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Editorial: Concordia must be more clear

Concordia’s climate review of the English department has made headlines in every major Canadian news network since its release last week. Last week, one of our News Editors, Mia Anhoury wrote a piece outlining the lead-up to the review, its focus, some recommendations from the review, and comments from several people involved.

Some of the recommendations for professors include: making students more aware of the process for filing complaints, prohibiting classes in bars, clearer definitions and training about power dynamics in relationships, consent and conflicts of interest. Another recommendation is the requirement to disclose a conflict of interest in professors’ relationships with students, and clear consequences for failure to abide by it.

We at The Concordian encourage you to read the report for yourself. Many of the recommendations are focused on clarifying Concordia’s legislation around sexual misconduct and the process of voicing a complaint.

There are many takeaways from the report. Concordia has started many initiatives already, such as updating their sexual violence policy, and indeed they seem willing to comply with many of the recommendations.

One recurring goal was increased clarity; many students are unaware of the process of filing a complaint, and many don’t even know what situations qualify as a breach of university protocol. Clarity among the administration is also key, since many members claimed to be unaware of the toxic climate in the first place. Lisa Ostiguy, the head of Concordia’s standing committee on sexual misconduct and sexual violence, told The Concordian, “I’ve been actively involved in sexual violence and sexual misconduct files and processes, and I was not made aware [of fraternization between students and faculty].” Accountability between faculty members and accessibility to the complaint system will put more checks in place to prevent violent behaviour.

The report claimed “there is no place for any romantic or sexual relationship between an instructor and his or her student.” This is the kind of concrete, definitive language that we need surrounding this issue. Ostiguy acknowledged that “it’s very difficult to prohibit relationships between adults that are consenting.” We at The Concordian believe this is an issue that requires more clear, direct, and precise language. Being vague in the policy or when referring to it will only contribute to the difficulty of prohibiting toxic relationships.

Responses from the university thus far have not included an explicit apology to past or current students who were affected by abuses of power from several members of their institution. This includes Alan Shepherd’s recent response letter to the climate review, titled “Concordia welcomes the recommendations put forth in the Climate Review of the Department of English.”

In his response, Shepard mentions that the “unhealthy” climate that the report describes in the English department gives the university “cause [for] concern.” Immediately after, however, he mentions that many students have had a positive experience, that only a small percentage of faculty members were accused, and that most of the complaints came from alumni rather than current students. What are we supposed to make of these defences? It’s hard not to see this as an effort to save face.

Shepard’s letter goes on to highlight the ways Concordia has been investing in sexual assault resources, independently, he stresses, of the climate review. We do think that the letter is a useful way to discuss or promote resources for sexual assault. It is great that the university is working on developing new strategies, and it certainly needs to provide new resources to students as much as possible. But without the preface of an apology, it is easy to perceive the report in-part as an attempt to preserve the university’s reputation.

We at The Concordian want to see the university take responsibility for its employees by explicitly apologizing to its students, and demonstrate their sincerity by clearly defining their policy around student-professor relationships, the definition of ‘conflicts of interest’ and consequences for when that is breached. The complaint-filing process needs to be clear and accessible, and the university needs to make an active effort to investigate claims and enforce consequences for perpetrators.

Graphic by Ana Bilokin

Following the tide of artistic creation

Part-time studio arts instructor Jenny Lin on how her practice continues to evolve

“I’ve been working in a really introspective way,” Jenny Lin said of her recent artistic endeavours. The visual artist and part-time Concordia professor has found herself in what seems to be a creative ebb—drawing back from her usual schedule to make room for new projects and pursuits.

One glance at Lin’s resume will reveal how busy she’s been over the past couple of decades, with most of her artistic work taking place during her teaching career at Concordia. “I feel like I can be a better teacher when I’m actually making work,” she said. A 2018 recipient of the Fine Arts Distinguished Teaching Award, Lin is soft spoken yet firmly present.

Lin began teaching at the university during her master’s degree in print media in 2001. She taught a screenprinting course in her third year, but upon graduating, found herself unsure about a career as a teacher. Instead, Lin worked in the studio arts office for a few years before Tony Patricio, the office administrator, convinced her to apply for a teaching position. She got her first teaching job in 2004 and has been an instructor at Concordia ever since.

“It made me a bit more confident and sure that I wanted to do this,” Lin said about landing her first gig. What started as a few occasional classes developed into a steady schedule, and by 2007, Lin had solidified her place at the university.

