Ed Broadbent: Opposing Academic Expresson, Freedoms at the University of Ottawa

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Ed Broadbent: Opposing Academic Expresson, Freedoms at the University of Ottawa

Challenging Canadian Civil Liberties Association Members for Opposing Academic and Speech Freedoms at the University of Ottawa

http://mostlywater.org/challenging_canadian_civil_liberties_association_...

"To the Hon. Ed Broadbent

Dear Edward,

Your name appears on a highly unusual letter from the Canadian Civil Liberties Assocation justifying the University of Ottawa's firing of a dissident physics professor. It seems odd that a civil liberties organization would take that position--and do so without conducting any investigation--until one learns that the organization's director is working for the University (at $182,500.o8 per year, 2009 salary) and played a direct role in the firing as the University's vice president for governance...

Simply put the Canadian Civil Liberties Association is willing to stab a dissident in the back to protect its director.."

 

Cueball Cueball's picture

Where is the letter that Ed Broadbent signed?

Cueball Cueball's picture

I see, it appears as part of the letterhead, here: http://rancourt.academicfreedom.ca/Data/Documents/ccla/2010-02-25=CCLA-L...

Snert Snert's picture

Quote:
In the Board's view, a university disciplining a professor for giving A+ grades to all of his students regardless of the merits of their work is not a matter that necessarily raises either academic freedom or civil liberties issues.

 

Exactly. In fact, it has nothing whatsoever to do with "academic freedom", which enshrines faculty rights to research, not to course delivery. It's only the ultra-privelege of tenured academics that lets them believe (often unopposed) that "academic freedom" means that anything they do is, de facto, perfect.

 

Anyway, why should any of this be a problem for Rancourt? He can teach students out of his basement if he wants. It's not about the grades or the credits or the "worthless piece of paper", right? It's all about the learning! So what's he need a big old hidebound University for anyway? It would only get in the way of the learning.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

I think this is the professor who has challenged educational orthodoxy so much that his own colleagues are intimidated by him. He has, however, backed up his actions with his own research. Babblers should not reject, without much thought, what this particular prof is doing.

There's more info about this which I will try to find.

Sean in Ottawa

I don't like the thread title because it represents a conclusion not an examination or discussion. I think Broadbent deserves a discussion that can start with an examination rather than from this rather offensive conclusion.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

Yea, it really belongs as an educational issue thread. If Broadbent is playing an ignorant role here, it's still only a secondary point. What the academic is doing, why he is doing it, what repressive measures have been taken against him, and what can be done to help him, etc., are the important matters.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Previous babble discussion on Denis Rancourt

University of Ottawa vs. activist prof Denis Rancourt

Nice interview of Prof. Rancourt by Derrick O'Keefe:

 

remind remind's picture

Me too Sean....

BillBC

I agree with Snert.  This has nothing to do with academic freedom.

Unionist

I disagree with Snert and BillBC. The A+ thing was a thinly-veiled pretext for getting rid of someone who made the bigshots feel uncomfortable. Anyway, I've given my views at length on this issue and they haven't changed. I do, however, think that it's a little silly to go after Ed Broadbent here.

 

Snert Snert's picture

What strikes me as funniest about this whole debate around Rancourt is that the progressives seem to think that important course management and grading decisions should NOT be made by the Senate (an accountable, elected committee with student representation) but rather by unaccountable, unelected individuals according to whatever their gut feeling tells them.

Me, I think the elected Senate is more appropriate.  Anyone who continues to support the idea that this elected Senate should be replaced by unaccountable individuals is really ready to sacrifice a lot in the name of this one particular case.  And I remain confident that if Rancourt wanted to turn a Women's Studies course into a Home Economics course, empowered by his inaccurate understanding of "academic freedom", he'd have no supporters here.

BillBC

I think this case is fascinating.  People spring to the defence of this guy mostly, as far as I can see, because he "challenges authority."  But some traditional ways are good, and I think this guy's ideas are simply nutty, even if he has done what he calls research on them.  Snert's analogy of the home economics course is perfect, I think

Unionist

I think the Senate should also decide, by majority vote, what lecturers may say while on campus - but they should strictly allow them to silently think whatever they want.

