Letters to the editors

EnCana misrepresented

Dear Editors,

Re: “Career Services not working” (Journal, Oct. 21, 2008)

It is unfortunate that Stephanie St. Clair’s opinion article regarding Queen’s University’s recruitment drive contained errors and omissions about EnCana Corporation that, had Ms. St. Clair contacted us, could have been corrected to provide a more accurate reflection of our company’s commitment to social and environmental responsibility.

In the article, Ms. St. Clair refers to EnCana’s involvement in an oil pipeline through the Mindo Nambillo Cloud Forest of Ecuador. She also discusses the deaths of three activists during a week-long military crackdown in the region.

Firstly, it is important to note that EnCana sold all of its oil and pipeline interests in Ecuador in 2006 as part of the company’s efforts towards narrowing its strategic focus to North America. OCP Ecuador S.A. is the owner and operator of the 500-kilometre pipeline. The Ecuador government approved the pipeline and now regulates it.

When the OCP (Oleoducto de Crudos Pesados) pipeline was proposed, EnCana’s predecessor company, Alberta Energy Company, was a minority shareholder. The proposed northern route was selected only after extensive environmental and technical review and comparison with other proposed routes, and construction was subject to very tight standards of environmental mitigation techniques. During the time that EnCana operated in Ecuador, the company received numerous awards for its environmental work, which included setting new higher standards in protecting Ecuador’s sensitive rainforest. As part of its work to build economic and social capacity in Ecuador, EnCana also sponsored numerous environmental, health and sustainable farming initiatives aimed at helping local communities. Lastly, there has never been any evidence to suggest there were any deaths related to EnCana’s activities while it was in Ecuador.

It is unfortunate that Ms. St. Clair did not provide students with the same full and balanced background information on potential employers that she asks the University to provide.

Rick Davidson
Lead, Recruitment Programs
EnCana Corporation

Baha’s death raises questions

Dear Editors,

Re: “He always took the time to talk” (Journal, Nov. 14, 2008)

Those who knew Baha Bekenov mourn his loss. This Comm ’09 student was working late and alone in Goodes Hall on the night of Monday, Nov. 10. His body was found early on the Tuesday morning. It’s time that students, staff and faculty reassess the serious risks of working alone on campus. Does Queen’s have adequate security services to effectively monitor buildings where students, staff and faculty may be working alone late at night? We need a work alone policy that ensures either precautions are in place or working alone simply doesn’t happen. Valence Young

MIR ’09

Responses to Homecoming cancellation

Dear Editors,

Re: “Fall Homecoming cancelled” (Journal, online update, Nov. 18, 2008)

Congratulations to a relatively small number of irresponsible, drunken, spoiled brats. Because of your immaturity and inability or refusal to behave, you have ruined a great tradition for the majority of students and alumni.

Your Moms would be proud if they knew of your contribution to Queen’s.

With disgust,

Patrick McCue
Arts ’62, MBA ’63

Dear Editors,

Re: “Fall Homecoming cancelled” (Journal, online update, Nov. 18, 2008)

“University officials, city leaders, police and the [Alma Mater Society] agree that this event that occurs at the same time as homecoming cannot be permitted to continue,” —Globe and Mail, Nov. 18, 2008.

It’s amazing how these decisions are made contrary to the wishes of the student body. How can the AMS claim to speak for the students on this issue when a strong majority of students are opposed to their policy? During the AMS referendum in October, the question was posed to students about cancelling the Aberdeen Street Party and 64 per cent of respondents opposed this cancellation. Although only about 3,000 students responded to this referendum, the strong consensus opposed removing this tradition from the Queen’s calendar. Now that this cancellation has become more publicized, the AMS has the duty to ask students again how they feel and if a majority feel that this event is beneficial to our school, then the AMS policy should reflect that. Groups that represent the student population should not unilaterally decide how every Queen’s student feels.

What is overlooked in this cancellation of homecoming is the effect on Queen’s students, both past and present. Alumni should be able to proudly return to their university and embrace the traditions that they experienced while at Queen’s, which includes interacting with the current student body. During Homecoming this year, one of my housemates had his parents come up for their thirtieth reunion year. We spent the Saturday of Homecoming (our house composed of ArtSci ’11) with 10 members of the commerce Class of ’78, sitting on our front porch, hearing them share their misadventures at Queen’s and jam on guitars as if they were still in their first-year dorms. It bewilders me to think that the administration is so willing to completely abandon our school’s rich sense of tradition in such a drastic way. It begs the question, if we can no longer have Homecoming as a strong connection to our history, will there be any history to connect to when we return 30 years from now? Daniel Szczepanek

ArtSci ’11

Program cannot provide genuine engagement

Dear Editors,

Re: Intergroup Dialogue Program

I think what freaks people out about this program is its institutional nature. The facilitators are hired and paid (in room and board) by the University, they are given instructions about which words and phrases are okay and which ones are not and then they are unleashed on the student body to, as dialogue facilitator Daniel Hayward puts it, interrupt harmful behaviour (albeit in a non-blameful and non-judgmental manner). The age difference between facilitators and frosh and the institutional backing that facilitators receive creates a power imbalance that precludes genuine engagement between facilitator and student/offender. The fact that facilitators are paid further complicates matters by obscuring the motives behind their interventions. Perhaps I’m too much of a Kantian but I think that if people speak out against prejudice it should be because they actually care and not because they are being paid to do so. These motives are not necessarily incompatible but the involvement of money confuses the situation.

