Professor Moussu Speaks Out on Centre for Writers Changes Sought by Faculty of Arts (Open Letter)

Dear colleagues,

I would like to address two important points about the announced changes regarding the C4W: first, how it affects my career, and second, how it affects tutors in the C4W.

First, my career: I would like you to imagine a UofA Biologist, who works in her lab and conducts research projects with her research assistants and her participants. She teaches courses related to her research, gets grants for her research, mentors her graduate students through their studies, hires and train the best research assistants, recruits participants according to best practices and research ethics, presents and discusses her results at national and international conferences (often with her students), and publishes her results in peer reviewed journals (sometimes as co-author with her students). Every year, she writes an annual report about her work, gets evaluated by her peers at the UofA, and gets excellent feedback—one year, she even got tenure!

And then one day, she is told that she can no longer work in her lab. She can go inside her lab and watch what happens, but she can’t be the Principal Investigator anymore, can’t work with her research assistants, can’t recruit or interact with participants, and can’t decide what is or isn’t being done in the lab.

This is exactly what has happened to me and to my “lab.” Continue reading

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Professor Sargent Responds to Provost’s Document on Situation with Centre for Wrtiers

The post below is the response of Professor Betsy Sargent (English & Film Studies) to the formal response that the Provost and Vice-President Academic Stephen Dew has offered to members of the General Faculties Council in the form of document 14.1.R for today’s meeting of GFC. The Provost’s document responds to a question posed by graduate student Shumaila Hemani which may be found here. The matter of what is happening to the Centre for Writers was first raised at the last meeting of the General Faculties Council, and GFC told that President Turpin would investigate.

Centre for Writers: Response to Statement from Provost and Vice-President Academic Steven Dew (Professor Betsy Sargent)

 

I want to respond not only as a Professor of English in the Faculty of Arts, but as a Professor in the disciplne of Writing Studies who has served as the Co-Chair of the University’s Writing Task Force, as Director of Writing Initiatives (2007-2012), and as the Founding Director of Writing Studies in Arts and the award-winning Writing Studies 101 (2008-2014).

I’ll respond to each paragraph in turn, starting with paragraph #2: Continue reading

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Open Letter from Professor Garry Watson (English & Film Studies) on the Centre for Writers (To be discussed at the General Faculties Council meeting of 30 May 2016)

Dear Colleagues,

Many thanks to those of you who were able to attend Arts Faculty Council on Wednesday afternoon. As you know, the motion was passed to advise the Provost to delay by one year the decision to move the C4W out of Arts into Student Services and to allow the current director, Dr. Lucie Moussu, to complete her administrative term (which goes until July 1, 2017), said delay to allow for wider consultation and further research at least equivalent to the wide consultation and extensive research that created the C4W in the Faculty of Arts in the first place.

If you were unable to attend AFC on Wed and were so inclined, emailing a sentence to President Turpin <dturpin@ualberta.ca> today would be enormously helpful, since he’s chairing GFC tomorrow afternoon and this time-sensitive C4W issue is on the agenda. Something quite brief like the following would work well: “If I’d been able to attend AFC on May 25th, I would have added my vote to pass the motion advising the Provost to delay for one year any changes to the administration or directorship of the C4W.” Continue reading

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Open Letter from Betsy Sargent (English & Film Studies): Do Not Let Faculty of Arts Undermine Centre for Writers

Dear Colleagues,

Even those of you who have already heard my plea (at the department gathering on April 7th) about proposed serious changes to the Centre for Writers may be surprised by the latest development. While the University Writing Committee was informed as early as Fall term about the proposal to move the C4W from the Faculty of Arts (where it has served as an academic unit for 7 years, an extension of the university curriculum) to student services (under the Dean of Students), a proposal that the University Writing Committee vigorously opposed to no avail, there was never any mention of changing the Director of the C4W.

On April 14th, however, Lucie Moussu was informed by the Acting Vice-Dean of Arts that she would as of this July 1 no longer serve as Director of the C4W. The explanation given was that the Dean of Students did not want to supervise a faculty member; there will soon be a search for a non-faculty manager of the C4W.

This in spite of Lucie’s extraordinary work in developing what is now one of the finest writing centres in Canada and in spite of her currently serving as head of the Canadian Writing Centres Association and hosting (with generous SSHRC funding) a major CWCA conference this May in Calgary (keynoted by an internationally recognized expert in the field, Oregon State University’s Dr. Lisa Ede, longtime collaborator with Andrea Lunsford). Check out Lucie’s amazing annual reports on the excellent website she created for the C4W at http://c4w.ualberta.ca/ or the lively 5-minute video about the most recent Long Night Against Procrastination (Ted Bishop and I have cameo appearances for our middle-of-the-night workshops!) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3oVLRaXx-dY.