In that way, freedom can truly become academic.

 

Snert Snert's picture

The Senate certainly doesn't tell faculty what they may or may not say.  They do, however, make decisions about course management (including:  is a course graded or not).  You seem to be implying that university professors are being gagged by the tyranny of the majority.  To someone who works at a university, that's hilarious.

Also, a quick reminder that the Senate is not some kind of "other" to faculty.  There are faculty representatives on the Senate, as well as staff and students.  I somehow doubt that those faculty representatives are going to drive the Senate to silence academics!

I'll put you down as voting against student representation in these decisions.

Unionist

Snert wrote:

 You seem to be implying that university professors are being gagged by the tyranny of the majority.

No, Snert. The danger stems from the tyranny of the minority. Business owners, military machines, elite politicians - telling universities what to produce, when to jump, and to what altitude - and starving them to death if they don't comply. Most get the message without brutal reminders. Occasionally, brutal reminders are needed. Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.

 

BillBC

You can't have total freedom to teach any way you want.  I knew a college teacher who decided that lecturing was unnecessary--he told the students to read this and that, and to come to his office if they had any questions.  Not surprisingly the course was a disaster, and most students learned nothing.  There has to be some control on this sort of thing.

Snert Snert's picture

Quote:
No, Snert. The danger stems from the tyranny of the minority. Business owners, military machines, elite politicians - telling universities what to produce, when to jump, and to what altitude - and starving them to death if they don't comply.

 

Ah, I see. So the UofO's Senate has either been bought and paid for, or else they're quaking in their boots at the possibility of losing funding. Clearly they're corrupt, either way, and that's why they've oppressed poor Rancourt.

 

You're a poor loser, Unionist, though I'll give you credit for fighting well past the point where most people would stop.

 

I'm curious, though: do you really believe that an elected Senate made up of students, staff and faculty is MORE corruptible than one unaccountable individual would be? And is this why you're lobbying to have as much authority as possible put into the hands of that one individual?

Unionist

BillBC wrote:
You can't have total freedom to teach any way you want.  I knew a college teacher who decided that lecturing was unnecessary--he told the students to read this and that, and to come to his office if they had any questions.  Not surprisingly the course was a disaster, and most students learned nothing.  There has to be some control on this sort of thing.

Well, BillBC, are you saying teachers have to teach students? I'd agree with that. Any evidence that Rancourt didn't do that?

If the Senate decides that every student in a class has to be ranked at the end of the course, individually and publicly, with no ties - and a lecturer said, "I will never do such a thing" - would you fire her?

 

Unionist

Um Snert, can you please try to confine yourself to one (1) straw man per one (1) post? I'm only human, after all.

 

BillBC

Yes, I'm saying that teachers have to teach students, and further, that part of teaching is assessing, and that giving all students A+ is not assessing, but just a mockery of assessing.  Rancourt himself provides the evidence.

No Senate would require students to be publicly assessed.  The privacy laws forbid it.  You can't even post student grades by number.  But if your question is, would I fire a lecturer who refused to rank (grade?) students at the end of the course, I'd say yes, of course.

Snert Snert's picture

Quote:
Um Snert, can you please try to confine yourself to one (1) straw man per one (1) post? I'm only human, after all.

 

It's not a straw man. You oppose letting the Senate make course management decisions. You would prefer to see those decisions made by individuals who are neither elected, accountable, nor representative of students. Feel free to deny this, but I trust that our readers can read.

Cueball Cueball's picture

Unionist wrote:

I think the Senate should also decide, by majority vote, what lecturers may say while on campus - but they should strictly allow them to silently think whatever they want.

In that way, freedom can truly become academic.

Laughing

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

The following is from the rabble.ca interview linked to above by Catchfire.

JesseFreeston for rabble.ca wrote:

 

Why is it important to you to not grade your students?

