Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor for Thursday, April 2.

Dear Editor,

We’re writing this open letter as members of the Development Studies Department Student Council and undergraduate students deeply affected by, and disappointed by, the loss of two faculty members in our department, Dr. Alexandre Da Costa and Dr. Dia Da Costa.

To our knowledge, the Faculty of Arts and Science and/or the University would not match the offers that were being made to these faculty members at the University of Alberta, and as such we have lost two brilliant professors and mentors within our department. In order to put into perspective the reasons why we’re so upset about this, it must be noted that Global Development Studies has gained momentum over several decades and the program at Queen’s in particular is known across Canada for its merit.

We’re incredibly passionate students who love what we learn and what we do on a daily basis. A large part of our contentment and commitment is credited to our professors. They’re passionate and caring, take great pride in their work, are internationally educated, and make for amazing scholarly and personal mentors for all of our undergraduate and graduate students. Dia and Alex in particular have each contributed dynamic multidisciplinary research profiles, and have offered courses that are fundamental to the academic integrity of the Departments of Global Development Studies (DEVS) and Sociology, as well as the Graduate Program in Cultural Studies.

The courses that they teach are particularly relevant to current world issues and discussions of race, gender, and social movements and are especially valuable insofar as these courses have thus far been delivered by two young professors, one in particular of colour, in a school that lacks immensely in this area.

Echoing the sentiments of our respected colleagues in the School of Graduate Studies, we believe it’s imperative to emphasize just how incredulous the disparities are at this school in terms of diversity within faculty. Compounded by a history of a “culture of whiteness” as outlined in the 2006 Henry Report with the recent accounts of racism at Queen’s, the retention of female faculty of colour should rank highly on Queen’s list of priorities in effort to improve its quality and image.

Instead, the Queen’s administration's apparent lack of motivation to either retain a highly regarded scholar such as Dr. Dia Da Costa and implement a vigorous dedication to equity suggests not only their ambivalence about the systemic racism at this institution, but also renders them part of the problem.

For those students fortunate to have encountered them, the Da Costas have modeled the exact type of personal and academic integrity this university desperately needs in a climate of austerity to maintain the sanctity of the University as an inclusive and meaningful space for critical deliberation, especially within the Department of Global Development Studies.

The non-retention of the Da Costas represents a significant disinvestment in the fundamental mission of higher learning. Not to mention that this move by administration will undoubtedly affect the DEVS students not only personally, but also in their student careers at the grassroots level.

Development Studies students are required to take at least two seminars at the fourth-year level and for good reason, as these seminars are often the area in which we learn the most and are able to most develop our critical thinking skills. With the Da Costas gone, two out of the six seminars offered each year will no longer be available nor will we have access to the types of scholarship that the Da Costas provide. Instead, it will put added pressure on the remaining seminar class sizes and professors who teach them.

Such arrangements are part of a neoliberal strategy utilized by the administration to push the limits of faculty, TF, and TA labour while at the same time sacrificing student learning. It is with great disappointment that we send this letter but also with hope that with some critical reflexiveness you will understand why we wrote this letter in the first place. While we are aware that often you may feel as though your “hands are tied” in these situations, we know that the loss of Dia and Alex Da Costa in this case was largely avoidable, and we call for you to respond to the faculty and students to whom you remain accountable.

Signed, Heather Donkers, BA(H)
2016 Emily Lewis, BA(H) 2016

***

Dear Editor,

We’re writing this open letter to register our profound dismay at Queen’s University’s loss of Professors Dia Da Costa and Alexandre Da Costa, two prolific young scholars who have been invaluable to us as teachers, advisors, and mentors.

The failure of the Faculty of Arts and Science to field any offer to retain them reveals a pattern of systemic dysfunction that fundamentally undermines our confidence in Queen’s University as an institution dedicated to excellence in research and teaching. Indeed, this situation raises serious concerns about the institution’s commitment to respond to the well-documented and problematic experiences of racialized female faculty at this university.