Lin’s screenprinted zine, avoid taking too personally or literally, 2018. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Lin said her job as a professor influences her creative career, and vice versa. “It’s inspiring to be around people making art and [to] get to talk about what they’re doing, and help guide them through the process,” she said. “The teaching really inspires me to keep making work.” Keeping an open creative channel between work and play is essential for both aspects of her practice to succeed, Lin said. “[I’m] lucky to be able to work in the studio art [department]. Both things feed each other.”

It’s fair to say that she’s found the balance, because Lin’s artistic biography is staggering. Since her time as an undergraduate student at the University of Calgary, Lin has racked up over 150 credits in group and solo exhibitions, video screenings, residencies, artists’ book collections and workshops. But her list of accomplishments isn’t what Lin considers to be most important—it’s the people she’s been able to work with, and certain projects that have her particularly inspired.

Although Lin completed her master’s degree in print media, she also took video courses while studying at Concordia. At the time, Lin was interested in creating art through non-physical means. Though she has shifted gears a little since her graduate work, this is a sentiment the artist continues to investigate. “I feel interested in [the] different ways that people can be reached by an artwork,” she said. “It’s interesting that someone could see something on the web, in their house, or on a random computer, and enter into this world—like a story—that they get immersed in.”

In her recent projects, Lin has been more focused on print media and zine work. These works can be immersive in their own way, she explained. In addition to being a tangible medium that the viewer can interact with, “artists’ books can fit in many spaces,” she said. Opposed to more traditional work that only appears in a gallery, for example, zines and artists’ books facilitate a more intimate relationship between work and viewer, Lin said.

The artist said she feels more distant from the virtual world now than she did while creating video and digital work. “The way that I was presenting it, or the way that people were accessing it felt a little unsatisfying,” she explained. Lin refocused her practice, leading her to build quite an extensive collection of artists’ books, host bookmaking and zinemaking workshops, and participate in zine fairs across the country with her partner Eloisa Aquino, who is also an artist. Lin and Aquino publish some of their collaborative work under the name B&D Press.

The artist’s 2016 poster/zine titled That which separates you and I or here and there. Photo courtesy of the artist.

As for why she’s drawn to bookmaking and published work specifically, Lin said “[zinemaking] is a way to create a space for more marginalized voices, and also to create a different space where it’s about encountering different people.” She has worked with a variety of groups in efforts to showcase art from marginalized groups, such as the Qouleur collective, which focuses on art and activism of people of colour within the LGBTTQ+ community. According to its Twitter page, Qouleur also hosts a “festival celebrating racialized queer/trans* identities and experience.” Lin said she connected with many people, and was inspired by the time she spent working with Qouleur.

In 2015, Lin helped create the Queer Print Club at Concordia. The artist said she “felt there was a need to bring something more collective and more political into the studios, [and] it seemed like the perfect thing to bridge the community, and the art studios, and teaching in this institution.” According to Lin’s website, the club encourages undergraduate students to “[create] projects that explore the collaborative, community-based and democratic aspects of print.”

Although some may see print media and zine work as disposable, Lin believes in its ability to connect with and create space for those not reflected in the mainstream art scene. In mainstream publishing, for example, “there’s way more distance between the artist and the audience,” Lin said. She also finds smaller, physical artworks refreshing in an age of social media and technological inundation. “A physical object touches and impacts a person differently, and stays with them in a way that’s different than looking at something online and scrolling through or clicking through,” she said.

“[Zine work] is a way to create a space for more marginalized voices, and also to create a different space where it’s about encountering different people,” said Lin. Photo by Gabe Chevalier.
This is not to say that Lin considers virtual or computer-generated art forms to be inferior to her recent endeavours in print media. The artist referenced Montreal-based publishing company and studio Anteism as a current example of how to bridge the gap between virtual experience and physical work. According to Lin, Anteism experiments with artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR) in tandem with publishing. Lin is particularly inspired by the work the studio does with artists’ books. Although she has worked in the fields of AR and print media throughout her creative career, Lin admitted, “I’m not at a point where I know what to do with it myself.”

This artist also cited Zohar Kfir’s Testimony virtual reality (VR) project as insight into how computer-generated content can be used to express reality. Kfir’s project involves testimonies from sexual assault survivors that the viewer is told through VR—they are confronted with looking at the subject while they tell their story, as if they were face to face. “I like the idea that people identify issues with technology,” Lin said. “If there’s a lack of something […], people try to make work that addresses that. There are more and more people that are trying to humanize the experience of VR.”

