing concern for many of us. I also agree that to be sympathetic to the Palestinian cause is not anti-Semitic, but when it vears to such a one-sided argument and the Israeli side is demonized, it does become anti-Semitic (in my opinion).

As for the dichotomy, there is a difference I believe in that my case is a freedom of speech issue. A reporter asks me questions, and I respond. In the APUO case mentioned above, one of my basic premises in my defense was that every issue in The Charlatan that I raised was addressed in the Ottawa Citizen editorial. Just as the APUO or the Dean would not discipline the Editor of the Citizen, nor could they really do anything to me. If my statements false, I guess I might still hide behind "freedom of speech", but I'd prefer not to and I would most likely retract them the best I could.

The flip side in the comparison is the treatment of DGR. I honestly don't think anyone cares about Cinema Politica (just don't ask me to pay for the translation...which I'd gladly do if I was in charge myself, but I'm not). What he does on his own time is his own business. But when that type of material becomes the course material in a Science course, people do have to step in. I could deliver the greatest lecture on Shakespeare, but if I do it in CHM1311, I think I need to be reprimanded. I have a responsibility to teach CHM1311 material in CHM1311, but I have the academic freedom to do this the best way I see fit. I also have a responsibility to grade the students and distinguish between excellent performances and poor ones.

As for the mass e-mails (which you yourself do not generally use) in question, the content clearly has to be of concern. Probably you are referring to an incident where several profs asked Severin to refrain from mailing us. I responded strongly to Severin on that one. But would you not agree that the letter was inappropriate? It had outright unsubstantiated accusations of the Dean that I think we all know are not true. Remember that "physical intimadation" was alleged of one of our other profs at a Faculty Council and this amounted to him standing up and talking loudly (and nowhere near the student in question). Making such grandiose accusations of physical intimidation are of grave disservice to complaints where students may truly be harassed or intimadated (and asking someone, via the Reply function in an e-mail, to quit sending e-mails to said person is not harassment).

As for guts, your Chair is also a very good guy. I think you know this too.

Philippe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
severin said...

Alain,

"But would you not agree that the letter was inappropriate? It had outright unsubstantiated accusations of the Dean that I think we all know are not true."

Well, at least you're thinking... or trying to. That's important, so I'm told.

Alain St-Amant said...

Philippe,

I know that if a legitimate threat to a student is made, the Faculty would act. However, what I tend to see (not being privy to all the details, I must admit) are grave over-reactions to comments that could have admittedly been better expressed.

Knowing that some people are very willing to raise as big a stink as possible, I'm assuming I'm seeing the most damning evidence...and I don't see anything that really deserves further action.

Since you are referring to a professor, I think I know what incident you are referring to, and it amounts to a professor giving his frank opinion on a student's actions (and in the prof's defense, the student's actions were against University policy).

But was the professor in a position to legitimately threaten the student? Not really. He's in a different department and has no authority over the student. If someone has no power and knows it, would a comment to a third party (who equally knows that said person has no power) constitute a threat to the student?

As for an internal "war" in Science, the votes within Faculty Council are overwhelming (overall or just looking at students' votes) on all of these issues. It really is a case of one rogue professor and a handful of vocal students (most of whom have no affiliation to the Faculty of Science, and some with no affiliation to the University whatsoever).

I have nothing against concessions when the opposing side is making reasonable suggestions or reasonable requests. However, given that this is a Faculty of Science, I really think that everything I've seen associated with SCI 1101 since Fall 2006 has been negative (and others have overwhelmingly agreed on every vote related to SCI 1101 related issues).

But remember that the creation of SCI 1101 (with its true official course description) was the result of concessions made in the Spring and Summer of 2006. So concessions have been made, but always with the best interests of the Faculty and University (the official SCI 1101 course description is a very good one and the course will be properly given one day).

Also, knowing a little about how things work, I've tended to see requests and complaints to the Faculty and University made in the most inefficient fashion. The apparent goal is to embarass others, rather than legitimately coming up with a solution to a problem (if one truly exists).

For example, as stated above regarding the death translation for DGR's (and not uOttawa's) Cinema Politica, the University forks over $1500 to every prof at the end of the year to cover expenses that the professor felt were appropriate given their roles and responsibilities. The University does not ask for receipts or for details and the $1500 is paid out no matter what.

If the $1500 is used appropriately (as decided by Revenue Canada, not uOttawa), the $1500 is exempt from tax. Even if denied by Revenue Canada, the $1500 becomes taxable and the net amount after taxes would be roughly $800. The money never returns to uOttawa. It stays in the professor's pocket. So be it $800 or $1500 (and I would firmly believe it's the latter), significant translation could be done. So the money is being offered by the University, but DGR is personally witholding it for some reason. Given the importance DGR seems to place on this translation issue, I'm surprised he has not decided to use his $1500 for this purpose. I personally choose to use my $1500 to support other activities.

Perhaps DGR can force the next organization kind enough to donate a room free of charge for Cinema Politica to pay for such translation costs.......but I really think he should be using his $1500 professional expense reimbursement.