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

Friday, January 29, 2010

UofOgate: New VP-Governance Diane Davidson and President Allan Rock join in the cover up

A detailed public report shows that the University of Ottawa practiced extensive covert surveillance against one of its professors and several students between 2006 and 2008 [LINK-Post about Report].

The U of O also mounted a cover up which has been strengthened and extended under the Rock administration [LINK-Report] [LINK-Formal request for investigation]. See media reports HERE.

It is a cover up when an institution or organization, over a period of several years:
  1. never acknowledges any of many direct questions and formal queries about the alleged wrongdoing,
  2. continuously refuses to answer any of many questions about the alleged wrongdoing, even when required to do so by the established administrative procedures, rules, and regulations (here the Collective Agreement),
  3. repeatedly refuses to investigate the alleged wrongdoing, despite several informal and formal requests to investigate and despite established administrative procedures, rules, and regulations to do so (here Policy 92),
  4. refuses to accept as “arbitrable” a formal grievance (labour lawsuit) against the alleged wrongdoing and in the face of a union asking that the established grievance procedure be respected (Collective Agreement),
  5. refuses to provide any and all documents about the alleged wrongdoing even when required to do so by access to information law,
  6. arranges to delete or remove a sensitive and incriminating voice recording about the alleged wrongdoing,
  7. contrives elaborate excuses for rapidly disappearing electronic records of all staff who leave the institution or organization so as not to be vulnerable to access to information requests,
  8. contrives elaborate narratives to guard the electronic records of contract staff using the organization’s computers from access to information searches, and
  9. uses contrived narratives in its legal representations to the access to information enforcement agency (Information and Privacy Commissioner) in order to continue denying access to all records about the alleged wrongdoing.

The University of Ottawa has done and continues to do all of the above.

The persons involved in the cover up have included:
  • André E. Lalonde, Dean of the Faculty of Science
  • Louise Pagé-Valin, former Director of Human Resources
  • Robert Major, former VP-Academic
  • Pamela Harrod, former Secretary of the University and former FIPPA Coordinator
  • Nathalie Des Rosiers, former acting VP-Governance and director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA)
  • Michelle Flaherty, former Legal Counsel and vice-Chair of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO)
In addition, President Allan Rock was in cc to formal requests for investigation and one would expect him to have been fully briefed about the matter.

Recently (see full email string below), science graduate student Wayne Sawtell (a victim of the University’s covert surveillance while an undergraduate) put the matter squarely to Rock and asked for a full investigation. The new VP-Governance Diane Davidson answered for Rock – the usual “no comment”.

This puts Rock and Davidson squarely in the camp of the perpetrators of the cover up.

Will public pressure eventually solve this problem? You would think that the University officials involved would want an independent investigation (including the filed labour law grievance) to clear their names of any wrongdoing and to defend academic freedom in Canada?

[Editor's emphasis in bold]

From: Wayne Sawtell <>
Date: 28 January 2010 21:24
Subject: Re: FW: response requested
To: "Vice-rectrice à la gouvernance - Vice-President, Governance"

That doesn't give me any reassurance the U of O adminstration isn't still spying on me. I will have graduated by the time this case makes its way through the legal channels. Meanwhile, I have to live with the Rock administration operating in a manner consistent with a corporate security state instead of fostering the kind of independent thinking that breeds true success in life.

Wayne Sawtell

On 27 January 2010 09:25, Vice-rectrice à la gouvernance - Vice-President, Governance wrote:

Dear Mr. Sawtell:

Your e-mail of January 22, 2010 to the President has been forwarded to me for reply.

The matters you raise are subject to ongoing proceedings. Unfortunately, the University cannot comment at this time.

