Students voice evaluation concerns

Confusion over whether Graham Carr will not have to undergo a review

Newly-appointed provost, Graham Carr, will not  be receiving a review for his previous position as VP of research and graduate studies as he enters his new role, a move which some students on senate were concerned about.

During a Concordia senate meeting on Oct. 7, former CSU academic and advocacy coordinator Marion Miller asked Concordia president Alan Shepard if an evaluation committee will be struck to review Carr. What Miller didn’t know when she posed the question was that it had already been decided that Carr would not undergo a review for his position as VP of research and graduate studies.

“He didn’t answer my question at all,” said Miller, adding that Shepard briskly stated, “you know the answer to that, Marion.” Miller said she genuinely did not know the answer to the question.

Sofia Sahrane, the CSU academic and advocacy coordinator, also tried to address the issue with her own questions, Miller said. Sahrane already had some insight on the subject, Miller said, including that an evaluation committee had been assembled but Carr would not be evaluated, since his role had just changed.

Miller said Sahrane specifically asked why Carr’s evaluation would not be taking place and how it was possible for a senior administrator to fulfill a top academic position for 10 years without a review.

“I’m not saying that Graham Carr has done some problematic things in the past five years, but I think even for the best of the leaders and management it’s important to still have input and have a review,” Miller told The Concordian.

Concordia University spokesperson Chris Mota clarified that Carr nor anyone in this position would not need to undergo a review, as Carr is starting a brand new position.

Mota said Carr was not reviewed for his position as VP of research and graduate studies because he was leaving that position. “You don’t evaluate someone when they’re leaving, you evaluate them if they want to renew for a second mandate.”

She said the evaluations are either done at the end of the fourth or beginning of the fifth year of the mandate. “Graham chose not to seek renewal, he chose to go for the position of provost,” said Mota. “When you say ‘was there any review for that’ well you can’t review somebody when they’re entering a position, he hasn’t done the position, there’s nothing to evaluate.”

Regardless of Carr’s employment with Concordia since 1983, Mota said he was treated like any hire. She said for any job—he would have undergone a search process to see if he has the qualifications or not. “He earned the job,” she said.

“If he wants a second term as provost at the end of the fourth year or the beginning of the fifth of the current mandate that he’s in, he will be evaluated.” Marion said in regards to Mota’s comments, she wishes there was more input from the Concordia community in the appointing of Carr as provost.


Senate in brief

Almost at the top

President Alan Shepard announced on Friday, Feb. 15 that the university received an invitation to the provincial government’s highly anticipated higher education summit — a mere 10 days before the start of the two-day conference. Shepard maintained that post-secondary institutions are in need of better financing and that’s an issue he plans to bring to the table on Feb. 25 and 26.

“We have less funding than we need to be great universities,” said Shepard. “We must have satisfactory financing for Quebec universities to thrive.”

When asked if Shepard was the only administrator or individual from Concordia invited, Shepard implied that the details were still under wraps but that he would be present for the summit.

Independent student? Tough luck

During question period, student Senator Gene Morrow asked why independent students at Concordia, those who have not declared a degree and are taking part-time classes, are not allowed to sit on governing bodies and if this was an oversight from the university.

While the university’s bylaws state that only students registered in a program may sit on Senate or the Board of Governors, articles 25 and 57 do not implicitly state the reasons behind the bylaw. Vice-President institutional relations Bram Freedman provided a written response saying that it was a “conscious decision” made more than 10 years ago.

“The rationale for this criterion is that representatives on the university’s highest governing bodies should be fully committed to the institution and to their studies as demonstrated by being registered in a program,” the response read.

Morrow claimed that the rationale he received was insufficient but was met with little support from fellow senators. In a previous interview with The Concordian, Shepard said that he had no interest in re-opening the debate.

By the numbers

Approximately 15 per cent of Concordia’s total enrolment is in online learning classes offered by eConcordia, with more than 50 courses offered in winter 2013 including three new courses. According to interim Provost Lisa Ostiguy, there is no current academic framework for e-learning — something that made certain senators feel nervous.

Senator Ali Akgunduz explained that Concordia students come for the culture of the university and felt that online learning did not provide the same experience. Morrow explained that while e-learning brought various opportunities to students with different learning styles that it is surrounded by “many unknowns” that make individuals feel uneasy.

Ostiguy said that discussion, faculty engagement and careful assessment of the results of online learning could lead to blended learning approaches and online certificates in the future.


Another empty Senate seat

VP Loyola Stefan Faina, an independent student, is ineligible to sit on Senate.

The Concordia Student Union’s recent appointment to Concordia University’s Senate, VP Loyola Stefan Faina, is ineligible to maintain his position due to his student status, it was discovered on Thursday, Oct. 4.

