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, December 6, 2008

Rock Administration Prefers to Confuse “Independent” with “Internal” Rather Than Address Systemic Racism

The Student Appeal Centre (SAC) of the Student Federation University of Ottawa (SFUO) released its second annual report, entitled “Mistreatment of Students, Unfair Practices and Systemic Racism at the University of Ottawa”, in November 2008.
The SAC report is a moving testimony based on the Centre’s work representing students, with supporting statistics and illustrative case studies. See Report HERE (alternate LINK).
The SAC 2008 Report sounds the alarm at the U of O by suggesting that the institutional treatment of academic fraud cases appears to suffer from systemic racism. More than two thirds of the 48 students who consulted the centre on academic fraud charges in the report period were visible minorities (Arab, Asian, and black men and women).
The SAC 2008 Report also exposes bias in practice and attitudes among members of the institution’s relevant decisional bodies, such as with the Senate Appeals Committee which at the time of the SAC 2007 Report still had the practice of refusing that its members be identified to the defendant students and their representatives.
To this day, the University of Ottawa does not post Senate committee memberships on its web site – this at “Canada’s university” which claims in its Vision 2010 strategic plan that “Collegiality, transparency and accountability are the principles that guide our university governance.”
The SAC 2008 Report attracted much radio, TV, and print media attention. This normally should have catalyzed a positive response, with the University launching a self-examination exercise in view of repairing the situation.
Instead, the Rock administration launched a campaign of deep denial.
At the November 17th Board of Governors meeting Allan Rock statedI know enough about the work that’s been done to date to tell you that we’re going to disagree very strongly that there’s any evidence to support the allegations that have been made,” in reference to the University’s evaluation of the SAC report.
On November 24th VP-Academic and Provost Robert Major referred to the University’s evaluation as a soon to be released “public […] evaluation[,] by an independent assessor, of the report [of the SAC]”.
The University’s “Evaluation Report of Student Appeal Centre 2008 Annual Report” (alternate LINK) by service intellectual Assistant Professor Joanne St. Lewis, dated November 15th, was released on November 25th (see University press release HERE). The professor herself calls it “an independent evaluation” in the first line of her report.
Students who would attempt to pass an internal report as an independent report would probably be accused of academic fraud but such intellectual dishonesty appears to be acceptable to the institution for a report denouncing a student association “allegation” of racism in treating academic fraud cases.
Rather than being an independent report, and far from being of professional caliber, the St. Lewis evaluation is prima facie intended to diffuse a media and public relations image management liability for the University. The University appears to be far more concerned with casting doubt on the conclusions of the SAC report than on an independent examination of the issue or on implementing any preventative measures.
The St. Lewis report has an unprofessional tone throughout. It states “very unprofessional” rather than “unprofessional”; “totally unsubstantiated” rather than “unsubstantiated”; “complete failure to” rather than “failure to”; “does not provide any assistance” rather than “does not provide enough assistance”; “clearly intended” instead of “intended”; etc. A language that is not characteristic of objectivity...
St. Lewis stressed that the SAC data on student complaints relates to only “1% of the total university population.” Many published medical clinical trials and studies are based on similar-size and smaller samples. You use what you have. If only 0.1% of students were murdered every year on campus would we wait for a statistically significant sample to perform a detailed correlations analysis of likely causes before sounding the alarm and seeking concrete remedies? Would the University put out a report criticizing the legitimacy of the data and the fact that error analysis was not performed? (The nature of the St. Lewis report suggests it might…)
More important are some gross elements of the St. Lewis report.
In arguing that University executives cannot and should not be asked to intervene in student appeal cases, St. Lewis confuses a system that is ideal when the individuals running it are ideal with the breakdown that occurs when the individuals act with racial prejudice and class bias. St. Lewis takes the position that the approved process cannot be sabotaged by discrimination, racism, and bias, and removes the legal responsibility of University executives to intervene in such circumstances of breakdown. Her position is the absurd one where the system works by definition such that the responsible executives cannot legitimately intervene. It appears that the responsible executives in question are happy to agree with St. Lewis.
Another gross element of the St. Lewis report actually substantiates the SAC conclusion of systemic racism. In her report St. Lewis writes: “The International Office currently provides international students with information regarding the academic expectations […] including our (sic) policy on plagiarism […] They are informed of the consequences of plagiarism […] It is a well known adage that ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse’.
Such disregard for cultural differences regarding copyright etiquette and academic “norms” is in itself systemic racism, at an institution that prides itself in celebrating Canada’s multi-culturalism. St. Lewis’ position of the supremacy of western academic practice, while being insensitive to cultural diversity among international students, is a window into a root cause of the problem that the SAC has identified.
A rigid and zealous “academic fraud” program, incapable of critical self-examination is also paternalistic and at odds with some of the richest intellectual property movements in our globalized world: Copyright-alternative movements and the copyleft concept of participatory creativity.
Finally, to name only one of the many other major problems contained in the St. Lewis report, let us address its “principal recommendation that an independent assessment to evaluate the Academic Fraud files identified by the Student Appeal Centre be conducted […] to ensure that there is indeed no systemic racism in the Academic Fraud process.”
And restated as St. Lewis’ Recommendation 1: “That SAC cooperate with the University in allowing it to undertake an independent analysis of the Academic Fraud data […]
We thinks it might be good for St. Lewis to define “independent” here… Let’s see… St. Lewis’ main recommendation is for the University to access and evaluate the SAC data that students have provided the SAC. Wow! And this would not “have a chilling effect on students’ willingness to pursue their legitimate claims” as St. Lewis suggests is the effect of the SAC Report?
So after all this, according to St. Lewis, the best thing to do now, since it’s obvious that there cannot possibly be systemic racism at “our” U of O, is to get that SAC data and shred it so it can’t hurt us any more. Brilliant.
I predict that St. Lewis is in line for a promotion to Associate Professor soon.
[Photo credit: University of Ottawa; Joanne St. Lewis]


Liam said...

