UW statement risks chilling Black anti-racism scholarship

On June 6, in relation to a matter with a faculty member that prompted a public outcry and media response, the University of Waterloo told the press that “The University of Waterloo unequivocally believes that there is no place for the use of the N-word in class, on campus or in our community.” 

At the June 15 meeting of University of Waterloo’s Senate, we heard from UWaterloo President Feridun Hamdullahpur that the University would revise and reissue this statement, but we still feel it is important to release our response, originally written prior to this announcement at Senate. At the time we are publishing this response, the University’s June 6 statement is still online in its original form. 

FAUW is deeply concerned about the harm that racialized students, colleagues, and community members experience because of racist language. We are also concerned about the chilling effect that the University’s statement will have on University of Waterloo scholars, especially on Black, Indigenous, and other racialized scholars who research and teach about race and racism. Indeed, we are aware that at least two local Black scholars have also expressed this concern to the University in the last week. 

FAUW strongly opposes the prohibition implied by the University’s statement. Whether a word is appropriate for use in class is a scholarly decision that instructors must be free to make. In particular, instructors who teach about race and racism must be free, according to their best judgement, to lead unvarnished discussions about racist language. 

FAUW President Bryan Tolson made the following statement at the June 15 Senate meeting: 

Continue reading “UW statement risks chilling Black anti-racism scholarship”

FAUW’s Priorities for 2018-19

—FAUW President Bryan Tolson with an update on what we’re working on right now and what’s coming up this year.

Welcome to a new academic year! I hope you all took some time off this summer. FAUW is gearing up for a new academic year and I want to quickly fill you in on the array of things we are working on—and to highlight two items that are timely for you to consider putting some thought into.

Performance evaluation addenda

First off, we are quickly approaching the deadline (October 15) for each department and school to update its Addendum to their Faculty Performance Evaluation Guidelines. One quick example of why this might be useful: FAUW thinks this is a reasonable place for departments to specify how teaching tasks are counted and/or what the normal teaching loads are for both tenured/ tenure-track faculty and lecturers in your department.

While you’re at it, make sure to change any reference to “course/teaching evaluations” to read “student course perception surveys” as per the decision of University Senate. Continue reading “FAUW’s Priorities for 2018-19”

A View of Academic Freedom and Top-ten-ness

—George Freeman, Associate Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering

The President’s Luncheon on Academic Freedom, held March 12, was the start of a great exploration, particularly if the university develops a serious interest in President Hamdullahpur’s vision around seeking to be a top-ten school, seen in his discussion document “Disrupting the 21st Century University, Imagining the University of Waterloo @2025” where it is expressed as the question “do we want to be recognized and respected as one of the best in the world?” [emphasis added].

This first meeting spoke to the general policies protecting academic freedom at Waterloo and focused mostly on aspects protecting our freedom to engage controversial ideas and disseminate controversial results. I take a much wider definition of academic freedom which includes all three of President Hamdullahpur’s “non-negotiable principles” around this topic: institutional autonomy, faculty independence, and academic freedom”. Although dismissable as just semantics, I believe it is important to not forget those institutional- and faculty-autonomy components. There’s a similar trap in the University of Waterloo Act, where our objects are “the pursuit of learning through scholarship, teaching and research within a spirit of free enquiry and expression.” It is too easy to group free enquiry and free expression under a common mental heading of “free talk” and forget that what it is we talk about has to come from someplace. Academic freedom in the large also protects that place (or spirit).

In my opinion, the history of scholarship demonstrates that it is extremely difficult to suppress ideas and their evidence-based evaluation forever. To me, academic freedom, in the freedom-of-expression sense, acts mostly to prevent long delays and prevent the messenger from being punished for the message. This protection of an environment free of recrimination and censorship is obviously important but not the whole story. In a policy sense, it admits to after-the-fact remedies for violations, something easy for us to contemplate.

Continue reading “A View of Academic Freedom and Top-ten-ness”

News From Your Board: March 22 Meeting Recap

—Peter Johnson, director for the Faculty of Environment

As we approach the end of the winter term, the FAUW Board of Directors met to discuss a variety of important issues. We discussed the agenda and process for the upcoming Spring General Meeting (April 5th) and reviewed our draft budget for the coming year, which will be presented to the membership at the General Meeting.

Many Board members attended and/or participated in the President’s Luncheon on Academic Freedom. As a result, we discussed this event and its outcomes in depth (see our blog post on the event for more details). Going forward, FAUW respects the efforts made to host this event and the issues and discussion that it raised, but ultimately there is still much work to be done to clarify how Academic Freedom is exercised on campus. Further events and discussions with administration will be very welcome.