I think a far better alternative would be for the university to run free seminars on confronting prejudice for all those who are interested. That way, students would have access to the strategies and materials they need to confront discrimination on their own. Not only would such a program do more to directly empower the victims of prejudice, it would encourage the student body as a whole to take ownership of the problem of discrimination on campus instead of consigning it to Queens administration. Prejudice hurts and should be stopped. However, it is depressing and, frankly, creepy that the University thinks the only solution is to finance interventions in the conversations of strangers.

Adam Sproat
ArtSci ’09

Anti-union article contains ‘misconceptions’

Dear Editors,

Re: “TA/TF union likely ‘ineffective’” (Journal, Nov. 14, 2008)

Arash Farzam-Kia suggests that we do not need collective representation because we are not full-time, long-term employees. He forgets that TA wages are essential for many graduate students and for TFs often the main income. TAs/TFs are invested heavily in their teaching labour and are deeply committed to it. We are often the front-line teachers and, as such, we deserve respect and fair treatment.

Apart from trivialising our experiences as workers, Farzam-Kia invokes numerous misconceptions about unions and misrepresents TAFA as external to the University. TAFA consists of volunteers who are TAs/TFs here; as employees, they feel the need for collective representation. Our loyalties are shared, not “divided.” Our concerns are based directly on TA/TF input. Moreover, the only flexibility unionisation would limit is the flexibility of the employer to determine unilaterally, without meaningful voice for TAs/TFs, our terms and conditions of employment. A collective agreement would set University-wide standards and not interfere in the day-to-day running of departments and courses.

A union can do more for TAs/TFs than Farzam-Kia implies. While confusion between funding and wages remains an issue, TA/TF unions elsewhere have successfully resolved this ambiguity. The collective agreement at UWO, for example, guarantees real wage increases by offering them as bonuses on top of funding. At Queen’s, the administration has been able to shift money from funding to wages precisely because we had no representation.

Most significantly, Farzam-Kia offers no alternatives to address the issues TAs and TFs are facing. When you work more than you are paid for, there is no recourse because there is no union. When—not if—the university wants to pass on continuing budget cuts to us, they will unilaterally do so if there is no collective agreement. There is no functioning grievance procedure. Not only is a union not the hatchet he makes it out to be, the scalpel does not exist either. Would you like the “scalpel” to be in the hands of colleagues with shared concerns and needs, or would you rather, like Farzam-Kia, abandon control of the knife to those who care more about the bottom line than quality education?

Ralph Callebert
PhD ’11

Stay strong Rachel

Dear Editors,

Re: “Another Racist Incident Reported” (Journal, Nov. 14, 2008)

I am not going to waste precious paper in even attempting to argue with people whether the word “racist” is properly applied to this incident. It is obviously racism; to anyone who does not understand why, a simple search of the internet should prove to you why it is racism. It is a grave situation which calls for the full enforcement of the law.

To Rachel, I would like to say, I am horrified with the attack against you that was reported in the Journal. I am very glad to read that you have a support network that can help you. I should say, though I have fortunately never been a victim of hate crime, if your true ambition is to attend Queen’s University for your Masters then I would encourage you to apply. As you know, racists commit acts of violence, like what you have just suffered, to scare people, silence them and drive them away. You have demonstrated that you will not be a victim of the first two by calling the police and reporting the event to the media. Show to yourself—and that’s the only person that matters in cases such as these—that you will not be a victim and will persevere and realize your goal. I wish you all the best, whatever your decision.

Kyle Abrey
ArtSci ’07

SGPS is not enough

Dear Editors,

Re: “TA/TF union likely ‘ineffective’” (Journal, Nov. 14, 2008)

In response to the article by Arash Farzam-Kia, I was SGPS VP internal in 2005-06 when the TA policy was implemented. This policy is completely toothless, designed by lawyers to protect the University and not TAs. Moreover, most departments knew nothing about it, nor were there any meaningful pressures for them to adopt it in practice.

The Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS) has no capacity to negotiate for or protect any non-student TAs – who comprise perhaps 200 to 300 people on our campus. The SGPS is to represent students, not employees.

As VP internal I attended numerous School of Graduate Studies and Research Council meetings where grad chairs and administrators passed many motions affecting working conditions of TAs and TFs. We have 10 student seats on the council that could speak and vote on their motions. One motion was brought to council by a faculty-led committee that bypassed their own constitutional requirement of including SGPS members when the committee sat, which meant no student was present when the motion was created. Despite us communicating unanimous disapproval and disbelief that there was no interest on their part to respect their own constitution, we watched all our grad chairs vote in favour of the motion. Some of the more supportive ones spoke to me afterward saying they knew we were right, but they had to vote in favour anyway, if only to expedite the process. It was an existential waste of time and it convinced me that it is wrong to believe the faculty always have our best interests in mind. In fact, they will even strategize to occlude them completely.

