CANNON EXCLUSIVE: Garneau-Scott answers her critics

Monday, May 18, 2009

  • Former Academic Commissioner Christi Garneau-Scott says she doesn't regret supporting the elimination of Women's Studies at U of

    Former Academic Commissioner Christi Garneau-Scott says she doesn't regret supporting the elimination of Women's Studies at U of

Written by Greg Beneteau

Ending a month of silence, Christi Garneau-Scott defended her decision to support program cuts at the University of Guelph, including the elimination of the Women’s Studies major.

In an exclusive interview with thecannon.ca, the Central Student Association’s former Academic Commissioner spoke about why she backed the motion to eliminate programs as a member of the University Senate’s Board of Undergraduate Studies (BUGS).

She also hit back at her critics, including former colleagues at the CSA who censured her for defying a resolution to vote against the cuts.
“Based on all the information that was presented, I felt that was the right decision o make,” Garneau-Scott said of her support for the BUGS resolution, part of the university’s plan to manage a $16 million structural deficit in the coming year.

Though budgetary concerns were a factor, Garneau-Scott said she was primarily concerned the Women’s Studies program wasn’t “meeting the needs of its students” for the money being spent, citing her work with the program as a former President of the College of Arts Student Union.

“In my opinion, it may have been the budget that necessitated the conversation, but it was a conversation we should have had years ago… Looking at what was offered, [Women’s Studies] didn’t stack up compared to other programs we have on campus, even the inter-disciplinary ones,” she explained.

In a letter to U of G administrators and student senators prior to the BUGS meeting, the CSA argued that the administration had “let the Women’s Studies program die” by failing to fund the program or hire any core faculty.

“The crisis… does not excuse the administration from their responsibility to ensure that there is a strong academic framework on this campus to support the study and research of women, gender-based, and anti-oppression issues,” the letter said.

Garneau-Scott added that Women’s Studies suffered neglect at multiple levels, including underfunding from the university, “limited student engagement” and “faculty unwilling to consider different ways of operating the program.”
As the voice for 17,000 students, saving the program in its broken form would have been a “band-aid” and not feasible considering the pressing demand for faculty in other programs, she argued.

“I do agree that is inappropriate for the university, if we have a program, not to be having faculty members appointed to it,” she said. “However, it’s also very hard for me to say ‘We need to be cross-appointing faculty’ into a program that had 25 students in it, when we don’t have enough faculty to service students in… a program like Criminal Justice and Public Policy that’s just splitting at the seams.”

“It’s disappointing and, for me, frustrating to see this happen, but I think it’s too late.”

Acknowledging that “it looks bad publicly” for U of G not to have Women’s Studies, Garneau-Scott expressed hope that students and faculty would push for the creation of a new program to target gender-based studies, although she conceded the final product likely wouldn’t be in the form of Women’s Studies.
In the meantime, U of G would continue to host important conversations on gender, sex, sexuality and feminist issues through other courses, as well as the interest of faculty and students, she said.

“There isn’t that major, but I don’t think the major is what made us discuss those issues on campus. I think it’s the type of people we have here, and those conversations are going to continue whether we have a program or not.”

Students who protested the cuts were incensed by Garneau-Scott’s decision to support the motion, which squeaked by with a vote of 8-6 at committee. Both Garneau-Scott and her successor, Nathan Lachowski, voted to ratify the BUGS decision at a general Senate meeting.

The closeness of the vote led to debate about what would have happened if Garneau-Scott had vote differently.

In an email to thecannon, BUGS Chair Neil MacLusky, who only votes in the event of a tie, declined to state how he would have voted. However, he stated that it was his interpretation the resolution would not have passed without “a majority vote of the Board of Undergraduate Studies, excluding the Chair.”

Garneau-Scott disagreed with MacLusky’s statement, arguing the Chair would have been forced to break the tie.

“The statements of the Chair of the Board, while they may reflect his personal views, do not… recognize as well that one of the responsibilities of the chair is to vote, is to break the tie.”