As you’re probably aware, all grad and undergrad C4W tutors until now have been required to complete a 3-credit 300/600-level course in writing centre theory and practice, a course that included many supervised hours in practicum in the C4W. Only the best students in that course went on to work in the C4W in subsequent terms, students who had deep preparation in a range of areas from second-language issues to composition theory to the writing process to writing-in-the-disciplines (not to mention intensive work on citation, plagiarism, and basic grammar and usage). And even after completing the course and being hired to tutor in the C4W, these tutors were carefully mentored (with observations and evaluations of all 40+ of them completed each term by Lucie Moussu).

None of this will be continued—unless those of us affected by this undermining of a splendid Faculty of Arts teaching unit manage to convince the university otherwise.  Please sign this petition arguing for the retention of “highly qualified directors in College and University Writing Centers”:
https://www.change.org/p/international-writing-centers-association-members-retaining-highly-qualified-directors-in-college-and-university-writing-centers/.

The petition has 763 signatures from around the world already, but the more from the U of A the better (please feel free to circulate it to other U of A faculty, in any Faculty); it will be used at the May 25th Arts Faculty Council meeting to make the case for serious, effective writing centres as teaching units within an academic faculty (i.e., they are not remedial services). And even if you don’t feel able to sign the petition, it’s well worth reading since it makes the case even more eloquently than the Writing Task Force was able to do in its 3 years of research 2005-2008, arguing for the creation of the C4W, free and open to everyone in the U of A community.

A particularly convincing comment on this petition argues that accrediting bodies need to insist that a professionally-recognized writing center (led by an expert in writing-centre theory, practice, and research) is as essential to an institution’s accreditation as its library.

An Arts graduate student/C4W tutor has asked for a discussion of these changes to the C4W to be placed on the agenda for the May 25th Arts Faculty Council meeting. Both Lucie Moussu and I plan to attend that meeting, hoping that the phrase Lucie has heard too often this year—that Arts doesn’t want the C4W—will be disproved by the number of our colleagues that show up to protest otherwise.

After all, the C4W was funded by Central through Arts on the condition that Arts run the program for the University—it was funded as a university resource arising from recommendations from a university-wide task force that was established to do extensive research and get answers about best practices in the teaching of writing. Since the C4W was created after extensive consultation, Arts should not be permitted to undermine it or move it elsewhere without similarly wide consultation, in particular with faculty in Arts. And of course, one would hope that at a major research university, such a major decision would be based on the best research possible, not on expediency or the latest administrative fad.

Lucie has received letters of support from writing centre directors and other colleagues around the world. It seems that many post-secondary administrators have jumped on the latest bandwagon, which is to have a one-stop shop for student services (from mental health resources to math and science and writing tutoring, based on the apparent assumption that all tutoring is the same). In this scenario, a writing centre is no longer seen as a teaching unit (used by honours students and grad students and instructors as well as by first-year and international students); it’s seen primarily as a remedial service. Of course, since the C4W will continue to be located in the basement of Assiniboia after this change in leadership, it’s not yet clear exactly how it’s becoming part of a one-stop tutoring service (all the other services being in SUB).

A major concern in this new situation is the looming danger of a form of plagiarism— excessive help—which is much more likely in the absence of disciplinary expertise at the helm, without a Writing Studies faculty member emphasizing repeatedly and modeling how tutors can ask questions, make suggestions, and listen closely as students talk about their ideas and their struggles with writing, but insisting that tutors can never take the pen out of the student’s hand—all the work has to be the student’s own, with the student fully understanding why he or she made each particular choice.

I also understand that the real possibility exists after a year or two of students’ being charged for C4W writing help (as they are currently charged at the Student Success Centre, $20 per hour—which raises so many equity red flags that it’s puzzling how that embarrassing practice has continued for so long). How does that support the excellence in education that the U of A supposedly stands for? What’s next? Charging individual students each time they check out a book at the library?

Of course our students will be the biggest losers if these changes are allowed to go forward (even though wide student protest is unlikely, given that students understand that the C4W will continue–just under different leadership; only the tutors—because of their thorough grounding in writing centre theory and practice—fully understand what they’ll be losing). It would be a different story if the C4W were simply being shut down (or if students were being asked immediately to pay for help with their writing).