Diane Davidson
Vice-rectrice à la gouvernance / Vice-President, Governance
Pavillon Tabaret
550 Cumberland (208B)
Ottawa, ON K1N 6N5
Tel: 613-562-5950
Fax: 613-562-5178
Email: vr.gouvernance@uottawa.ca / vp.governance@uottawa.ca

From: Wayne Sawtell [mailto:]
Sent: Friday January 22, 2010 10:37 PM
To: Allan Rock
Subject: response requested

Dear Mr. Rock,

Still awaiting a response, I am writing to remind you of the letter I sent January 6th of this year, bringing to your attention the compelling evidence that the previous administration conducted covert surveillance of a professor and student activists by hiring student Maureen Robinson to spy on them. I am sure that you deplore this kind of repressive behaviour as much as I do and will want to distance your administration from those kinds of practices. A quick and unambiguous denunciation of covert surveillance and suppression of activism would provide a fresh break from the blight these allegations have brought upon the University of Ottawa and help restore some of the damage done to its reputation. However, the international university community will not be fully satisfied until a full, independent investigation is conducted into the affair. Now is your opportunity, Mr. Rock. Do not miss it.

Sincerely yours,

Wayne Sawtell
M.Sc. candidate in Biology (xxxxxxx)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Wayne Sawtell <>
Date: Wed, Jan 6, 2010 at 10:21 AM
Subject: Covert surveillance at Ottawa U
To: allan.rock@uottawa.ca
Cc: Denis Rancourt <>, editor@thefulcrum.ca, Sean Kelly , Fulcrum News Editor , info@gsaed.ca, university@gsaed.ca

Dear Mr. Rock,

Thank you for your Dec. 4 response to my letter of Nov. 16. I appreciate the fact that you are not at liberty to comment on the substance of issues surrounding the dismissal of Denis Rancourt because of the legal implications.

I would however respectfully challenge the notion that all the required procedures were followed in this case. I should say, there was a demonstrable lack of good faith on the part of the administration, and some very dubious procedures were followed by the administration that contravene the university’s constitution and violate the collective agreement with APUO. Specifically, I am personally alarmed by the recent evidence from the university’s files (http://rancourt.academicfreedom.ca/background/reportoncovertsurveillance.html) that has come to light showing that the administration conducted covert surveillance of Professor Rancourt and activist groups on campus. There is concrete evidence that the administration engaged a student of Ottawa University to spy on Professor Rancourt and certain student activist groups and to report on her findings to the administration. Science student and then-Fulcrum news editor Maureen Robinson was used by the administration to impersonate someone else and tape record meetings, for example. I like to think that I live in a democratic country where one does not have to worry about the authorities at any level spying on people, that surveillance cameras are used for people’s protection and not to track the activities of people who disagree with corporate control over public institutions like universities. Such actions directly contradict previous statements by the administration that support student activism and even activism courses in certain faculties of the university.

I call on you as President of the university to publicly denounce such tactics and to initiate a full, independent investigation into the actions taken by the previous administration in the years leading up to the decision to dismiss Professor Rancourt. I believe it is also important and of interest to students to make the results of this investigation public.

Yours truly,

Wayne Sawtell
M.Sc. candidate in Biology, xxxxxxx

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Office of the President
Date: 2009/12/3
Subject: RE: appeal of dismissal
To: Wayne Sawtell

Dear Mr. Sawtell,

Thank you for taking the time to write to me with your concerns regarding the dismissal of Professor Denis Rancourt from the University of Ottawa.

While I appreciate the perspective from which you have positioned your arguments, please be assured that the Executive Committee gave careful consideration to Mr. Rancourt’s dossier before recommending dismissal with cause to the Board of Governors. Moreover, all procedures required by the collective agreement with the Association des Professeurs de l'Université d'Ottawa (APUO) were followed.

To respect confidentiality and legal obligations surrounding this matter, I cannot comment further. However, I continue to stand by the dismissal recommendation made previously this year.

Thank you once again for your interest and understanding.

Kind regards,

Allan Rock
President and Vice-Chancellor

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Wayne Sawtell <>
Date: Mon, Nov 16, 2009 at 10:36 PM
Subject: appeal of dismissal
To: allan.rock@uottawa.ca
Cc: Denis Rancourt <>

Dear President Rock,

As a an alumnus and a current graduate student in the Science Faculty at the University of Ottawa, I am writing to ask you to reconsider a major decision that you made this summer: the dismissal of Professor Denis Rancourt of the Physics Department. Dr. Rancourt made unique and valuable contributions to the university not only through teaching Physics for 20 years and performing productive, high-level research, but also through a weekly campus radio show, ‘The Train’, and a weekly documentary film series, ‘Cinema Academica’, both of which are about social and political issues of concern to everyone.

