CANNON EXCLUSIVE: Garneau-Scott answers her critics
Monday, May 18, 20094 Comments
Former Academic Commissioner Christi Garneau-Scott says she doesn't regret supporting the elimination of Women's Studies at U of
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.