So I think it’s up to us, those who understand what’s at stake, to protest. Please come to the Arts Faculty Council meeting on May 25th if you can and/or please sign the petition at the link above (and share that link as widely as possible). Also, do let Lucie know how much you’ve appreciated the work she’s done in the C4W since her arrival 7 years ago. Lucie Moussu <moussu@ualberta.ca>

Gratefully,
Betsy

Professor, Department of English and Film Studies
University of Alberta
Edmonton, AB T6G 2E5
Office: Humanities Centre 3-79
E-mail: bsargent@ualberta.ca
Writing @UofA

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Academic Freedom and “Respectful Dialogue” at UAlberta’s Faculty of Arts: Response to Message from the Dean

Just over two weeks ago, there was some surprising news from the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), which announced the launching of an investigation into infringement of academic freedom protections at Laurentian University. The surprise: the Faculty allegedly in violation of academic freedom is Arts. Arts! Arts is the Faculty one would expect to be most effective at protecting academic freedom principles in practice, given that so much of its raison d’être depends upon its rigorous cultivation, sometimes as a central matter of a discipline, of that other freedom with which academic freedom so complexly intersects, freedom of expression. How, then, could any Faculty of Arts in the country have so disastrously infringed academic freedom protections that it could find itself the object not only of a CAUT investigation, but under threat of CAUT censure?

We won’t know what is going on at Laurentian for months. [Correction: CAUT’s report is here.] But whatever has been playing out there will almost certainly in the end be publicly revealed to be tied to one administrator or another’s failure to recognize how a given administrative practice, policy, or action was antagonistic to basic principles of academic freedom. I, for one, will be particularly interested to hear what CAUT has to report in regard to the second item in its list of announced concerns, “Disregard of collegial decision-making.” Continue reading

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Kick Out the Jams (Post by Kathleen Lowrey, Anthropology)

So are we not kicking out the jams, then?

Yesterday members of the Faculty of Arts received a communication from Acting Dean Lise Gotell expressing concern about “overly critical – even aggressive” ways of speaking on the part of faculty at campus fora, with specific reference to those focused on the BA Renewal. As I am sure it did for many of my colleagues, this communication from the Acting Dean brought to mind Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks’ call for “civility” on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Free Speech Movement’s founding on that campus, and the furor that followed. Like any number of us, I have benefited from multiple excellent analyses of why seemingly anodyne administration-promulgated calls for “civility” at universities throughout North America represent serious threats to university vitality. I am sure I was not alone, then, in being surprised to see such a hackneyed demand echoed at a moment when the Faculty of Arts is engaged precisely on a project of renewal with a particular emphasis on relevance, variously defined: up-to-date, experiential, in touch with the real world, flexible, adaptive, immediately applicable, and generally hip to the pulse of today.

For all that, it seems the staid and stuffy bits of hallowed tradition that are to be preserved in whatever is to come are the ones involving the disciplinary uses of decorum. I’ll admit to being a bit of a creaky old dinosaur, but this makes me nostalgic for the heady early days of internet feminism when we talked about stuff like tone policing, derailing using anger, and derailing using emotion (if we were still being that kind of unfashionable, I’d make a nod to the references to our charming and adorable “passion” in Dean Gotell’s message). Oh well. I’ll be over here quietly and politely trying to figure out why everything old is new again, except for the parts that aren’t.

 

 

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Open Letter to Minister of Advanced Education Lori Sigurdson on the Rewriting of the Post-Secondary Learning Act

23 November 2015

 

 

The Honorable Lori Sigurdson

Minister of Advanced Education

Government of Alberta

404 Legislature Building

10800 – 97 Avenue

Edmonton, AB

Canada T5K 2B6

 

Dear Minister:

We write further to your letter of 30 September 2015 to the representatives of student and faculty associations in the province inviting their written submissions in relation to the Government’s proposed rewriting of the Post-secondary Learning Act (PSLA). We assume that while provincial organizations such as the Confederation of Alberta Faculty Associations may have made a written submission to you that you welcome further input from faculty and students across the province on this important issue. We do not in fact know what CAFA has submitted to you on behalf of faculty associations in the province, but we write to assert the following.