DR: With grades students learn to guess the professor's mind and to obey. It is a very sophisticated machinery, whereby the natural desire to learn, the intrinsic motivation to want to learn something because you are interested in the thing itself, is destroyed. Grades are the carrot and stick that shape obedient employees and that prepare students for the higher level indoctrinations of graduate and professional schools. The only way to develop independent thinking in the classroom is to give freedom, to break the power relationship by removing the instrument of power....

F: Do you see a role for grading anywhere in the educational system?

DR: The big distinction we have to make is between learning skills, and education. When it comes to learning skills, well, you have to learn the skill. If you're a surgeon, you have to learn how to operate, and in fact, a lot of medical schools have done away with grades completely as they're able to teach very specific skills without using grades.

For the other part of education, the creative thinking side, all the research shows that grades are anti-educational. As soon as you make a student into a machine that is looking for higher grades, they are trying to guess what the professor wants rather than looking at the phenomenon, looking at the material in order to understand it themselves. That's a very clearly demonstrated fact, it's well known, in fact what I'm doing is nothing new, with regards to grading. All the cognitive psychologists know this, that grading is a tool of coercion in order to make obedient people, it is a carrot and stick mechanism. It's not about personal development, learning, creativity or understanding complicated concepts.

Brilliant. Rancourt further points out that several Ivy League schools now offer simply pass/fail rather than the usual grading system. Credibility, which is the argument that the drone/Dean put forward, has nothing to do with grading in the traditional manner.

"There is nothing in my job description, or in the documents that define what the university is about, that says that we have a responsibility to rank students for employers. In fact, all of the documents say the opposite; that it's about education, that it's about learning, that it's about development. If you decide that it's about education, then you have to optimize education, and grading doesn't do that."

Rancourt has also drawn attention to the slavishly Zionist position of the University President, former "liberal" politician Alan Rock, and his efforts to silence dissenters. Politics is also a factor here in the warfare being carried out against Rancourt.

 

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

It seems that pass/fail grading is not actually binary - it's actually a four-level system, at least as far as Harvard is concerned.  Which means there is still ranking, and it's much like the grading that was used, IIRC, in the early 1980s at a regional university I attended (the grades were 1 through 4).

http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2008/9/26/harvard-law-school-adopts-pa...

It looks to me like Racourt is more interested in raising a ruckus and getting into fights with people than he is on teaching. A university can't just stop grading students, all degrees would be meaningless. Rancourt is being unreasonable.

Unionist

Timebandit wrote:

 A university can't just stop grading students, all degrees would be meaningless. Rancourt is being unreasonable.

And how about telling me what the meaning of a B.A. is? Either you get one, or you don't. That's called pass/fail. That's what Rancourt wanted to do and they wouldn't let him. Do you think B.A. certificates should have GPAs inscribed on them - names of courses, exam results, term paper results? A little curve showing relative standing? Maybe staple them all there in one big file to be examined by prospective employers? Make them more "meaningful"?

Have you read the previous thread about Rancourt? I strongly suggest looking through some of the background materials, before you condemn this academic with decades of experience as "unreasonable" and more interested in "getting into fights" than teaching. Blame the victim much?

 

Snert Snert's picture

If an institution wants to get rid of grades for a particular course, they can always offer it as non-credit.

 

If this is really about "learning" (and I'm not convinced it is) then the lack of a credit won't matter at all.  How is a "credit" any better than a "grade" anyway? 

 

I wonder if Rancourt ever suggested that option?

 

Quote:
It seems that pass/fail grading is not actually binary - it's actually a four-level system, at least as far as Harvard is concerned. 

 

Notwithstanding partials, the traditional system is only one more -- five -- level: A, B, C, D and F.

 

I guess "honors pass" = A, "pass" = C, "low pass" = D and "fail" = F. Anyway, unless Rancourt ever issued a "fail", it's a moot point. His appeared to be a guaranteed pass, conditional only upon shining a seat with your ass.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

Wow. What a worthless contribution.