The Board had a lengthy discussion about the issues raised at the President’s Advisory Committee on Student Mental Health forum and report. FAUW strongly supports many of the recommendations of this report and is working to provide advice to our members on how to better support student mental health.

We also reviewed several issues raised by individual members. We are always open to addressing specific issues, and receiving direct feedback from the membership, so please get in touch.

Upcoming events include the our annual tenure and promotion workshops, and the Spring General Meeting on April 5 in QNC 2502 from 11:30-1:30pm. Hope to see you there!

Notes from the President’s Luncheon on Academic Freedom

—Bryan Tolson, FAUW President

I want to thank everyone who attended the President’s Luncheon on Academic Freedom last week. For those who missed it, there was a summary in the Daily Bulletin last Friday and I’ve highlighted some key takeaways below. It was a compelling discussion with insightful questions from all, so thank you again to all who participated.

It’s clear that academic freedom is important to our members. It’s also clear that it’s a complicated issue, and I look forward to further discussion. Here are a few points from this event that I think are worth highlighting.

Continue reading “Notes from the President’s Luncheon on Academic Freedom”

Everybody’s Talking About Academic Freedom

Academic Freedom is a hot topic these days, and Waterloo is joining the conversation. An invitation went out today for all FAUW members and University senators to attend a campus roundtable discussion about academic freedom on March 12. The event is jointly presented by the administration and FAUW, and we look forward to meaningful dialogue about what academic freedom means for research, teaching, and service at Waterloo.

One of the panelists who will open the conversation is Shannon Dea, an associate professor in philosophy and women’s studies, a member of Waterloo’s senate, and FAUW’s vice president.

Shannon has recently started a blog, Daily Academic Freedom, to explore what academic freedom looks like across Canada and around the world.

From her first post:

My plan with the blog isn’t to write much about my own views on academic freedom. Rather, I will curate a collection of academic freedom resources from around the world. 

“This blog won’t be much fun for folks who want to yell about the Right or the Left, or heave long sighs about Kids These Days. But, with time, it will make possible handy one-stop-shopping for folks like me who are trying to develop a better understanding of academic freedom — what it is, why university scholars have it, and what responsibilities come with it. In that way, I hope that this blog will be a useful resource for those who seek to defend academic freedom.”

Shannon’s recent posts focus on comparing definitions of academic freedom at Canadian universities, starting with Waterloo. You might find this good background reading for the March 12 roundtable.

We encourage you to attend the event (there’s free lunch!), and to follow along with Shannon’s blog in the meantime.

News From Your Board: January 18 Meeting Recap

Peter Johnson, director for the Faculty of Environment
As winter term gets fully underway, the FAUW board met to share updates and discuss a number of important files.

First up was an update from lead negotiator Benoit Charbonneau. Meetings continue with the administration to find suitable common ground. If we don’t reach a settlement by February 1, we move on to mediation.

Next, Status of Women and Equity Committee (SWEC) member Nancy Worth brought forward terms of reference for the committee that refine and formalize its operating procedures and relationship with FAUW.

FAUW President Bryan Tolson and staff member Laura McDonald briefed the board on an academic freedom event that FAUW is planning with the administration. We are pleased with President Hamdullahpur’s plan to hold a campus-focused discussion to celebrate and bring clarity to the issue of academic freedom. You will receive an invitation to this event shortly.

Next we discussed what data the Office of Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs (GSPA) collects about graduate student completion times, and to whom this data is provided. The GSPA wants to know if faculty members would find it helpful to receive this data, for self-reflection and so we can identify errors. Discussions are ongoing.

We had an extended discussion about FAUW’s participation in the University-wide Excellence Canada exercise. So far, we have not seen a clear role for us to play, but discussion will continue at the Council of Representatives meeting on February 13.

In a moment of reflection, the Board assessed our progress on the goals we generated at our September retreat. While some key goals have seen substantial progress, there are still tasks ahead for the Board and broader FAUW community, including a survey of our membership.

As always, we finished with a reminder of upcoming events, which you can find on our website.

And, as always, we welcome your feedback on any of the above issues. Leave a comment below, or get in touch with a Board or Council member!