Council nominated and then appointed Faina to Senate during a special council meeting Wednesday, Sept. 19 to help fill student representation on the governing body. His appointment was originally scrutinized by council, with some arguing that Faina’s lack of experience would cause him problems down the road.

Faina, who admitted to never having attended a Senate meeting before, was eventually chosen for the position. The only executive acting as a Senator before then was VP external Simon-Pierre Lauzon who was present for the first and second Senate meetings of the academic year.

Following a consultation of university by-laws, Faina realized that he was unable to serve as a Senator because he is currently registered as an independent student. Faina completed his undergraduate degree in psychology last year and registered as part-time, independent student this year, partly in order to maintain his executive position with the CSU. He explained that he was not informed by the university but that he stumbled across the stipulation in Article 57.

According to Article 57 of the university by-laws referring to membership regulations, students must be registered in a program to be eligible to serve on Senate:

“Students elected to Senate shall be registered in an undergraduate or graduate program, be registered in a course or other for-credit activity, and be in good standing. Students who are in failed standing, in conditional standing or on academic probation or who have been sanctioned either under the Code of Rights and Responsibilities or the Academic Code of Conduct within the three (3) years previous to their nomination are not eligible.”

In an interview with The Concordian, Faina expressed his disappointment at being unqualified to sit on Senate.

“I really don’t see why I can’t sit on it,” said Faina. “It’s a little discriminatory and this is a population that has interests too.”

According to Faina, he sent an email to inform outgoing council Chairperson Nick Cuillerier that he would have to step down from Senate to “avoid controversy and drama.”

Faina went on to say that independent students should have representation on Concordia’s governing body.

Under Section 55 in the by-laws, 12 seats are allotted to undergraduate students appointed by the CSU with the obligation of having a representative of each of the four faculties at Concordia. This does not include independent undergraduate students, who are usually part-time students that are taking courses without declaring a program.

VP external Simon-Pierre Lauzon suggested it might be time to reconsider the by-laws to accommodate and represent independent students at the university.

“This is a not a situation that is unheard of,” said Lauzon. “Maybe this is a reform we want to consider because independent students are a student group and they should, in theory, have representation.”

With Faina’s removal from Senate, the CSU will have to appoint two additional students in the near future to fill undergraduate student representation.

According to Lauzon, the CSU believes President Schubert Laforest, who is also ineligible to participate in Senate due to unresolved and undisclosed issues under the same by-laws, will tentatively be allowed to sit on Senate in the near future.


Concordia University pays $2-million penalty

Concordia University’s first Senate meeting of the academic year addressed various issues and initiatives affecting the university and its governing bodies, including the $2-million fine handed out by the provincial government during March 2012.

President Alan Shepard confirmed that Concordia paid the $2-million sanction that then-Education Minister Line Beauchamp fined Concordia for excessive spending on severance packages and fiscal mismanagement.

The Liberal government slapped Concordia with the penalty during the student strike, stating in a letter to former Board of Governors chair Peter Kruyt that senior administration acted irresponsibly and not in the public’s interest.

“We have received the fine and we are paying it,” said Shepard.

Concordia’s Chief Financial Officer, Patrick Kelley, emphasized that the funding used to settle the fine did not impact other university initiatives, faculties or programs.

“We paid it through a reserve account that we maintained,” explained Kelley. “We wanted to make sure no other operations were affected.”

The first meeting also addressed the formal complaints launched against students during the student strike and questions surrounding a potential repeal of the tuition fee increase.

The students in question, 23 undergraduate students and three graduate students, face formal complaints under the Code of Rights and Responsibilities from administration for blocking access to classrooms last semester. The student tribunals, as well as negotiations between the charged and the university, remain confidential.

Shepard maintained that there are two sides to every story, and that students were charged for infringing upon the code and not for political reasons.

“People were charged for specific actions against the code,” said Shepard. “Not for having ideas contrary to others’.”

Student Senator Chad Walcott, the former VP external of the Concordia Student Union, asked what kind of impact the tuition fee repeal promised by the incoming Parti Québécois government will have on Concordia University’s Academic Plan.

“It depends on how the government will handle it,” said Kelley.

Kelley stressed that if the provincial government does not offset the costs, the funding will have to come from outside the Academic Plan. The funding allotted to graduate studies cannot decrease, nor can the institution cut funding from other academic projects or student funding. Kelley told Senate the most important issue is the quality of education and teaching values.

The first meeting of the year severely lacked student representatives. Only five undergraduate students currently sit on Senate of the available 12 spots. Of those undergraduate students, only one is an executive of the CSU. VP External Simon-Pierre Lauzon is the only executive currently holding a seat on Senate. During the upcoming CSU meeting this Wednesday Council will fill remaining spots.

When The Concordian asked CSU President Schubert Laforest why he is not on Senate, he gave few details and maintained that he will address the question this Wednesday.