It also highlights the increasingly precarious conditions that are expected to be seen as normal, inevitable even, at this university going forward. If there is one thing we’ve learned in our studies, it’s that there comes a point when doing nothing marks the unethical path. We therefore believe it our duty as emerging researchers, teachers, and members of Queen’s University and wider academic communities to call attention to this serious and unnecessary loss.

Professors Dia Da Costa and Alexandre Da Costa have contributed dynamic multi-disciplinary research profiles, which are international in both reputation and scope, and have offered courses that are fundamental to the academic integrity of the Departments of Global Development Studies and Sociology, as well as the Graduate Program in Cultural Studies. These include courses addressing gender, race, and social movements that consistently engage with urgent topics in the classroom. In their eight years at Queen’s, the Da Costas have contributed greatly to the culture and intellectual vitality of their fields by not only publishing several single-authored monographs between them, but also articles in top-flight journals like . Moreover, their service to the Queen’s community has included contributions to the recent visits of Steven Salaita, Andrea Smith, and Rinaldo Walcott, as well as on-going international relationships with activist theatre groups in India and anti-racist initiatives in Brazil.

In 2005, visible minorities made up a shockingly low 11.7 per cent of total faculty at Queen’si. The year prior, The Henry Reportii--a study on systemic racism at Queen’s--provided a series of recommendations that emerged from focus groups with faculty. One of the most crucial assertions specified that “recruitment should be aimed at achieving a critical mass of faculty of colour so that they can play meaningful roles in all aspects of University life.” In 2014, one decade later, visible minority faculty accounted for 12.8 per cent of total faculty, a miniscule increase in retainment and recruitmentiii.

Comparing Queen’s with the National Household Survey between 2006 and 2011, however, one sees that the gap between visible minority faculty at Queen's and the Canadian workforce in general is actually getting worse (2.8 per cent in 2006 versus 5.5 per cent in 2011)iv. At the same time, the ratio of female to male faculty remains incredibly skewed. In 2013, women represented 33.2 per cent of professors at Queen’sv.

The Henry Report’s findings were substantiated and expanded upon by Maharajvi in 2009, whose research found that female faculty of colour face racial and sexual discrimination at Queen’s and “that [Queen’s] still suffers from a ‘culture of whiteness’ and racism, and needs to make greater efforts to confront these issues or continue to have difficulties retaining racialized female faculty.” In light of recent accounts of racism at Queen’svii, these abysmal trends should be cause for proaction. Instead, the Queen’s administration's apparent lack of motivation to retain a highly regarded scholar such as Professor Dia Da Costa suggests not only their ambivalence about the systemic racism at this institution, but also renders them complicit in the problem. We are not naive to the financial challenges faced by the contemporary university. Yet, for the administration to stray from a prioritization of, and dedication to, equity is to accept the notion that Queen’s cannot (or will not) do better at retaining diverse and talented faculty to address this benchmark of our school’s quality.

Moreover, these developments are part and parcel of a neoliberal strategy by the administration to foster an atmosphere of inter-departmental and intra-faculty competition for the meagre offerings of increasingly austere budget models and strategic visions. This serves to devolve responsibility and accountability from the administration onto already under-supported and over-extended facultyv in amalgamated or shrinking programs and departments. We find it troubling that at a time when students, staff, and faculty alike are endlessly informed about the values of accountability, integrity, and transparency by those who lead this university, many administrators appear to systematically evade an honest appraisal of the particulars of this case and seek to avoid responsibility for their failure to do so.

For those students fortunate to have encountered them, the Da Costas have modeled the exact type of personal and academic integrity this university desperately needs in a climate of austerity to maintain the sanctity of the University as an inclusive and meaningful space for critical deliberation. In truth, the non-retention of the Da Costas represents a significant disinvestment in the fundamental mission of higher learning. It is another example of our university prioritizing managerial objectives that are both formulated and pursued with a troubling lack of accountability and transparency. As graduate students, we are deeply disappointed by our administration’s inability or unwillingness to engage seriously with this issue of academic integrity and equity beyond a formulaic corporate script. It wholly undermines our ability to maintain confidence in an administration that invokes ideas of community and excellence through the medium of public relations, yet fails to enact them in practice.

