#4 Update, April 1, 2012 — Hard Pickets, Soft Pickets, and Hard Lines

The Association thanks its members for the valuable feedback and suggestions they made at our Annual General Meeting this past Thursday, March 29.  Our strength as an organisation is founded upon your support and commitment. There were many issues to discuss, some our routine annual business, and some directly related to the events of the past month. Your desire to address matters on both these fronts speaks to our collective goal to restore Concordia,  back to a community that is noted for its excellence in education and as an institution dedicated to the  aspirations of all students, faculty, staff as well as its external community. We understand that all of these elements are intertwined. Dysfunction and discord in any one will inevitably spill out and affect all. It is for this reason that the Association was equally happy to see a good turnout for the mobilisation of “Profs contre la hausse”  which was also held last Thursday.

This initiative organised by Concordia Professors Opposed to Privatization represents many who feel that the uncompromising position put forth thus far by the Charest government  does nothing to address either the immediate needs of students or the wider concerns we all share over the state of education policy.

Clearly the membership remains concerned about the confrontations and stress on campus as we head towards the last week of classes of the winter semester. Below are some of the questions received during the past week and at our AGM. Members wanting to express their concern for the March 23rd directive sent by Provost Graham (a call to use the Code and greater security) are invited to join Concordia faculty and sign the letter at the link below.

Is this student protest over at Concordia?

The short answer is no.  While the CSU did not extend its “strike” mandate, the student protest in the Faculty of Fine Arts is ongoing. In addition, the student protest in the Faculty of Arts and Science is ongoing in the Departments of: Communication Studies, Geography, Philosophy, School of Community and Public Affairs, Simone de Beauvoir Institute, and Sociology and Anthropology. The GSA has also affirmed its protest. This is all cold comfort.

The new security directive of March 23rd issued by the University has meant outside security personnel have been hired to maintain law and order. As predicted, outside picketers who are not students at Concordia have now also joined the protest and no one is aware of which classes will be targeted.  This development makes it very difficult to know what protests we will see during the final week of classes. This fact alone increases the general stress level of faculty, staff and students.

Are there issues among certain student groups on campus?

Given that fact that some student groups are engaged in protest, while others are not, the potential is present for tension between them. A further complication was the recent student elections.  Despite this reality, the Association urges all students and student organisations to maintain their faith in dialogue, even when they hold opposing views on issues.

In this past week, this Association sat down with members of the outgoing and incoming executives of the Fine Arts Student’s Association (FASA). Our primary concern was to address the few events which directly affected out members. Our goal was to reach understanding and reaffirm to the students the idea that PT faculty are not their enemy. The meetings were very positive and understandings were reached. We hope this will translate into better relations on the ground during the last week of school.

The Association has supported FASA in the past with various student projects we have funded. Furthermore we are pleased to report that as long as democratic mandates about the protest are respected, we will continue to support our students in the Faculty of Fine Arts. Like our members in Fine Arts, students there continue to represent one of the most dynamic and creative energy in the University.

Many thanks to our Fine Arts members who inspire our students during these divisive times. Of note this past week Adele Beaudry (Studio, Painting and Drawing) who held last Tuesday a collective drawing event inviting faculty and students to participate with their artistic expression about the current student protest. It is an example of an extra initiative using the student protest for pedagogical purposes.

What about our security?

Concordia security are fine employees who we know and trust. They, like the rest of us have been obliged to work under stressful conditions. After the University issued their new position of March 23rd, we have seen a greater presence of security. These additional personnel are not known to us, and many members have noted that they feel uncomfortable by the mere presence of groups of these security. The University may claim they are necessary and keep order in the event that a protest event turns for the worse, but any small gains here must be measured against the costs to the community as a whole. Increased security does contribute to the sense of tension felt by all. Students who wish to be in class now cross in front of other students, and security guards. One line has now become two at many doors. The result? Many of the students who do come to class cannot bring their best focus to their work.

Students who are protesting have encountered the beefed up presence, and some wonder why their own University appears so indifferent to their concerns. Others feel that they need to adopt a new posture. We are experiencing soft pickets, hard pickets and hard lines. We need to move away from this posture, toward one of mediation.