“It’s something I want to speak with my executives about first,” said Laforest. “Everything will come to light Wednesday.”


Meet the Prez, take two

Presidential candidate Dr. Alan Shepard got a second chance at speaking to the Concordia community during a live-streamed conference call on Friday.

The meeting lasted just over an hour and, while directed specifically to Concordia’s Board of Governors and Senate, had 705 people listening in via webcast according to university spokesperson Chris Mota.

Students, staff and faculty were encouraged to submit questions in advance, and those posed to Shepard ranged from university projects to structure to the ongoing tuition hike debate.

Shepard stated during the presentation that he is a proponent of open communication, referring to a number of ‘town hall’ meetings hosted at Ryerson, but said he could not speak to Concordia’s administration’s handling of the student strike thus far.

“We should not imagine the public debate about fees is isolated to Quebec,” he said.

The call was arranged after student protesters shut down Shepard’s in-person Q&A session at Concordia on April 24.

Shepard spoke from Ryerson University in Toronto where he currently acts as provost and VP academic, but said he plans on moving his family to Montreal should he be hired as Concordia’s next president.

“Improving my French is a priority upon living here, like many new Québécois,” he said.

Following the deadline for written feedback to be submitted May 1, the decision on whether or not to hire Shepard will be brought to the board for consideration.


Presidential candidate meeting ends before it begins

A group of students interrupted a joint meeting of Concordia’s Board of Governors and Senate on Tuesday meant to introduce university presidential candidate Dr. Alan Shepard.

The chants of approximately 20 students drowned out the congregation gathered in the D.B. Clarke Theatre at 12 p.m.

Led by geography student and Mob Squad member Alex Matak on a megaphone, the students, who say they are frustrated with the university’s response to the student strike against provincial tuition hikes, called on the administration to hear their demands.

The disruption prompted Concordia Student Union President Lex Gill and CSU councillor and student governor Cameron Monagle to try to calm students in order to proceed with the meeting. As a last effort, Gill stood at the podium to speak but was impossible to hear over the noise.

Members of the audience and the administration left shortly after, effectively ending the meeting. Shepard, who was recently selected by the board’s presidential search committee after months of deliberation, was unable to receive questions from the audience.

University spokesperson Chris Mota confirmed that Shepard, who currently serves as provost and VP academic at Ryerson University, would not be returning for another public meeting at Concordia.

“On behalf of the university community I think it’s unfortunate that the opportunity was taken away from us,” said Mota.

Alex MacPherson, president of the technicians’ union, said that while he supports the student movement, it was “disappointing” that others could not speak and express their views.

Gill was also visibly frustrated that the meeting did not take place. In an informal gathering of students that took place shortly after the failed meeting, Gill emphasized that individual professors or members of administration that do support the students fight against the increase “left the meeting embarrassed.”

“There was an opportunity here to make this meeting what we wanted it to be,” said Gill. “Instead the meeting didn’t happen.”



Senate wants Charest to talk to students

Concordia’s Senate unanimously passed a motion to send an open letter to Quebec Premier Jean Charest, urging the government to facilitate dialogue between all parties involved in the student strike.

The Senate, the university’s highest academic body, discussed the academic implications of the strike at their meeting on April 20.

CSU President and Senator Lex Gill opened the dialogue by making reference to the recent fuss over Education Minister Line Beauchamp’s refusal to meet with the Coalition large de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale etudiante.

Last week Beauchamp extended an invitation to the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec to discuss university management, excluding the CLASSE from any negotiations unless they openly condemned protest violence.

“The only resolution to this conflict is for the education minister to sit down with the three student associations,” said Gill, a sentiment that the CSU voted unanimously to adopt at a special meeting held on Tuesday.

Concordia University Part-time Faculty Association President Maria Peluso said that the student strike movement should be commended for its organization and impact.

“Do you understand for a moment, what our students have accomplished?” asked Peluso. “That is an achievement we should be celebrating.”

Peluso stated that the administration should receive a “D minus” grade for dismissing the importance of student democracy.

“You make a serious error in assuming that only those voting in favor of the strike were supporting the strike,” she said.

Senator and part-time professor Dave Douglas put forward a motion at the end of the 45-minute discussion period asking that Concordia’s interim president Frederick Lowy write an open letter to Beauchamp.

Dean of Arts and Science Brian Lewis called it a “dangerous motion,” arguing that the university does not want to “bite the hand that feeds us.”

Senator June Chaikelson of the Arts and Science faculty suggested that the letter be written by Senate itself and served to Quebec Premier Jean Charest directly.

This change was widely supported by the group, including Lowy. “If there is a way of fostering [communication,] I am all for it,” said Lowy.

The motion was unanimously adopted. Gill said that she was pleased that Concordia’s governing academic body was able to do “something that is political while doing something that is right.”