Snert Snert's picture

Quote:
Do you think B.A. certificates should have GPAs inscribed on them - names of courses, exam results, term paper results?

 

Your sheepskin is largely ceremonial, for framing. If an employer requires a detailed academic record (mine recently did) then they'll ask for an official transcript, which will include all of your grades for each course.

 

Quote:
Blame the victim much?

 

Oh please. Let's have a telethon for the poor, oppressed professor who didn't want to do his job and unsurprisingly didn't get to keep it.

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

Unionist wrote:

Timebandit wrote:

 A university can't just stop grading students, all degrees would be meaningless. Rancourt is being unreasonable.

And how about telling me what the meaning of a B.A. is? Either you get one, or you don't. That's called pass/fail. That's what Rancourt wanted to do and they wouldn't let him. Do you think B.A. certificates should have GPAs inscribed on them - names of courses, exam results, term paper results? A little curve showing relative standing? Maybe staple them all there in one big file to be examined by prospective employers? Make them more "meaningful"?

Have you read the previous thread about Rancourt? I strongly suggest looking through some of the background materials, before you condemn this academic with decades of experience as "unreasonable" and more interested in "getting into fights" than teaching. Blame the victim much?

It's only blaming the victim if you accept that he is, actually, a victim.  I'm not so convinced he's a victim of anything more than his own pugnacious attitude.

Getting a BA or not is not the point.  Where you are ranked, how well you understand the course materials, what courses you've taken and the level of work you've accomplished may not be recorded on the sheepskin, but they're part of your transcripts and this is presented and factored in for any post-grad programs one might apply to.  Just as your high school grades are taken into account in your application to an undergrad program. 

Besides which, I just think it's wrong that the student who works his or her ass off in school and does well should get the same grade as some schmuck who phones it in.  It diminishes the achievement.

ETA:  If Rancourt doesn't want to work within the system, then he shouldn't.  But you can't have your cake (in his case, tenured position, salary and pension) and eat it, too. 

BillBC

Harvard may have a pass/fail system, but it screens students carefully before letting them in.  It has a very high standard of admission, so all of its students are likely to achieve much the same result.  The U of O, on the other hand, depends on highly inflated high school grades, which are pretty much meaningless.  So it's easy to get into the place, and apparently impossible to fail his class unless you screw up in some non-academic way. 

Grading is not (just) about training zombies for industry, it's about ranking students by their abilities.  How could any of his students get into graduate school?  Their GPA may not be written on their diplomas, but they certainly appear on their transcripts, which a graduate admissions office will want to see.  If a graduate school finds out a student took this guy's course, the grade will be totally discounted--a kiss of death for the student.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

To get into Rancourt's 4th year course there would be prerequisites. So, BillBC's point about "easy to get into" etc. doesn't hold up.

Try again.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Rancourt has a long record of activism and attempting to affect the increasingly corporatized environment of the modern university. How would those who advocate a "like it or lump it" approach suggest those who are concerned about the direction Canadian universities are willingly taking work to effect change?

Triphop

I don't know much about this issue. I do know there was very little Academic Freedom when I was a student years ago. Profs got into trouble for lots of things. You couldn't talk about lots of things. That Natives came accross a landbridge from Eurasia, something most anthropoligists now believe, was verboten to mention because it denied their creation myths. This was as bad as the Monkey Trial but nobody would talk about it. Anything "sexist" was a no no. An anthro prof I had wouldn't show slides the Venus stauettes because he was afraid of getting into trouble with the PC sexism police. This didn't just affect profs. The Students Union got sued because they had a raffle poster with a woman in a bikini in it. The program director of the campus radio station blacklisted a band because they once performed with a scantily clad female. I don't think it's better now. A religious studies prof I spoke with recently said she's afraid to discuss Islam in comparative religion classes. With other religions, like Christianity, they basically treat holy texts as literature made-up by people, but when they try this with the Quran they get death threats. I don't know about hard sciences, but there is no academic freedom in the social sciences.