Random Reflections on MOOCS – Your Research in the Form of a Kitten

George Freeman, FAUW Past President

What a wonderful world that has comedians in it!  I say this because people sometimes ask what it’s like (from the point of view of an engineer in my case) to be involved with university politics through FAUW or its umbrella organizations (OCUFA and CAUT).  It’s really hard to explain but if you have seven minutes and thirty-four seconds to spare, you can actually sample the emotional side of the story via a satirical video entitled “The Expert (Short Comedy Sketch)”  by Lauris Beinerts which has swept through the gossip channels of the technology world this past week

To fully appreciate the video, watch it right to its end.  The basic premise is a meeting (“Our company has a new strategic initiative” ) of some marketing and business types with an expert in the drawing of red lines.  As the story starts, the expert is told “We need you to draw seven red lines.  All of them strictly perpendicular; some with green ink and some with transparent. Can you do that?”  It is the expert’s evolving attempts at rational opposition, and his ultimate stance, which seem so representative of universities and their evolving relationship to the political-industrial forces in society.
I’d like to postulate an Anderson scale (after the expert in the video clip). 
Let’s define early Anderson by his response of “To draw a ‘red line’ with green ink is – well if it is not exactly impossible, then it is pretty close to being impossible.”  Most faculty representatives to political bodies, myself included, look like early Andersons.  We believe in arguments based on fact, truth revealed though replicable proof.  Scholarship, in short.
Let’s define middle Anderson by his response of “OK. Let me draw you two perfectly perpendicular red lines, and I will draw the rest with transparent ink.”  Sounds like a good university administrator to me.  Saying close to what government and industry wants to hear but projected on the axes of what we believe possible or desirable.  Think Waterloo’s strategic plan, its strategic mandate agreement with the province, or our salary settlement under the ‘zero-zero’ directive.  At best, promoters and protectors of scholarship (and why good administrators must themselves be scholars).  Viewed by scholars as bending the truth half the time.

This leaves late Anderson, defined by his final response of “Of course I can. I can do anything. I can do absolutely anything.  I’m an expert!”  In the world of business and politics, people like experts to give solutions, not expose problems.  Pointing out that the space of feasible solutions is empty will often get you the look on the left – what I interpret as dreams deflated by facts so far from the listener’s comprehension that she can’t experience them as factual, only as disappointment in the speaker.  Naïve regarding scholarship and offended by its argumentative, exploratory flavour, in short.

Cuddled up to this domain of infeasible solutions seems to live a concentration of higher-education commentators and consultants.  Lately, they like to talk about big cost savings in university teaching.  Think HEQCO and its reportsThink Robert Dickeson and his program prioritizationsThink William Bowen and MOOCs.  I have some early-Anderson thoughts on Bowen’s and Dickeson’s books which I hope to write into posts.
Professor George Freeman

What about your research and the kittens?

The utterance which will not leave my head, the question to the red-line-drawing expert which prompts Anderson’s final response in the sketch, is “When you inflate the balloon, could you do it in the form of a kitten?”  I hope you’ve watched the video so you fully appreciate the balloon (“It’s red”) and the kitten (“Market research tells us our users like cute animals”).  I claim we can map the expert to a researcher, balloon inflation to a researcher made to align his or her field with a strategic direction imposed by someone else, and the kitten to research which must take a completely pre-specified form in terms of its conduct, presentation, and impact.  The research environment of 2014 in Ontario universities in a nutshell (unless you have early luck or your natural expertise is in one of the balloon-inflating areas, and you carefully follow a few pragmatic rules along the way).
Unfortunately, if your experts in lines must inflate balloons in the form of kittens, resource consumption, in both time and money goes up sharply.  Both in the research and in the balloon-accountability, kitten-measuring support staff.  One of the strangest aspects of university politics is that research is primarily assessed by how inefficiently it is done (numbers of dollars, researchers, papers, or citations) without any per-unit normalization.  Thus, this inefficiency looks good, is compared and rewarded.  Quality has a downward force acting on it.  Volume (cost) has an upward force acting on it.  How this ultimately plays out is obvious to anyone near my age who grew up watching the late-1970s Ford Motor Company or the Vietnam war.
What does any of this have to do with teaching and MOOCs, you might ask?
My observation would be that a true ‘university course of study’ is an extension of the scholarship world of the expert to include the evolving minds of students.  I would place this in juxtaposition with a simple ‘course taught at a university,’ i.e., the public mindset of a pre-existing body of knowledge moved into the student’s head by some actions on the part of very expensive experts, and then certified.  Something which is just a ‘course taught at a university’ is little better than a good book read in a university library – the university plays a very small part in it.  Full-scale automation might make economic sense there.  However, a true ‘university course’ depends heavily on scholarship and its supportive environment.
In my humble opinion, what we see happening with the balloons and
kittens is the space of scholarship being taken up by an unnecessarily large volume of formulaic research activity.  Little is left for the other reason for the universities’ existence, those evolving minds of the students.  This is squeezed over time into the hands of staff, non-research faculty, low-paid sessionals, or computers.  In a society increasingly reliant on innovation for prosperity, I think we want more true university courses, more of the scholarship space opened up to teaching and learning.  This needs a reward structure vastly different from the so-called ‘world class’ one being cemented into place now.

