OPEN FORUM – 29 January 2015

Roughly once a year, Carleton’s Board of Governor’s opens its doors to any campus group or individual that wishes to make a short presentation. Attendance by members of the Carleton University Board of Governors at the Open Forum was excellent this year, despite a snow storm. This year, we only heard six presentations. See the separate post for the Open SESSION earlier that day.

Trans policies

The evening started with a truly brilliant and relevant presentation by Theo Hug and Andi Finlay on how the university can welcome trans students and employees. Given Carleton’s current poor track-record even with women’s equity issues, you can imagine how badly we do with trans and intersex issues. Nonetheless, this presentation (available here) put together by the Challenge Transmisogyny and Heteronormativity Campaign Committee gorgeously laid out the problems and recommendations for inexpensive solutions.

First, Carleton needs more gender-neutral washrooms and needs to map out where they are. The presenters had to conduct their own audit to find gender neutral washrooms, only finding 25 across campus. Equity Service has promised to build a map of these 25 and post it on their website. Many single-stall washrooms across campus are still labeled as gendered, but could easily be re-labeled as gender-neutral. I am especially appalled by lack of gender-neutral washrooms in new buildings, such as the River Building and Canal Building. Carleton is in the middle of refurbishing washrooms across campus and, in so doing, really needs to consider making more of them gender-neutral.

Second, Carleton has an antiquated name policy. Students are only allowed to be listed by their legal names, making transitioning more difficult than it needs to be. This is especially appalling because our primary learning software, cuLearn, allows all students in a class to see the names of all their peers in the class, but only the legal names. [I still wonder why this sharing/broadcasting of student names does not violate FIPPA, but am growing weary of continually fighting that battle]. Students and employees at Carleton should be able to have electronic aliases with their preferred name and preferred gender pronouns. This is virtually costless, yet could make a huge difference for any member of the Carleton community that identifies as trans or queer.

Infomercial

The evening ended with an infomercial about Carleton’s aerospace program given by one of our associate deans, Langis Roy. When I asked him why he was presenting to the Board and what the Board could do for him, he said that he did not know, which is embarrassing. The good news was that – unbeknownst to me at the time – Langis Roy was asked to present this by the Board. My problem is that the open forum could become an endless suite of infomercials about every academic program at Carleton.

Remaining presentations

For the second year in a row, the Board was told about a capstone experience in mechanical and aerospace engineering (yes, the same aerospace program mentioned above) from some of its students. This annual project is to build a racing car, which is a ‘sport’ for only the wealthiest people, where participants and even spectators occasionally meet fiery deaths. The annual budget for this capstone project is $40,000, for which the students were asking the Board for half of the funds. For that amount, the fourth-year engineering students could instead do something socially responsible. Not being an engineer, I do not have great specific alternatives, but some might include building better pumps for drinking water or 3-D printers for educational centers. Building racing cars seems to be the antithesis of the university’s goals of promoting health, sustainability, and the environment. Auto racing also has a sexist stigma. Furthermore, the Board is not the body for dealing with $20,000 funding requests, usually only dealing with matters over $1 million. I hope these auto racers do not again waste the Board’s time next year. What Carleton really needs to do is spend more money to bring in more female students and female faculty members into engineering, in general. Now that would be worthy of the Board’s attention.

The Graduate Student Association (GSA) presented on the trials and tribulations of the community garden, Kitiganensag, which was uprooted by the university after less than a year. GSA also presented about the ongoing legal dispute between itself and the Carleton Undergraduate Student Association (CUSA), which has involved disputes with Carleton’s vice president of finance.

The Board heard about Carleton’s “Study Abroad” program from one of its students.

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2 comments
  1. Thomas Kunz said:

    Root,
    thanks for sharing your thoughts on the Open Forum. Maybe it is because I am in Engineering, but I find your take on the Formula SAE car presentation way too harsh. I think the Open Forum is quite an appropriate place for students to present their work, in particular if it has a large outside impact, and something to be quite proud of as a university. Not all our students (or students in Science, I would guess) work with Engineers without Borders, nor do I think they should. I’d agree that asking the board for $20K is really a small amount, and they would be better advised to ask their department chair or faculty dean for that money. But then again, who will be in a position to reasonably ask for $1 Million (which seems to be your threshold)? If I were to attend next year’s Open Forum, I certainly wouldn’t mind hearing more about how that project unfolds…..

    More generally, I do wonder what the purpose of these Open Forums is. Does everyone have to have an “ask”? We are not playing Dragon’s Den :-). Nor do I recall much of a follow-up on previous asks (like the access to e-mail/providing a way to communicate with different constituencies from one of last year’s presenters). I think that the main benefit of these Open Forums (Forii?) is to have a chance to present something to the board directly, and I for one was disappointed that CUASA or CUSA or the various CUPE groups did not take that opportunity. Kudos to GSA for making/supporting multiple presentations. If nothing else, this does provide board members with a different perspective on what goes on on campus, which I think is the more real (but less tangible) advantage to these events. There is a German saying that “Politik ist das beharrliche Bohren dicker Bretter” – loosely translated as “Politics is the persistent drilling of massive logs”. If some of our on-campus groups with concerns about various issues do not use such opportunities, I think it is a loss. To be more specific (with all its entailed risks) as a CUASA member: as CUASA is concerned about increased administrative workload, why not have a presentation to the board? It is after all a great enough topic of concern to call for a special general meeting……

    I did find it interesting to see that Langis was presenting on the Aerospace program. As Associate Dean in FGPA he is management, and as a faculty member in electronics not one of the primary people in that program (which is hosted in the Department of Mech and Aerospace Engineering). So it was clearly “staged” – I would have been more impressed if one of the principle researchers in that program had presented. But maybe the lesson in all of that is not that we should bemoan that – maybe the lesson is that if there are other opinions/topics we would like to see presented, everyone should feel free to encourage presentations at the Open Forum. Would provide more diversity as well….

  2. I largely concur with Professor Kunz. The Board’s open forum needs to be a venue for the voiceless to have a say. GSA has done beautifully with this, as did Campus United last year. The more grassroots voices the better, even if I don’t agree with them. However, what the open forum should avoid are dog-and-pony shows from university management, who can always have their voices heard, even at the Board.

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