Snert Snert's picture

Quote:

To get into Rancourt's 4th year course there would be prerequisites. So, BillBC's point about "easy to get into" etc. doesn't hold up.

Try again.

 

Most pre-requisites are core courses that students in a chosen program will have to take regardless.  The pre-req isn't there to make entry to a core course more challenging, it's there to ensure that you take courses in the proper order.

 

Also, this is the guy who had two ten year old children in his course.  That doesn't exactly speak to the difficulty of getting in.  LOL!

 

Now you try again.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

Triphop wrote:
I don't know much about this issue.

Agreed. Try reading all of this thread and the previous one and the interview as well. Pay particular attention to the points Rancourt makes about grading, what its purpose is, education, what its purpose is, and so on.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

Snert wrote:
Also, this is the guy who had two ten year old children in his course.

You'll have to substantiate this claim. What course? etc.Of course, if you're just making stuff up, then carry on. lol.

genstrike

To me, it seems as though Rancourt was taken out for political issues with the university administration (as well as being a professional - professionals are supposed to be people who are smart enough but also well trusted enough to run the machine, and the university's role is often to churn these people out) as well as rejecting the prescribed pedagogical methods.  As a student, I do think Rancourt has some good points regarding pedagogy, and I think that academic freedom goes beyond simply what to research (within the narrow confines of the university-industrial complex) - it should include how things are taught as well.

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

N.Beltov wrote:

To get into Rancourt's 4th year course there would be prerequisites. So, BillBC's point about "easy to get into" etc. doesn't hold up.

Try again.

That argument only works if the prereq's grade conventionally - so Rancourt would be the only one not having to deal with "quality control". 

Snert Snert's picture

Quote:
You'll have to substantiate this claim. What course? etc.Of course, if you're just making stuff up, then carry on. lol.

 

Quote:
[url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denis_Rancourt]Two ten year old brothers[/url] were deregistered from SCI 1101 in January 2006. The University of Ottawa stated the students were deregistered because they did not meet the criteria for enrolment in the course, while the deregistered individuals' mother cited age discrimination. Rancourt publicly supported the mother's initiative to file a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, as minors must file a complaint to the tribunal through their parent or guardians[

 

You're welcome.

BillBC

"academic freedom goes beyond simply what to research (within the narrow confines of the university-industrial complex) - it should include how things are taught as well."

 

--it may go beyond it, but not infinitely.  You can imagine all sorts of weird approaches that no one here would approve of.  Someone has to set limits....

BillBC

Too bad about the ten year olds.  They both would have got A+  Quite an achievement at that age....

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

Catchfire wrote:

Rancourt has a long record of activism and attempting to affect the increasingly corporatized environment of the modern university. How would those who advocate a "like it or lump it" approach suggest those who are concerned about the direction Canadian universities are willingly taking work to effect change?

And refusing to grade his students ties into this how?  It's more likely to screw over his students than it is to create any kind of positive change. 

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Obviously a lot of babblers are hung up on this A+ thing that if anything is serving as a useful diversion from the points Rancourt was hoping to make by his pedagogy. Perhaps instead of questions about whether this practice is practical, or whether or not U of O undergraduates are stupider than Harvard undergraduates (btw in my experience, that claim is emphatically false), we could try to address the very salient point Rancourt makes in Derrick's interview. Beltov cited it above and I cited it in the previous thread on Rancourt:

Quote:
"There is nothing in my job description, or in the documents that define what the university is about, that says that we have a responsibility to rank students for employers. In fact, all of the documents say the opposite; that it's about education, that it's about learning, that it's about development. If you decide that it's about education, then you have to optimize education, and grading doesn't do that."

Specifically, what do we make of the dissonance between what the University claims is the purpose of a professor, and its refusal to address the real problems profs like Rancourt (and other less "pugnacious" profs) see in a system which ranks students for potential employers?

 

BillBC

that says that we have a responsibility to rank students for employers.

 

Surely though it's not just for employers.  It's for their own awareness of what they've achieved; it's for graduate school; it's for awards and honours, etc.  I've never heard anyone suggest in a university that they were grading for General Motors....