Led Zeppelins, Literacy and Logic

John Thistle, Electrical and Computer Engineering

In its infinite wisdom, Senate recently approved an alternative to the old author’s declaration for doctoral theses. Students now have the following choice (modulo departmental policy): either :
1). “I hereby declare that I am the sole author of this thesis …” 
2). “This thesis consists of material all of which I authored or co-authored: see Statement of Contributions included in the thesis. … “

The proposal reflects a simple misunderstanding of the meaning of authorship.

As any high-school student knows — if only from studies of Led Zeppelin — sometimes words have two meanings. The word “author” can  refer (a) to the originator of an idea, a doctrine, a practice, or the like; it can also refer (b) to the writer of a document. By convention, the writer of a document implicitly claims to be the originator of the content — except where otherwise indicated.
How then should a sensible reader interpret declaration (1)? Is the student declaring, according to (a), that s/he is the sole originator of  all of its novel content — that no one else made any contribution to the substance of the thesis? Did the work spring, fully formed, from  the student’s mind alone? Did the supervisor, the committee, and all of the student’s teachers and colleagues add absolutely no value to the research?  If universities expected all successful doctoral students to be able to make such a declaration, they would long ago  have done away with supervisors, thesis proposals and research committees.  
No, it’s the latter sense (b) of authorship that applies, and the declaration (1) simply means, “Scout’s Honour: I didn’t plagiarize any part of this thesis.” (That is, I didn’t download chunks of it from the internet, or otherwise copy them from other people’s writings, without saying so.)  
But even though some of the greatest universities in the English-speaking world employ similar language, some of our faculty councils have been told — astoundingly — that declaration (1) forces students to lie, and even to plagiarize. It’s hard to see how students could be forced to plagiarize by being made to declare that they haven’t plagiarized; and the declaration only forces them to lie if they have in fact plagiarized.  
When one arrives at an absurd conclusion, one ought to ask which of one’s premises are absurd, but some of us have instead simply pressed on regardless, and taken absurdity “to the next level.”  So alternative (2) has been proposed — for the chief reason that it’s not (1). What does (2) mean, in plain English? “Even though my name is the only one appearing on the title page, there may or may not be coauthors of this work, and if you wish to try to find out which is the case, go to something called a ‘Statement of Contributions,’ somewhere else in the thesis.” 
I’m old-fashioned, but I’ve always understood that the universally accepted convention is that the authors of a document are exactly those who are listed on the title page. Moreover, the idea of a coauthored doctoral thesis — discussed explicitly in the report that raised the motion  and apparently already in practice at this University — is ridiculous. Are we about to start conferring degrees to joint recipients?  
A specious argument has been floated to the effect that something has changed; research has become more collaborative, and that somehow means that the author’s declaration has to change too.

A specious argument has been floated to the effect that something has changed; research has become more collaborative, and that somehow means that the author’s declaration has to change too. Here again, the word “author” is being misinterpreted. There is simply no reason why a student cannot be the sole author of an account of his or her thesis research, whether or not that research was collaborative. Could James Watson never write anything about the discovery of DNA without adding Francis Crick’s name to the title page? More appositely, could Charles Best, who co-discovered insulin as a graduate student, never write anything about it, including a thesis, without making Frederick Banting a coauthor?  

Of course, there’s a current vogue for simply cutting and pasting articles into theses. This may well raise copyright issues — which the proposal does nothing to address — but it need not raise authorship issues. The student may reproduce coauthored works, provided he or she says so, and provides proper citations. Similarly, a student can include joint work that hasn’t appeared elsewhere, provided he or she says so and provides proper acknowledgement. In neither case does the student cease to be sole author (in the appropriate sense) of the thesis.  
The problem that the proposal attempts to address is nonexistent. But a better “solution” would have been simply to do away with the declaration that led to the confusion. After all, that declaration means nothing more than it does for the student’s name to appear alone on the title page.  Just like the requirement to tell students at the start of every single course that cheating is bad, it is redundant.  
This proposal should have gone over like the proverbial lead balloon. It’s embarrassing to have to explain matters of rudimentary literacy and logic to ostensible university professors. But it will be more embarrassing, for the entire university, if this fatuous new declaration actually comes into use.  