If you are unable to get to your classroom because of ‘hard pickets,’ do not force yourself into a classroom. Walk away. It is impossible to guarantee in absolute terms that security can arrive to all classrooms when ‘hard-pickets’ take place. A few members have already faced aggressive confrontations with ‘hard-pickets’ even when security eventually arrived. Confrontations continued for much of the week. No student or faculty member should be subject to such risks. Leave your class rather than argue.

Consider the following interpretation provided by a Dean:

“Security staff cannot legally remove students from doorways or buildings unless they voluntarily choose to leave. But if they do not comply, students can be photographed and charged under the Code once identified. Therefore the fact that the students were still outside your classroom following class does not mean that they have not been charged under the Code. I would stress that this is not legal action as mentioned in your letter but a charge of non-academic misconduct under the University’s Code of Rights and Responsibilities. This can result in a range of sanctions but it is not possible for the University to take legal action against these students.”

We have experienced two significant incidents in the last week where the situation was so bad that security were either required to sit in the actual classroom or stand guard at the door. In another incident one of our own members who was unable to enter an empty classroom was questioned and photographed by security.

 If your class cannot be held, report the event to your Department and to CUPFA. At all times, remember: safety first!

What about this “Code of Rights and Responsibilities”?

Under normal circumstances, the Code of Rights and Responsibilities is a laudatory code of behaviour for members of the University community. It is a Code the Association has been proud to support. The problem is that in the midst of the current protest the circumstances are extraordinary and not ordinary. The Code is not something that can resolve an incident in real time, in the here and now. In the current situation the Code is good in theory but not in practice. This is how our PT faculty members feel.

Even when the Association has encouraged the filing of complaints under the Code of Rights and Responsibilities, faculty members have rejected this as a solution. Even in a few severe incidents no PT faculty member has been willing to file a complaint. Members are not satisfied that filing a complaint will provide a satisfactory solution weeks or months away. Members would prefer mediation as a means of resolving a conflict rather than any other form of disciplinary sanction against a student. Mediation however is not an available option offered at this time by the University. It is our belief that in moments of crisis it is imperative to diffuse tensions rather than further polarize the various parties.

How can I deal with the stress for me and my students?

The Association is dismayed that little if any information has been provided to the University community (faculty, staff, students) from the offices of Environmental Health and Safety.

Security is one thing. Health and safety is another. Other than the Code and calling security, no other services have been advocated by the University for faculty or students who are having psychological difficulties coping with the stress of their learning and working environment. This is worth noting. The University maintains its top concern is for those students who wish to continue in their classes. Fine, but beyond keeping the doors open and the lights turned on, what is the University offering to handle the distress of faculty or of our students? Many PT faculty members have reported students crying in their classes. Members themselves are traumatised, suffering from anxiety, are not sleeping well, or are now on medication etc. No one is happy. While so much of the emphasis has been on security, the health of members and students are seemingly not part of the game plan. Not cool.

We ask members who have experienced psychological challenges to contact the Association. We have taken matters into our own hands and have health professionals to recommend who can provide services in confidence. We also have a team of mediators should any member need this service to resolve a conflict during the student protests. Please contact us so we can recommend services to you or your students. Students can also go to Health Services on campus or to their local CLSC.

As a PT faculty member you can also benefit from the Employee Assistance Program (http://eap.concordia.ca/), a confidential service that can provide you with counseling. Counseling in English and French is available to you at no costs to you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week through an external provider, Shepell-fgi. For appointments, counseling or general information, you may call:

1-800-387-4765 (English Services)
1-800-361-5676 (French Services)

What’s with the confusion about when classes are held or not held?

The Association reminds its members that they alone have the discretion to judge whether or not a sufficient number of students are present to make a class viable. As a general rule, we recommend that, if there is only a third or less of your students attending a class, you may consider this participation beneath the threshold of viability. You do not need to attend such a class nor should you be forced to do so. Information from various Departments and Faculties has at times been inconsistent, and instructions are as diverse as the student organisations themselves. One Chair recommended that faculty enter classrooms regardless of the number of students. One Dean only wants to know when there is a ‘disruption’, without defining the parameters or what this means.  We are sceptical when we view the reports of the impact of the student protest as voiced by the administration. We feel the dysfunctional classroom, those with less than a handful of students or less, has not been duly recorded as part of their “data”.

What about grades for our classes?

All faculty want their students to complete course requirements. Students as well, do not want to suffer consequences that are beyond their control for incomplete work. Please encourage your students to complete their work and their final exams whenever possible. How does one handle then the submission of final grades?

