Students accuse public agency of misconduct

Queen's researchers allege agency published report they authored with unauthorized changes

The University should have done more to protect their researchers, PhD student Sean Field alleges.
The University should have done more to protect their researchers, PhD student Sean Field alleges.

An Ontario government agency was accused of academic misconduct last month after two Queen’s graduate students claimed a report they authored appeared on the agency’s website containing changes they hadn’t agreed to.

Jennifer Massey and Sean Field filed a complaint with the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO), the body that commissioned Queen’s to produce a report on the effectiveness of supplemental instruction, an academic support model that uses peer-assisted study meetings to improve learning.

The University hired former Queen’s PhD candidate Jennifer Massey as lead investigator on a $44,633 contract. Fellow geography PhD student Sean Field and former MA candidate Jeff Burrow were brought on to assist Massey.

HEQCO, an agency of the Ontario government, conducts and commissions research on issues relating to post-secondary education in the province.

On April 27, the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA), a group that represents faculty and academic librarians across the province, released a statement on their website condemning HEQCO’s actions. While not illegal, HEQCO’s actions were unethical, the statement reads.

Queen’s Senators Jordan Morelli, Terry Bridges and Mark Jones submitted three separate motions to Senate regarding the conflict. The motions called for Senate to endorse OCUFA’s statements about the incident, among other things. The Agenda Committee rejected the proposals to include the motions on the Senate agenda for May 22.

According to the Queen’s Senate Faculty Caucus blog, the committee rejected the motions because they believed OCUFA’s statements were “not factually correct.”

Massey and Field’s letters to HEQCO president Harvey Weingarten, which are available to view on the Canadian Federation of Students’ (CFS) website, outline their concerns with the published report. CFS aims to provide a voice to students and represent their interests to federal and provincial governments.

In their letters, they claim a section of their report, which was critical of supplemental instruction, was removed from the final report, and that text was added that was in opposition to their conclusions.

The authors had previously refused to add suggested changes which were later included in the final report. Both the original and the altered reports are available on OCUFA’s website.

They also took issue with the published report’s disclaimer, which stated that the report solely reflected that of its authors.

“We realized that what was posted was different than what we had submitted,” Field said.

Massey and Field requested the report be removed from the HEQCO’s website and replaced with their original submission. They also requested an apology from HEQCO.

The report was due to HEQCO in June 2010 Jennifer Massey submitted the report in December of that year. Jennifer Massey sent a report to HEQCO in June 2011. The report had already been through several rounds of edits at that point.

Weingarten said HEQCO made revisions to the report after failing to hear back from Massey.

“We felt the June 2011 report needed some edits and needed some changes,” he said. “By September we had not heard back from [Massey] and our attempts to deal with the principal investigator, well, we couldn’t deal with her because she went AWOL.”

Weingarten said HEQCO then approached Queen’s Vice-Provost and Dean of Student Affairs Ann Tierney with two options: either Queen’s abandon the project and not receive their final payment of $22,500 or have other staff at Queen’s finish the report.

The University chose the second option, and Chris Conway, director of the Office of Institutional Research and Planning, submitted a final report in Dec. 2011.

OCUFA president and Queen’s librarian Constance Adamson said she thinks Queen’s didn’t protect the academic freedom of their researchers.

“They probably should have done more to ensure that they understood what the terms of the contract meant,” she said.

Adamson said OCUFA has called for Queen’s to do an investigation and for the Government of Ontario to look at HEQCO’s research practices. No such investigation has yet been announced.

Provost Alan Harrison said he thinks it's unfortunate OCUFA didn’t inform Queen’s what they were going to post online before they posted it.

“Had they done so, we would have pointed out some substantial factual inaccuracies,” he said. “One of those factual inaccuracies was characterizing Jennifer Massey as someone who was doing this work as a grad student, when in fact she was doing it as an employee of the University.”

Harrison declined to comment on Massey and Field’s request for an apology from HEQCO.

“It’s not anything to do with us,” Harrison said. “What they do or don’t do is entirely up to HEQCO.”

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