Lin’s home studio. Photo by Gabe Chevalier.

As of now, Lin has a few projects in the works, and although she admits they’re progressing slowly, she knows which direction they’re headed in. The artist’s recent introspection has highlighted key ideas that she wants to explore further. Lin explained that she wants to create works by “trying to pinpoint emotional responses to different situations, and gathering really random and fragmented thoughts and fragmented images, and pairing them together […] to create something that feels cathartic.”

Lin mentioned that her teaching schedule has reduced, allowing more time for creative pursuits, whatever those may be. She is currently working on a project with Aquino involving the Quebec Gay Archives. According to their website, “the Quebec Gay Archives have a mandate to acquire, conserve and preserve any handwritten, printed, visual or audio material which testify to the history of the LGBTQ+ communities of Quebec.” Lin and Aquino are interested in exploring queer people’s responses to their collections.

Lin has also started an AR book in collaboration with Anteism, however it’s still in its early stages. “I feel like I’ve opened up more time purposefully,” the artist said, and although she has a few projects on the horizon, Lin is still waiting for them to take shape. “It’s just part of the process,” she said with a reassuring nod.

See more of Lin’s work on her website: jenny-lin.ca

More of Lin and Aquino’s collaborative work can be found on their website: banddpress.blogspot.com

Feature photo by Gabe Chevalier

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News

Part time faculty come to a deal

CUPFA announces short-term contract agreement with university

Concordia University’s Part-time Faculty Association (CUPFA) has reached a tentative, one-year agreement with university officials in a deal that leaves both sides happy but signals much work in the future.

David Douglas, CUPFA’s president, explained how the current negotiations were the end result of prolonged discussions not simply within CUPFA itself but between all the faculty and staff organizations at the university.

“All the labour agreements of the last couple of years were settled at the time when [we began ours],” Douglas said.

As a consequence, CUPFA was the last to be wrapping things up, effectively making them out of step with the other organizations. Now, with another deadline looming in May 2015 for the next round of negotiations, CUPFA is preparing to go back to the table.

“At a certain point it became difficult for either our side or their side to contemplate life after May — it just became simpler to settle what we could, which is what we’ve done, and then re-open fully, essentially in the same cycle as everybody else,” said Douglas. “All of those contracts are coming up in May — this is the timeframe for us.”

Normative issues — or remuneration aside from pay, like benefits — featured heavily in the negotiations.

“We figured if we’re at the table we might as well be on the table,” he said of the worry about job security, pensions, and research commitments in an era of cuts.

Douglas said concerns coming from what his group considered an insufficient follow-through of last year’s collective agreement drove the need for a fuller agreement this time around and a better implementation of terms.

Speaking of the university’s latest initiative, the Voluntary Departure Program, Douglas said: “We were certainly aware of the budget austerity climate [and] we were given a specific information session about the Voluntary Departure Program, which doesn’t really affect us, [though] we didn’t really know it was coming.”

The program seeks to give a lump-sum payment to staff who voluntarily leave, and is expected to save the school millions of dollars annually.

“I think at some level, when you take away staff, there’s an inevitable impact or reflection on student life and faculty life,” said Douglas on the effects the program may have on his association. He said the last round of budget cuts lowered  membership by about 5 per cent, mostly from a contraction of teaching schedules.

“Because cuts came midyear, really the only sort of possibility was to cut the courses that part-time faculty were teaching,” explained Douglas.

When it comes to suggestions about how Concordia may save additional money, CUPFA suggested a restriction on limited-term appointments (LTA), a system by which faculty is recruited on a limited contractual basis — effectively, temporary tenure.

“There are some necessities to LTA [sic] appointments, but we feel that it’s been enlarged over the last few years to our detriment. I think we’re cheaper than LTA, so if you want to cut the budget, I think cutting temporary appointments that are more expensive than part-time faculty is not a bad place to start.”

He said that as soon as matters are clarified and the final text is rewritten to better reflect the new situation and ratifications, the public will have access to the full details of the deal. He expects this to be completed in several weeks.

“We’re certainly working as hard as we can to cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s.”

“There are things we had to leave on the table [and] priorities we could not realize, but there are other things that we will be able to answer in the interest of our members.”

Limiting present priorities has allowed for future discussion over what is to be brought up and what issues will be re-opened come May, Douglas said. Such matters will be something to be brought up with CUPFA members soon.

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