Survey finds Concordia isn’t challenging students academically

Concordia University is lagging behind other universities in terms of the level of academic challenge, according to the 2011 National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) released at last Friday’s Senate meeting.

The recent survey compares Concordia to over 700 universities by examining responses from 3,454 random Concordia students. It looked primarily at first- and last-year students in Canada and the United States.

“There’s not much improvement there…not a significant change in slope,” said John Molson School of Business faculty senator Gordon Leonard at the meeting. “My interpretation is that we have to do a lot more than just say we did a good job,” he added.

Bradley Tucker, director of the Office of institutional planning, noted at Senate that Concordia’s results in categories other than academic challenge, such as “student faculty interaction” and “supportive campus environment” showed some level of improvement.

The NSSE survey, which was first piloted in 1999, gives insight into undergraduate students’ learning activities. The purpose then “was to try and give information to universities drawn from their student population that let them know whether they were engaging in practices that have been shown to have impacts on students’ post-university experiences,” said Tucker. He also said the NSSE began in a period of “ranking mania.”

Opposing the survey results, President Frederick Lowy said that “despite the turmoil last winter” regarding the ousting of his predecessor Judith Woodsworth, “academic activities continue unabated.”

Smile for the camera

No conclusion was reached on the issue of whether or not journalists should be allowed to broadcast Senate meetings live.

“It’s already in the public domain, we don’t need to go any further than that,” said Leonard.

Concerns were expressed that cameras in front of the senators’ faces while they are talking could be both intimidating and distracting, and that anyone could attend the meetings instead.

“I was indeed one of those who raised concerns, after the November meeting,” said Rae Staseson, an arts and science senator. “I found the presence of roving cameras disturbing and not following journalistic ethical guidelines.”

Staseson said that allowing cameras into Senate could “inhibit very frank discussions and debates” and “enhance a kind of overly exuberant senatorial performance.”

However some senators, mostly student representatives, spoke strongly on behalf of allowing cameras in, as long as those behind the cameras were following proper guidelines.

“My opinion is that these meetings ought to be both recorded and broadcast,” said student senator Gene Morrow. “I think that it’s fairly clear that with everything that’s happening here is in the public interest.”

The issue was unresolved and sent to Senate’s steering committee for further review. A similar plea for live broadcasts of Board of Governors meetings was recently voted down by a majority of governors.


Concordia Senate passes academic plan

Concordia’s five-year academic plan was passed in a secret ballot held during a divisive senate meeting last Friday afternoon.
Despite being rejected unanimously in a symbolic motion by the CSU council last week, the revised 2011-2016 academic plan was adopted in a vote of 26 to 19.
Tension ran high as the students who sit on senate wanted to delay the plan until next year. CSU president Lex Gill voiced her concerns about rushing the multi-million dollar plan being put into motion without the endorsement of the students.
“It would be a tragedy to see a document with so much good it in to be passed without any student support,” she said. “What’s the rush? What’s the difference between an academic plan passed now and one passed in January?”
Graduate student senator Holly Nazar also expressed her concerns, saying she didn’t feel the working group for the academic plan took the revisions students made into account. “The vote shows students are not entirely happy with the plan,” Nazar said.
Provost David Graham presented the academic plan to the student union council on Oct. 26. He said at senate that he was “aghast” to learn council unanimously rejected the plan immediately after his departure and questioned whether the CSU had arranged the outcome of the vote before the meeting.
Hasan Cheikhzen, CSU VP academic, was responsible for inviting the provost to the council meeting and denied that the CSU “did not act in good faith.” Cheikhzen explained that no decisions were made prior to the provost’s presentation.
The provost later apologized for his emotional response, explaining that last year he had expressed the wish that the current student union be on board as part of the working group who formed the academic plan.
A few senators did feel the plan should be implemented but were worried by the lack of consensus from the students. Arts and science senator Rosemary Reilly said she was “not comfortable voting for a plan students are seemingly against.”
However, Noel Burke, dean of the School for Extended Learning, expressed his excitement for the plan and emphasized that “delaying the date only delays the plan.”
Graham agreed, stating “deferral is not an option at this point.”
The plan intends to expand Concordia’s research and graduate studies, provide additional library funding, develop new evaluations and restructure academic programs, among other measures. In an effort to make Concordia more competitive, the plan is looking to attract more grants, students and professors. The ultimate goal of the plan is for Concordia to be recognized as one of the top five comprehensive universities in Canada by 2016.
Senate also passed a motion recommending that the winter term begin no earlier than Jan. 4, 2012. However, because Senate does not actually have the responsibility of establishing the academic calendar, the start date for the winter 2012 semester will remain Jan. 3. President Frederick Lowy said that the concerns expressed would be taken into consideration when establishing the start dates of future winter semesters.
Correction: A previous version of this article contained inaccurate information regarding the start date of the winter 2012 semester.
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