A couple of ex-students of mine put a recent article in front of me from a university newspaper about a student who was apparently being misled – no that’s euphemistic, in reality he appears to have been lied to and cheated – by his university supervisor. From the article, it appears that the student was promised payment for a grant he worked on as a means of helping to support himself during his degree, but apparently the supervisor reneged on the payment, and then, after considerable pressure, offered a lower amount – purportedly well below minimum wage. There were other issues with the student being cajoled into courses he didn’t want, but that’s more complicated and hard to decipher from the article.
The article suggests that the university did little to support the student. In fact, it appears that the main official response was to warn the student newspaper of potential court action. Was this some perverted effort to hide the truth? Oh that such strength had been brought to bear against the supervisor, but nothing like that appears to have happened.
The reason this really annoys me is that pretty much the same thing happened to six other students I know from that same university (yes, the students who put the article in front of me were some of those). Promises of support were made by one supervisor, sometimes in writing, and those promises were broken. Those six students underwent considerable hardship, some had to leave mid-way through their degree. Basically, they were lied to and cheated. But it gets worse, I can’t say the university did absolutely nothing to help those students, there were individual efforts from some staff who seemed to have very little ability to do much of anything, but those more senior people who did actually have the power to act seemed to have been more comfortable turning a blind eye to the whole mess.
And so now history has repeated itself. But really, it shouldn’t have. Last time, I put forward an official allegation of misconduct to a Dean, a Vice President, and finally to the University President. By university regulation an investigation should have taken place, but no such investigation occurred. The whole issue was ignored. So, there should be absolutely no surprise that something similar has happened again.
In the end a local provincial MP was brought in, who did question the university – to no effect. An email to the university president with attached letters from four of the six students, outlining their problems, carbon copied to the Chair of the board of Governors, and to several supportive and well-known people in the community, all came to naught. Senior university administrators continued to ignore any problem in the face of considerable pressure. Duty of care was does not appear to have been part of their lexicon. University regulations were cast aside to ensure that the issue was not addressed, so no surprise at all that this has happened again.
So where is the heart? From my own cynical view, I see no heart. I see no duty of care for the students under this university’s administration. To be honest these sort of issues with supervisors do occur in other places, I’ve also seen that happen, the difference is that it’s handled efficiently and effectively. What I have never seen happen is a senior university administration turn its back on students in such a seemingly callous manor. I mean, grow some balls and address the problem. But this university’s response is to cocoon itself in faux legalities. Graduate students bring in money, and it appears that any means to bring those students in will be condoned. Ethical conduct be damned.
I would prefer to think this was an isolated incident related to one regional university with a near feudalistic university hierarchy built on ‘big fish, small pond’ thinking. However, I don’t have to look far to see that there is a more widespread problem. For instance, the University of British Colombia made it to the news for not reacting to complaints of sexual assault against six women by one male student there http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ubc-sexual-assaults-complaints-expulsion-1.3328368. While Brandon University seem to have lost their moral compass, apparently forcing victims of sexual assault to sign an agreement to remain silent http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/brandon-university-behavioural-contract-1.3520568 The one quote I found disturbing in regard that incident, and relevant to this one, was given by a student there "Just knowing that the culture of silence on victims and victim blaming is so huge in our community." The university later admitted that this was ‘inappropriate’ and removed said contract http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/brandon-university-sexual-assault-policy-1.3521898 but it took a very public debate to achieve this.
Elsewhere there is general concern about under-reporting of sexual assault on Canadian campuses http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/canadian-universities-sex-assault-policies-1.3479314 with accusations of universities being focused more on the bottom line and reputation than the care of students. This is such a familiar thing. In my view, ignoring sexual assault is just one aspect of a more general university based problem of ignoring any serious incident affecting students.
To be honest, I have never seen such an abysmal culture of doing nothing as I’ve seen here in Canadian universities. As a Canadian citizen who has spent a great deal of time in other countries, at the moment, I feel no pride in my Canadian heritage. Again, the question I ask is: where is the heart? Where is the heart of the people who could act to do the right thing; who will make the change; who will show the outrage; where are the people with the will to cure this disease? Because it is a disease. Where is the heart of Canada? Is there actually a heart at all, or did it just shrivel and die a long ago?
So I ask the question, where is the heart?