  1. We assert unambiguously the right of academic staff in the province of Alberta to freedom of association. We regard the right currently bestowed upon Boards under the Post-Secondary Learning Act to designate members to academic staff associations as an infringement of the Charterright to freedom of association.
  1. We also assert unambiguously the right of academic staff in the province of Alberta under the Charter of Rights and Freedomsto strike.
  1. We assert that the right to strike cannot be waived for us by any body that represents us as our bargaining agent with the Board of Governors. As Justice Rosalie Abella noted in her majority opinion in Saskatchewan Federation of Labour vs. Saskatchewan, “a legal system which suppresses [the] freedom to strike puts the workers at the mercy of their employers.” Moreover, “the right to strike is not merely derivative of collective bargaining, it is an indispensable component of that right.” We agree that the right to strike is “indispensable,” and therefore cannot be dispensed with by the turn to any other mechanism. “Without the right to strike,” Justice Abella notes, “a constitutionalized right to bargain collectively is meaningless.”
  1. We would like to see the Act rewritten to assert rigorously the fundamental principles of academic freedom, academic integrity, and academic independence especially in relation to funds received from private or corporate donors, and especially in relation to any research contracts with industry partners into which any university in the province enters. The Act should specify the need for all donor agreements and industry contracts to be made public so that universities are able to guarantee academic freedom and the integrity of their academic goals, as well as demonstrate their ability to protect such freedom, integrity and independence.
  1. We also call for the Act to specify additional criteria for the means by which Board members meant to represent “the general public” are selected. The “general public” cannot properly be said to be represented by members who are solely accountants, lawyers, and business managers. The new Act should specify innovative means to ensure that all members of the “general public” may be considered for appointment to university Boards and given all the support necessary to flourish as Governors. It should also specify the need for representation from Alberta’s indigenous communities.
  1. We also assert that the Act needs to be rewritten to strengthen the provisions for the shared governance of Alberta’s postsecondary institutions. In particular, we would like to see the Act involve a fuller definition of the power given to General Faculties Councils to manage the “academic affairs” of the University to ensure that this power cannot be constrained or circumvented by administrators, not even through mechanisms of delegated authority. Major academic decisions such as the founding of colleges within any of Alberta’s postsecondary institutions must be taken by the principal body, the General Faculties Council.
  1. The new Act should also require Alberta’s postsecondary education institutions strictly to limit their dependence upon temporary or precarious academic and support staff, as reliance on such staff is socially unjust and undermines the political protection of tenure. To ensure that Alberta’s postsecondary institutions are run according to the principles of academic freedom, shared governance, and social justice, the Act should specify a maximum percentage, low, of temporary or precarious academic staff that may be employed as academic staff at any of the province’s postsecondary institutions at any time. We suggest that the Act follow the NAIT rule of allowing no more than 10% of the academic staff at any of Alberta’s post-secondary institutions to be hired on a temporary basis.
  1. Finally, we call upon the Government of Alberta to rewrite the “whereas” clauses upon which the entire Act depends, to define the province’s postsecondary institutions in the first instance as public goods serving the public interest. It is as public goods serving the public interest that our universities best serve the general well-being of Albertans and the province’s culture and economy.

Respectfully submitted,

Carolyn Sale, Associate Professor, English & Film Studies, University of Alberta

Laurie Adkin, Associate Professor, Political Science, University of Alberta

Sourayan Mookerjea, Associate Professor, Sociology, University of Alberta

James Muir, Associate Professor, History and Classics and Faculty of Law, University of Alberta

Andrew Gow, Professor, History and Classics, University of Alberta

Kathleen Lowrey, Associate Professor, Anthropology, University of Alberta

Richard Westerman, Assistant Professor, Sociology, University of Alberta

Alexandre Da Costa, Assistant Professor, Educational Policy Studies, University of Alberta

William Ramp, Associate Professor, Sociology, University of Lethbridge

Kristine Alexander, Canada Research Chair in Child and Youth Studies/Assistant Professor of History, University of Lethbridge

Jarett Henderson, Assistant Professor of History and MRFA Advocacy Officer, Mount Royal University

Judy Davidson, Associate Professor, Physical Education & Recreation, University of Alberta

Makere Stewart-Harawira, Professor, Educational Policy Studies, University of Alberta

Jerry Kachur, Professor, Educational Policy Studies, University of Alberta

John R. Vokey, Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Lethbridge

Todd Nickle, Professor, Biology, Mount Royal University

Laura Servage, Post-doctoral Fellow, Faculty of Arts, University of Alberta

Jaimie Baron, Assistant Professor, English & Film Studies, University of Alberta

Daniela Gatto, Sessional Instructor (German), Grant MacEwan University

Janice Williamson, Professor, English & Film Studies, University of Alberta

Sheena Wilson, Assistant Professor, English & Cultural Studies, Campus St. Jean

Peter Choate, Assistant Professor, Social Work, Faculty of Health Community and Education, Mount Royal University