Snert Snert's picture

The truth is, university professors have far more professional autonomy (which, by the way, is the proper term for it, not "academic freedom") in the classroom than any of us will ever have in our workplace (unless, of course, we're professors).

 

But course management is the job of the institution, via an elected, cross-representational committee, not of individuals going on their gut feelings.

 

I reiterate my amusement at seeing the progressives arguing that important academic decisions about course management should be the privelege of one already priveleged individual rather than of an elected group of faculty, staff and students.  Srsly.  Look at what you're rooting for.

 

Quote:
Specifically, what do we make of the dissonance between what the University claims is the purpose of a professor, and its refusal to address the real problems profs like Rancourt (and other less "pugnacious" profs) see in a system which ranks students for potential employers?

First of all, Rancourt is being disingenuous. His job description also does not say "Is responsible for all matters of course management" either. So, please. Give us a break.

 

But regarding a genuine belief that some or all courses should be graded differently, that can be brought to the Senate for consideration.

 

Do you trust an elected body of staff, faculty and students to decide something like this? Yes or no?

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Quote:
But course management is the job of the institution, via an elected, cross-representational committee, not of individuals going on their gut feelings.

I reiterate my amusement at seeing the progressives arguing that important academic decisions about course management should be the privelege of one already priveleged individual rather than of an elected group of faculty, staff and students.  Srsly.  Look at what you're rooting for.

Courses are already designed by individual lecturers and professors, not by the senate--for obvious reasons: one is an expert in the field and the other isn't.

Edited to address Snert's edit:

Of course I would prefer an elected and representative body like a University Senate to make choices before individual "cranks." I consider Rancourt an activist, and the U of O Senate has proven itself to be disinterested in discourse--that is to say, it isn't interested in democracy. Rather than address Rancourt's subversive concerns, it has chosen to remove a tenured professor from doing what he is trained to do, and, indeed, what the University claims it wants for its students. Make no mistake: Rancourt taught two small senior-level courses which were not prerequisites. What irrevocable damage are these two classes doing to the University that necessitates such an unprecedented move on the part of the University executive?

Unionist

Forget it, Catchfire. You actually have people in this thread who believe that universities should rank their products for employers. It would be like arguing with some who claims that families should rank their children for the job market. There actually is no basis for a conversation here. My only disappointment (in the sense of surprise) so far is TB's reluctance to read about Rancourt before making Snert-like utterances.

 

Snert Snert's picture

Correct.  The faculty member will be a subject matter expert.  If their subject is Modern Cinema then they should be expected to know all about Modern Cinema.

But the subject and course management are two different things.  One -- the subject -- is what is taught.  The other -- course management -- is how.  I trust everyone is aware that most PhDs will have limited, if any formal training in teaching their subject.  The "comps" (comprehensives) that they write prior to thesis work are intended only to demonstrate master of the subject matter.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

There is also no formalized pedogogy mandated by the senate, board of governors or faculties of any major university I know of.

ETA: and I would also question how much light there is between the binaries you've so usefully named "what" and "how." I wonder, if the Senate advised me to change the way I teach the course material I've developed for the university courses I'm responsible for, if I could keep the same material. I'd probably just give up the course if that were the case, but the prospect of such a thing happening is so alien to me.

Snert Snert's picture

Quote:
 My only disappointment (in the sense of surprise) so far is TB's reluctance to read about Rancourt before making Snert-like utterances.

 

Hehe. "Snert-like utterances"??

 

While you and I will always disagree on many things, I have to, whether I like it or not, accept that in matters of unions and labour relations, you simply know more than I do. It's your world, so to speak, and not so much mine.

 

This is what I do. This is what I know. It's a shame you're not humble enough to see when you should step back (or, do your homework). Around about the time that I had to explain the concept of the Senate to you should have been when you got a little more humble. And yet here you are, unable to step back, unable to be quiet, pontificating on a subject that frankly you know very little about.

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