The SGPS is important, but if you want to try to deal with TA matters through that body I would say you might as well run your head into a wall as it is equally effective.

Toby Moorsom
PhD ’09

SGPS VP (Internal) 2005-06

Responses to Homecoming cancellation

Dear Editors,

The following is a letter I sent to Principal Williams regarding my feelings on Homecoming being cancelled.

Dear Mr. Williams, I am at once extremely saddened and angered by this inappropriate response to a reconcilable situation. I look back on Homecoming weekends at Queen's as some of my fondest memories and look forward to (hopefully) being able to celebrate my homecoming in 2011. I think this ban speaks to a university administration that lacks a creative solution.

Queen's creates an incredible academic and social environment for the students who are and have been privileged enough to tread the campus.

Did I enjoy and participate in Homecoming celebrations on Aberdeen while I was a student? Yes. And what did I take away? Accidentally running into summer camp friends, spending an evening with classmates, and enjoying tales from alumni. While I recognize that change is essential in order to create an environment that is both safe and legal, I do not think that such change should come at the expense of the current students or the alumni for whom Homecoming is an anticipated event.

I wonder if the university administration actually believes it is possible to prevent such a party from occurring? Further, mightn't it be the case that such a ban will create the conditions necessary for a party so gigantic on the year that homecoming returns that it was all for naught regardless?

I am a proud Golden Gael. I have always said that when the time comes for me to give back to an alma mater I would choose Queen's and not my graduate school. And I would choose Queen's because I remember fondly singing the Oil Thigh while wearing my tam and cheering at Homecoming games, because I still have coveralls that have mud on them from my first year and because it was weekends such as Homecoming that reminded us all that we were part of a community much bigger than our relatively small communities. However, should such decisions continue to be taken by the university administration regarding events such as Homecoming, I do believe that I would chose to donate my alumni dollars elsewhere.

Kind Regards,

Brieanne Barton ArtSci ’06

Dear Editors,

Re: Letter to Alumni from the QUAA President Regarding the Future of Homecoming

It is really a shame that it has come to this, and the decision to cancel rather than implement meaningful changes is short-sighted and foolish. Hopefully this is just a ploy to make Queen's students realize the seriousness of the issue, but I suspect it is not.

The real blame here should be directed to the City of Kingston for not having the wherewithal to enforce the law: Aberdeen Street is the responsibility of the City of Kingston, not Queen's University. Laws against all the trespasses committed during homecoming are punishable by legal remedy and yet, in a situation in which thousands participate, merely a few hundred tickets are written and a dozen miscreants are jailed. Proper planning (homecoming parties have been an issue for decades; this was not a surprise) would have resulted in sufficient police to make the required arrests. Call in the riot squads from Ottawa or Toronto, if necessary. That the City of Kingston chose to do nothing (or haltingly little) is a disgrace, and the mayor and those responsible in the police department should resign in shame. Please don't claim the money for this is not present. Again, you need to budget for these homecoming parties – they happen every year (and have since at least the ’80s) regardless of whether they should. Simply not budgeting for snow removal doesn't do any good either.

In the end, this will likely affect the university through a slight drop-off in Alum donations – good luck getting anything from me (not that I've donated in the past). Based on personal experience, I do not believe Queen's students will have a tough time finding a good party. The big loser will be businesses (hotels, restaurants) in Kingston who will not see a big boost in revenue in the fall for the next two years. Maybe business leaders will step up and force the City of Kingston to take responsibility, maintain the law seriously and not permit rampant criminal behaviour.

Regards

Andrew R. Vaino
ArtSci ’92, PhD ’98

Congratulations on ‘speech policy’

Dear Editors,

The following is a letter I sent to Dean Laker.

Dear Dr. Laker,

I would like to offer my sincere thanks to you and to Queen's University for your recent announcement of your speech policy, and the decision to hire student facilitators. I am happy to see that Canadian universities continue to be at the forefront of educating the masses in what is acceptable as a way of thought and speech.

I can only hope that your Field Associates, er, I mean student facilitators concept can be successfully exported to the public at large, for I fear that I am often guilty of DoubleThink, and commit DoubleSpeak. I have for a long time felt it is necessary for the sound, rational and peaceful development of a truly egalitarian society for there to be an enforcement agency that would punish those of us who lapse into our parochial, unacceptable and incorrect modes of thought and speech.

Thank you so much for showing the rest of us the true path to enlightenment. I look forward to the day when your CorrectThought facilitators graduate, and insinuate themselves into society, for they will already be trained in the art of evesdropping, surveillance and thought interpretation that will be necessary if we, as responsible, thoughtful, and cheerful peoples are ever to see your system more broadly implemented in society as a whole. And does not equity and fairness demand that we all be subject to this type of glorious correction? If not, who will save us from evil thoughts?

Sincerely,

Kai Vuorinen
Vancouver, BC
(Now considering quitting my job so that I can enroll at Queens to become a "student facilitator")

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