Hello Dr. Rancourt,

I'm not sure I understand the "EVIDENCE FOR SYSTEMIC RACISM" paragraphs. Can you please explain or direct to some information about cultural differences in copyright etiquette?

Thank you,

Philippe said...

I am in no way competent to comment on the issues relative to racism.

But I wonder if the author of the report considered in any way the power relationship between a professor and a student in her legal analysis of the appeal process. In particular, I found that some of the problems of the students mentioned in the case studies were dismissed too easily, because the students were not "credible". However on the credibility scale there is an inherent bias towards professors, especially when the people making the judgment are other professors.

Also, when the author claims that the SAC, or the SFUO, "doesn't understand the process", it reminds me of too many times where the University of Ottawa used the same line to repel criticisms of the process. I think it's a very condescending way to address the issue. The author should have at least considered the alternate idea that the SFUO and the SAC do understand the process, but they have the impression that it fails, hence the need to appeal to the President or VP Academic.

Seeing my own case that isn't resolved almost 600 days after my initial Policy 110 complaint, it's hard for me to not agree with the SAC that part of the process is broken.


Most of the recommandations of the report are quite good, however. I'm afraid that the university will just use the "PR" part of the report (i.e. discrediting the SAC report, which is the only thing they quoted in the press release... they didn't quote any part where Pr. St. Lewis said the university should change something) and just put the recommandations on the shelf.

marie said...

Bonjour M. Rancourt,

les quelques années que j'ai passé à l'université, en France et au Canada, m'ont montré que la pratique du plagiat, loin d'être imputable à une méconnaissance des normes du système en question, relevait plutôt du "choix" (certes cynique).

Faire un devoir en une heure, lire des résumés de livre, emprunter des idées aux autres sans les citer, copier son voisin de pupitre, payer un ami pour faire son devoir, faire vite et bien, à l'économie: tous ces comportements traduisent le rapport actuel établi entre l'étudiant et l'université.

L'idée d'apprentissage est en faillite, comme celle de progrès. L'université veut des gens déjà bons, déjà intelligents. Elle demande des résultats, de la productivité, là où il faut du temps, des ratages, des aménagements.

Dans ce contexte, pourquoi l'étudiant n'aurait-il pas recours aux mêmes lois sauvages que celles qui régissent le marché économique?

Si l'université se moque d'éclairer les esprits et de prendre le risque d'instruire ses étudiants et son personnel, alors, les étudiants sont en droit de la payer dans la même monnaie.

Je ne crois pas qu'il faille minimiser la question de la fraude et du plagiat, ou l'ensevelir sous celle du racisme. Au contraire, séparons-les afin de montrer les enjeux réels qu'elles présentent.

Imaginons que le plagiat soit la consigne systématique pour tous les étudiant, à tous les niveaux, sur une seule session d'examens...
Que ferait l'université? Aurait-elle ainsi un échantillon suffissant afin d'admettre la corruption de son système?

Marie Galophe
( ayant encore assisté à une réunion dans laquelle des professeurs massacrent les étudiants, stupides, indignes, fainéants, ignares, tricheurs... sans même soupçonner qu'ils puissent en être la cause)

Anonymous said...

Is there a particular culture that celebrates plagiarism? If so, please identify it. I am very interested.

Anonymous said...


Could someone please answer Liam's question?

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, this window is a little murky to me. Please clarify, as it would be helpful to learn which international students are heirs to an academic culture that differs so substantially on the issues of copyright etiquette and academic norms that plagiarism becomes justified.
- John

Anonymous said...

Also, I fail to see how copyleft justifies plagiarism. Even when writings are public domain they need to be cited properly.


Anonymous said...

I can only assume that no one has bothered to answer the questions raised here because no answer exists. It is sad to see Rancourt attacking a human rights professor and legitimate activist who has (apparently) dedicated her life to righting real wrongs, rather than admit even the possibility that the appeals centre report was highly imperfect.

Liam Kennedy-Slaney said...

Hey everyone, I think I can answer my own question on this one.

The United States and Canada have copyright and intellectual property laws that are heavily in favour of those who hold rights to ideas. In South American countries, like Brazil, it is culturally acceptable to build on ideas regardless of their associated patents or copyrights. I don't know how it applies to the SAC cases in particular, however, I do understand that this must be considered.


Dr. Michael Geist, UofO professor of Law.

Liam Kennedy-Slaney said...

It is also sad to see people supporting a "human rights" professor and non-activist who refuses to criticise an institution that patronizes her.