Garneau-Scott’s colleagues also condemned her actions. Citing bylaws stating that executives “must adhere to decisions made by the CSA Board of Directors,” they formerly censured her at the last board meeting of the academic year.
However, Garneau-Scott denied the CSA had the right to direct her vote at Senate, adding that the censure showed a “lack of understanding” of the rules of the academic governing body.

“As senators, your primary mandate is the academic governance and well-being of the university – so, the big picture,” she said. “Within that, faculty, students, staff, alumni [and] librarians are on senate to bring a voice, but the senate bylaws do not allow for someone to be directed to act a certain way at senate.”

In turn, Garneau-Scott was harshly critical of her treatment in the aftermath of the vote, saying she received numerous “harassing” and “derogatory” emails and was made to feel unwelcome in the CSA. Her office door and billboard were also vandalized.

As a result, she spent the last month of her tenure working from home, avoiding media and only coming to campus to attend necessary meetings.

“Despite being proponents of a safe space, I felt that they took away that safe space from someone they disagreed with, which really went against many of the values of this organization,” she said.

In spite of the backlash Garneau-Scott, who is now graduated, said didn’t regret the decision and predicted the Women’s Studies vote would not be the biggest impact of her career in student politics.

“I think there were a lot of successes this year. Yet by acting the way that they did, the board and my fellow executives tried to define me by a single issue, when that’s only been one piece of the puzzle,” she said.

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  1. Posted by: ugh on May 19, 2009 @ 5:14pm

    For over half that "month of silence", Garneau Scott was a paid public servant.

    What she seems to have completely missed, and what this "exclusive" also seems to miss, is that Garneau Scott was not some anonymous victim plucked out of obscurity by fate, but a full-time paid employee of the students, who repeatedly acted against their interests as expressed through both popular sentiment and her legal employer, the Board of Directors.

    The fact that she still views herself (and not all the students she screwed over) as the victim shows that she has never understood her role on the CSA.

    This apologia is tripe. In any other workplace, Garneau Scott would have been fired for insubordination.

  2. Posted by: John L on May 19, 2009 @ 10:17pm

    "Popular sentiment"? Given the size of the CSA that'd involve thousands of students mobilizing to fight for the Women's Studies program. That didn't happen.

    As to her being a "paid public servant" does that mean that she's absolutely obliged to do as she's told or is she expected to use her best judgement as to what is the best course of action for the all of the thousands of CSA members?

    She makes a good point on the issue of the harrassment she encountered. Given the amount of noise generated by those fighting for a "safe campus" it speaks poorly if they're the ones who don't walk the talk. At a university level this sort of behaviour provides all sorts of reasons why those folks should be ignored.

  3. Posted by: Not_My_CSA on May 20, 2009 @ 3:07am

    don't get me wrong, i hate the csa as much as the next student. i think many people agree they're manipulative, self-serving, and a waste of money when it comes to most issues, and on the whole that we'd all be a least a bit better off without them. however, i admire garneau-scott because of her conviction and when the world breaks apart, it'll be people like her who'll be there to put it back together. it may sound a bit dramatic, but, unfortunately, that's the state of the university these days. tough decisions need to be made. luckily she has back-bone and won't merely allow herself to be steamrolled by mob rule, which is rare within the csa.

  4. Posted by: George on May 20, 2009 @ 9:18am

    To “ugh” … you must be one of the disgruntled ex-csa’ers. Just move on already.

    I think the term “overkill” sums up everything on both sides. Overkill for the CSA and others causing such a stink over the way she voted…she was elected to vote how she wants, that’s what representative democracy is..she’s not some puppet to the CSA board….so stop using that argument, it insults your intelligence of understanding democracy.

    I also think it was overkill on her part. Hiding from the “media” (Ontarion and thecannon most likely) and avoiding campus. You were elected, elected people make tough choices and live with the consequences…you don’t hide.

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