There is no one perfect answer as no two courses are alike, no two students are alike either. Faculty have the academic freedom to be flexible and to use their discretion with the grades for course assignments (having a take-home exam, distributing a different grade allocation for assignments, etc.).

One thing is certain. You must submit your grades by the established deadline as you always have. For grading procedures it is important to examine Article 16 of the 2011-2012 University Calendar. The 2011-2012 University Calendar is available as a PDF on the Concordia website (http://www.concordia.ca/). Please take the time to read it. No individual Faculty/Department can alter the rules that apply to all students regardless of where they study in the University.

How does entering an INC grade work?

To begin with, the University regulations are contained in the official course calendar. Always consult this document (available on-line in PDF).  Remember, we are presently still in the 2011-2012 University Calendar. For some reason, the University has moved this calendar to its “archived” section http://registrar.concordia.ca/calendar11-12/    See:  Article 16.3.6 Late Completion of Courses With “INC” Notation – Procedures and Regulations.

How to enter grades in such cases involves communicating with your student granting your approval to enter an incomplete grade (F/Inc). When entering a F/Inc grade notation, the student is obliged to obtain an ‘incomplete grade form” from the Birks Student Service Centre by the deadline of May 15, 2012 (fall/winter, winter courses) and have work completed by the established deadlines in the 2011-2012 University Calendar (fall/winter, winter courses). Students pay a fee of $20 (twenty dollars).  In granting your approval to a student with the assignment of a F/Inc grade, you are obliged to grade their work once it is submitted by the established F/Inc deadlines (This year, by June 5). If a student fails to apply for an incomplete grade, or fails to complete work, an F notation shall remain on the student record.

If a sufficient amount of course assignments has been completed but not all, a qualified incomplete grade can also be considered or entered (e.g. B/Inc, C/Inc, D/Inc). The same procedures are followed as with an F/Inc notation. If the student fails to complete work, the qualified grade notation (B, C, or D) will be the grade that will be maintained on the student’s record. Deadlines for students applying for incomplete work, submission of completed work and entering of a new grade is the same as above for the 2011-2012 fall/winter, winter semester.

Again, faculty must submit grades for your courses by the established deadline as you always have. Please check with your Department for additional information as they are equally  obliged to respect deadlines in the 2011-2012 University Calendar.

Will the student protest continue for the summer semester?

The student movement in Quebec is determined to continue the protest. Communication with student federations in Quebec have indicated to the Association that the protest will continue for at least the next two weeks. The Minister of Education has declared that she will only agree to meet with students on condition that they accept tuition hikes. The government is not interested in assessing other models of financial support for Universities while ensuring students in need will not incur more debt.

Yes but all other provinces have higher tuition, other countries have higher tuition, why not for our students as well?

The reported statistics in the Montreal Gazette of Friday, March 30, 2012 about the cost of tuition elsewhere ignores any comparative facts about the result of those tuition increases – crushing student debt. In some countries, Chile, one of the most expensive places to obtain a post-secondary education, confirms higher tuition reduces the accessibility of education as few students per capita bother to obtain a post-secondary education in that country. In other countries, England, the student debt there is almost as high as credit-card debt. Western countries have followed the route of the United States. Check the data – all of it and, properly. Newspaper stories that suffer from selective compassion are not doing themselves a service when half the information is reported.

What about extra student loans and bursaries that will be offered if tuition increases?

You would think that providing student loans and bursaries would relieve the financial needs of students wanting a University education. Does it? No country can demonstrate that more loans and bursaries actually works. Why? On loans: increases in tuition only increases the debt on loans students have to secure. Higher tuition = higher loans = higher student debt. Everything in the equation increases. How is this helpful when figures released last week by Statistics Canada indicate youth unemployment is twice the national average?

On bursaries: the means test to be eligible for bursaries have been increased so that fewer and fewer students become eligible and not more. Much like legal aid, employment insurance, pensions, health care, and welfare, fewer and fewer individuals actually benefit from the means tests that establish eligibility to these social programs as well. Our governments are becoming more and more privatized as people become more and more poorer.

Our current student protest here in Quebec precisely draws on the effects increasing tuition will have on students. It is why the student protest has happened and why this Association can never agree to any educational policy that will reduce educational opportunities for our students. Education is a public right not a private privilege.

Dr. David Douglas,
Chair, Communications
CUPFA Executive