Despite mixed feelings amongst the student body and teaching faculty about the issues championed by Professor Rancourt, I believe that looking at the record from a different perspective would actually strengthen the university. I agree with Dr. Rancourt’s position that criticism of institutional behaviour is healthy and constructive even though it may sound harsh, and there is a striking lack of institutional analysis both at Canadian universities and in society in general. It seems to me that many people in the university administration and teaching staff possibly took too personally comments that Dr. Rancourt made over the past few years for the sake of enhancing learning within the university and for the sake of justice in our broader society. Therefore, the advice that you were given by others in the administration was most likely very biased.

Several initiatives that Dr. Rancourt undertook during his tenure at the University of Ottawa aimed to generate more independent thinking and activism amongst the student body. The pedagogical literature is overwhelming in pointing out that unequal power relations within the classroom pose a sever impediment to learning and critical thinking. The several courses that Professor Rancourt established, all of which were a variation on the theme of activism in work and study, were of enormous importance. As an undergraduate, I witnessed firsthand how the Science in Society course attempted to redefine the classroom setting and to set aside proven ineffective traditional teaching methods in favour of an approach led by the students themselves. SCI1101 broadened my view of the role of science and the scientific method and made me think about the impact that my work as a scientist might have in the future on power relationships among groups in Canada and abroad.

Unfortunately, before the novel approach of SCI1101 had a chance to take hold and have an effect across the entire university, the course was cancelled by the previous administration even before the two-year pilot project was completed. The course was never given a chance to be offered in French after the first year in English. This was extremely unfair to the large Francophone population of students, whom I feel form a crucial part of the university and Canadian society in general.

I also enjoyed the weekly film series, Cinema Academica that Dr. Rancourt started. I attended most weeks and participated in the discussions after the films, which were always more animated and lengthy than any discussion I have witnessed in any lecture course at the university. Furthermore, I developed an appreciation for the unique perspectives brought to the discussions by general members of the community. I feel that I derived a benefit that was more connected to wider Canadian society and that was unavailable in traditional courses at the university. This was important to me because in my program concentration there is no possibility of co-op work terms and I had therefore been lacking a connection with the wider community that teaches students how their studies are related to real-world issues.

The manner in which Professor Rancourt was dismissed also does not sit well with many people in the University of Ottawa community because a spirit of fairness and equity was not followed. Professor Rancourt filed no fewer than 24 formal grievances against the administration for a variety of unfounded actions taken against him. Fewer than one third of these many grievances have been resolved, languishing in the system for an unreasonable amount of time (some since 2007). As a lawyer, Mr. Rock, you are surely aware that the speed at which a process of justice is carried out is a crucial element of justice itself. Furthermore, the larger issue of academic freedom, which Dr. Rancourt has championed tirelessly, is still being investigated by an impartial body of three external professors who will be reporting on whether Dr. Rancourt’s academic freedom was indeed violated by the previous administration. Professor Rancourt was claiming the right of a professor to grade students in the best manner he saw fit. The university has dismissed him for his actions based on this claim, flying in the face of pedagogical research that has discredited the effectiveness of the grading system as a means of teaching students. Therefore, the dismissal of Professor Rancourt before the submission by an independent body of a report on whether his academic freedom as a professor was violated is an act that lacks legitimacy.

The Board of Governors of the university acts on the recommendations that you, Mr. Rock, as President, put on the table. By taking into account the above-mentioned processes of arbitration surrounding Dr. Rancourt’s case as well as the totality of his contributions to the university, I urge you to consider recommending to the Board the re-instatement of Denis Rancourt as a full professor of the university.

I optimistically await your reply at your earliest convenience.


Wayne Sawtell
M.Sc. candidate in Biology


[Photo credits: University of Ottawa; Diane Davidson, Allan Rock]

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