The Corporate University

—David Porreca, FAUW President

This week’s blog post draws on some of the discussion that occurred at this past weekend’s Faculty Association Presidents’ Forum organized by the Canadian Association of University Teachers in Ottawa.

I have often been curious to what extent the predominance of corporations in our society and political culture has permeated the academic environment in general, and that at UW in particular. How far down the corporatization slope have we gone?

1) Privatization and diversification of funding sources

UW began its life as a public institution, receiving the vast majority of its operating monies from the public purse, and therefore assumed to be operating for the public good. In recent years, however, UW has diversified and privatized its sources of funding, with growing proportions coming from tuition fees and partnerships with industry, to the extent that much less than half of our operating expenditures is sourced from public funds – I recall 39% being mentioned at a Town Hall meeting a little while ago.

The consequences of this shift are both good and bad: on the one hand, the financial health of the institution is less dependent on the vagaries of provincial politics; on the other, our institution is forced to deploy special efforts to maintain academic integrity in the face of the increasing pressure to put ‘bums in seats’ in order to balance the bottom line. International students in particular are at risk of being treated as customers rather than learners.

In essence, we must be extremely wary to preserve the core academic function of our institution despite the trends observable in many of our peer institutions which are being run first and foremost as if they were money-generating enterprises.

2) Deprofessionalization

This trend has manifested most intensively among Ontario’s teaching profession at the elementary and high school levels, but is also creeping into higher education. The fact that so many programs rely so heavily on contract academic staff (contingent, short-term contracts; “sessionals”) is an unsettling symptom, since these positions are by definition “flexible”. By this I mean positions that are precarious and benefitting of either none or only limited guarantees of academic freedom and collegial governance that come with tenure-track jobs. Moreover, these jobs tend to be teaching-only, which compromises the link between research and teaching that is so crucial to what makes higher education a valuable enterprise.

Here at UW, FAUW is currently investigating the status and conditions of lecturers on our campus, with a view to ensuring proper academic freedom and collegial governance for all limited-contract academics on our campus. Even if the Memorandum of Agreement governs regular faculty members whose contracts are one year or more, the contingency of these contracts de facto has an impact on the perceived academic freedom of the individuals involved.

Growing numbers of contract academic staff is the principal but not the only symptom of the deprofessionalization of academia.

Growing numbers of contract academic staff is the principal but not the only symptom of the deprofessionalization of academia. At this past weekend’s CAUT Forum, we heard that between 1990 and 2009, university operating expenses in Canada dedicated to professorial rank salaries have declined from 39% to 29% of total expenditures. This resource allocation trend is a concrete demonstration that tenured faculty positions are slowly being eroded, to the great detriment of the academic enterprise.

Where has the difference been spent? Largely on administrative expenses, i.e., “send in the managers”. In the abstract, managers are only necessary to make up for prior ill-advised hiring decisions. The increasing concentration of managerial authority in academic institutions has manifested in the adoption in many places (such as Brock, WLU, Guelph, and York – UW is mercifully excluded from this list) of such unproven management fads as the RobertDickeson “program prioritization” scheme. These do violence to the principle of collegial governance, and create divisive work environments that are not conducive to the primary functions of academia, namely teaching and research.

Deprofessionalization also manifests in a growing audit culture that emphasizes accountability metrics that may work well in a corporate environment, but which are woefully inadequate for the long-term view that the institution of tenured academia was designed to foster. Good teaching is not something that can be consistently measured, any more than anyone’s ‘soul’ can be measured. Research impact is trans-generational in some fields – my own department can claim a 2,300-year tradition – such that the number of citations in any given year is possibly the least relevant measure of an idea’s impact. How can the bean counting of research impact the way it is practiced today ever be effective in picking the winners of what will have been most significant in 10, or 25, or 100 years? Just because something is measurable doesn’t mean it has value, just as not everything that has value is measurable. Whatever is measured will be prioritized, at the opportunity cost of other things.

3) “Open for business”

Collaborative research with industry has been a growing trend that has squeezed out basic research. This trend has been a matter of government policy at the highest levels, and it is reflected in the relative changes in NSERC funding that has shifted significantly away from basic research toward “targeted” research that involves industry. The potential impact on academic integrity is substantial.

Expect to hear more about these issues as they relate specifically to UW in upcoming blog posts. For more on industry-academia interactions in Canada (including a section on UW’s own Balsillie School of International Affairs”), please see CAUT’s report, also entitled “Open for Business”.