Tanya Stogre, Assistant Professor, Education, Mount Royal University

Carol Williams, Associate Professor, Women & Gender Studies, University of Lethbridge

Beau Coleman, Associate Professor, Drama, University of Alberta

Douglas Murdoch, Associate Professor, Psychology, Mount Royal University

Mark Simpson, Associate Professor, English & Film Studies, University of Alberta

Lynette Shultz, Associate Professor, Educational Policy Studies, University of Alberta

Rhiannon Bury, Associate Professor, Women’s and Gender Studies, Athabasca University

Natasha Hurley, Associate Professor, English & Film Studies, University of Alberta

Malinda Smith, Associate Professor, Political Science, University of Alberta

Brad Bucknell, Associate Professor, English and Film Studies, University of Alberta

Margaret L. Forgie, Instructor, Department of Psychology, University of Lethbridge

Ondine Park, Contract Instructor, Sociology, MacEwan University

William Anselmi, Professor, Modern Languages & Cultural Studies, University of Alberta

Ev Hamdon, Doctoral Candidate, Education, University of Alberta

Marie-Eve Morin, Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Alberta

Chloe Taylor, Associate Professor, Women’s and Gender Studies and Philosophy, University of Alberta

Jay Gamble, Instructor, Department of English, University of Lethbridge

Kirk Niergarth, Assistant Professor, Humanities, Mount Royal University

Kimberly Mair, Assistant Professor, Sociology, University of Lethbridge

Jan Jagodzinski, Professor, Visual Art and Media Studies, Secondary Education, University of Alberta

Jennifer R. Kelly, Professor, Theoretical, Cultural & International Studies in Education, Department of Educational Policy Studies, University of Alberta; Jean Augustine Visiting Chair in the New Urban Environment (2015-16), York University

David Logue, Assistant Professor of Psychology, University of Lethbridge

Tania Kajner, Sessional Instructor, University of Alberta

Stephen Speake, Contract Instructor, Sociology, MacEwan University

Julie Rak, Professor, English & Film Studies, University of Alberta

Cressida Heyes, Professor of Political Science and Philosophy, University of Alberta

Adam Kemezis, Associate Professor, History & Classics, University of Alberta

Toni Samek, Professor, School of Library and Information Studies, University of Alberta

Eddy Kent, Associate Professor, English & Film Studies, University of Alberta

Amy Kaler, Professor, Sociology, University of Alberta

Dip Kapoor, Professor, Educational Policy Studies, University of Alberta

Dan Johnson, Professor of Environmental Science, Department of Geography, University of Lethbridge

John Usher, Professor of Management, University of Lethbridge

Shelagh Campbell, Professor, Biological Sciences, University of Alberta

Natalie Meisner, Associate Professor Department of English, Languages and Cultures Mount Royal University

Srdja Pavlovic, Sessional Instructor, Department of History and Classics, University of Alberta

Karyn Ball, Professor, English and Film Studies, University of Alberta

Kimberly A. Williams, Associate Professor and Program Coordinator of Women’s & Gender Studies, Mount Royal University

Katie MacDonald, Doctoral Candidate, Sociology, University of Alberta

Andrew Holt, Associate Professor of Pharmacology & Associate Chair (Graduate Studies), Department of Pharmacology, University of Alberta

Mark Crawford, Assistant Professor, Political Science, Athabasca University

Natalie S. Loveless, Assistant Professor, History of Art, Design, and Visual Culture, University of Alberta

Joan Greer, Professor, Art & Design, University of Alberta

Anton Iorga, Doctoral candidate in Modern Languages and Cultural studies and French Instructor, University of Alberta

Aidan Rowe, Associate Professor in Design Studies, University of Alberta

Meenal Shrivastava, Professor, Global Studies and Political Economy, Athabasca University

Tracy O’Connor, Associate Professor, Biology, Mount Royal University

Lianne McTavish, Professor of the History of Art, Design, and Visual Culture, University of Alberta

Shawn L. England, Associate Professor of History, Department of Humanities, Mount Royal University

Imre Szeman, Professor, English & Film Studies, and Canada Research Chair in Cultural Studies

Ricardo Acuna, Associate Director, Parkland Institute, Faculty of Arts, University of Alberta

Rachel Milner, FSO Teaching Professor, Biochemistry Program, Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, University of Alberta

SIGNATURES RECEIVED AFTER ORIGINAL MAILED TO MINISTER*

Karen J. Reschke, Sessional Instructor, School of Business, MacEwan University

Rob Shields, Henry Marshall Tory Chair and Professor, University of Alberta

*Keep ’em coming! I will send updated letter to Minister.

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