Signed,

Joyce Yan, MA Student Global Development Studies

Sanober Umar, PhD Student History

Katie Thibault, MA Student Gender Studies

Maya Stitski, PhD Candidate in Cultural Studies.

Adam Saifer, PhD Student Cultural Studies

Lindsay Rodgers, PhD Student Cultural Studies

Jessica Roberts, PhD Candidate English

Kara Melton, MA Student Gender Studies

Carina Magazzeni, MA Student Cultural Studies

Nicole MacDougall, MA Student Cultural Studies

A.W. Lee, PhD Candidate Cultural Studies

Amy Krull, MA Student Global Development Studies

Poyraz Kolluoglu, PhD Student Cultural Studies

Lois Klassen, PhD Student Cultural Studies

Jaspreet Kaur, PhD Cultural Studies

Michelle Johnston, MA Student Global Development Studies

Bronwyn Jaques, MA Student Cultural Studies

Zoya Islam, MA Student Gender Studies

Erika Ibrahim, MA Student Gender Studies

Karl Hardy, PhD Candidate Cultural Studies

Derya Gungor, PhD Student Sociology

Meaghan Frauts, PhD Candidate Cultural Studies

Lisa Figge, PhD Candidate Cultural Studies

Avery Everhart, MA Student Gender Studies

Yasmine Djerbal, PhD Student Cultural Studies

Milad Dokhanchi, PhD Candidate Cultural Studies

Nadége Compaore, PhD Candidate Political Studies

May Chew, PhD Cultural Studies

Bianca Beauchemin, MA Student Gender Studies

Noelle Bauman, MA Student Global Development Studies

Jessica Marion Barr, PhD Candidate, Cultural Studies

Jeffrey Barbeau, PhD Candidate Cultural Studies

Pansee Atta, MA Student Cultural Studies

Robin Alex McDonald, PhD Student Cultural Studies

Joddi Alden, MA Student Gender Studies

***

Dear Editor,

We, the undersigned members of the Faculty and Arts and Science, are writing to express our disappointment at Queen’s failure to do more to retain Dr. Dia Da Costa, a valued member of the departments of Global Development Studies, Sociology, and Cultural Studies. She’s been an integral part of the small community of scholars working critically on global issues, and an important contributor to discussions on race, gender and development in the classroom and on campus. Dr. Da Costa’s departure is distressing in light of Queen’s commitment, as stated in the academic plan, to internationalize the curriculum. Her departure is even more alarming in light of the Henry Report’s recommendations on the recruitment and retention of faculty of colour, especially female faculty of colour, at this institution.

It’s a well-known fact that Queen's has a terrible record when it comes to the hiring and retention of faculty of colour, and to date, this has not improved in the ten years since the publication of the Henry Report in 2004. The Henry Report itself was commissioned by the university to study this problem. The institutional memory about origins, as well as the damning findings of this report, seems to have disappeared. We’re particularly perturbed by the manner in which Dr. Da Costa’s retention was handled at various levels of administration within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and feel that the duty to ensure that the University’s equity and diversity goals and objectives were met was given no consideration in this case.

We’re writing to ask: What has been done to date to implement the recommendations put forward by the Henry Report? How were equity considerations measured or taken into account in this particular case? Was there any thought given to how this departure would impact the university’s record on equity? Did any of our administrators in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences consider the impact this would have on the morale of female faculty and faculty of colour? What will you do to step up efforts in the future to recruit and retain people of colour in light of this setback?

The Henry Report provided a systematic and compelling account of seven female faculty of colour leaving Queen’s and the impoverishing effects this entailed for the university at large. We urge you to take immediate, concrete, and extraordinary steps so that we are not faced with the same situation now, ten years after that report was published.

Yours sincerely,

Ishita Pande (History)

Beverley Mullings (Geography)

Karen Dubinsky (Global Development Studies/History)

Sammi King (Kinesiology and Health Studies)

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