Current and Future Neuroscience Research Under Threat by Federal and Provincial Governments and University Administration at Carleton University


December 14th 2016

Carleton University senior administration has decided to unilaterally evict the Department of Neuroscience from their current building to make way for a new building project that came about because of federal Post-Secondary Institutions Strategic Investment Funding ( announced in April 2016. Our eviction is set for March 1st 2017. The Department of Neuroscience was originally slated to move to a new Health Sciences Building (HSB) during the Fall of 2017. This eviction was unanticipated, poorly planned, and a move of this nature with 3 months is unreasonable, particularly in light of a second move slated for later in the year.

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Neuroscience Eviction Impact Report

An Eviction Impact study was conducted via an online survey of students. Below is the summary of results.

The full report can be found here

  • The responders of this preliminary report were undergraduate students predominantly, followed by Master’s and PhD students. A small percentage of responders were prospective students.
  • 50% of responders referred to background information before writing impact statements.
  • Research impact statements highlighted the necessity that the responders are desperate for more time to do their research before the eviction. Responders also stated concerns about data invalidation and data loss. Responders third most frequently reported concern was about delayed ability to pursue future plans and goals.
  • Emotional health impact statements consistently stated that the eviction has caused increased stress, anxiety, depression, panic, and in two cases, suicidal ideation. There were consistent statements suggesting that students are ramping up work in relation to the March 1 eviction, and that they have fallen behind in their work as a result of being distracted by the prospect of the eviction.
  • Confidence in future statements indicated that students are very concerned about their productivity loss upon their research, publications, and delayed graduation. Equivalently, students were very concerned about missed educational and professional opportunities. Third, students were concerned about the financial cost of more tuition and debt as a result of lost research ability due to the eviction.
  • 79% of responders believed that their personal reputation will be compromised as a result of the March 1 eviction date.
  • The majority of statements indicated that the public reputation of Carleton University has begun to plummet, and that admissions will decrease as a result of news of the eviction. Responders also indicated a loss of confidence in the Senior Administration, and that the eviction will hurt the reputation of the neuroscience department unjustly.
  • A large group of responders had approached their supervisor about the eviction but needed more information to make plans. It should be noted that not all faculty were considered approachable on discussing the eviction from the student perspective.
  • Students were most disappointed by the fact that faculty had not been included on key decision making committees related to the move even when members of the faculty had requested this.

Urgent Request to Halt the Eviction of the Neuroscience Department

Subject: Urgent Request to Halt the Eviction of the Neuroscience Department
To: Chris Carruthers <>, Roseann Runte <>
From: Michael Bueckert
Dear Roseann Runte and Chris Carruthers,
I am writing to you as a graduate student representative on the Board of Governors to implore you to take immediate action to protect the research and well-being of the students and faculty in the Department of Neuroscience, by immediately halting their impending eviction from the Life Sciences Research Building.
As you know, at the December 1st meeting of the Board of Governors I brought forward an emergency motion to delay any move of the Department of Neuroscience until all stakeholders had a chance to be consulted and come to an agreement about a solution. The motion was defeated, after a discussion about the recently announced interim plans to move the Department to University of Ottawa facilities, under an agreement that did not involve any consultation. However, members of the Department have expressed that the interim plan does not address their basic requirements.

The Chair of the Department of Neuroscience, Dr. John Stead, as well as Neuroscience faculty and students, are warning that the short-term arrangement with the University of Ottawa is not adequate in terms of lab space and other logistical issues. Dr. Steads fears that “years of [students’] research and money will be lost” due to the disruption.

The disruption threatens students’ ability to publish, to hold and obtain research grants, and to progress and graduate on time. Students and researchers could have their research on hold for months. There is no comprehensive plan in place to address these concerns.
The issue is so critical that Neuroscience students are contemplating legal action to protect their research. A glance at the students’ blog clearly reflects a complete sense of betrayal and helplessness.

Carleton University has promised that any disruption will balanced by the “significant advantages for future students” of the Health Sciences Building currently under construction. However, the Department of Neuroscience has expressed that it is “very disappointed” with the current plans for the HSB, and that the HSB will be “grossly inadequate in terms of lab research space, student space, and vivarium capacity/animal testing capabilities” (p. 12). Further, it is my understanding that according to the current construction progress, the new Health Sciences building will not be completed until December 2017, several months behind schedule. There is no clear timeline or idea of exactly how and for how long the work of the department will be disrupted.
It is clear that there is only one solution available that could address these concerns and guarantee that the students and faculty in the Department of Neuroscience do not suffer undo hardship. Therefore, I ask that you immediately halt the process of eviction, and work out an arrangement whereby the Department will only have to move once, into the completed HSB.

This is the request from the head of the Department itself. Dr. Stead says that “the only fix we see is to try to delay start of construction in this building for an additional 9 months to allow us to move directly from this building into new building.”

This is also the position held by graduate students. On Friday, December 9th 2016, the Council of the Graduate Students’ Association voted in support of halting the eviction until a comprehensive plan for a single move is developed in consultation with faculty, staff, and students.
Everyone is aware that this may result in a loss of part of the funding for the ARISE project. This seems like a minor sacrifice, however, compared to the monumental sacrifice that the university is expecting of the students and faculty in Neuroscience.
The current crisis is entirely avoidable, and I expect that the University will act immediately to preserve the integrity of the department and protect the welfare of students.
Michael Bueckert
Graduate Student Representative, Carleton University Board of Governors

PhD Candidate in Sociology and Political Economy
Former President, Graduate Students’ Association
Carleton University

Carleton Neuroscience Students worry about research, ponder legal action – CTV Ottawa Dec. 8, 2016

Neuroscience students at Carleton University are considering legal action over a move they say that could jeopardize their research. The students have to be out of their old building undergoing construction but won’t get access to their new space for months after that. It’s ironic that much of the research these neuroscience students are doing is focused on stress and depression; something they are becoming too familiar with as they worry about years of work coming to a temporary halt…

“The one thing missing in that lab facilities is actual labs,” says Dr. John Stead, Neuroscience Department Chair, “the only fix we see is to try to delay start of construction in this building for an additional 9 months to allow us to move directly from this building into new building.”

Full CTV Story

Repeating “there is a plan” over and over, doesn’t make one magically pop into existence

I had a short conversation with the Carleton University Provost, Dr. Peter Ricketts, in an elevator last night.  I pointed out that Carleton Neuroscience was being evicted, and he insisted that we were being taken care of via the recently announced agreement with the University of Ottawa.  I pointed out that our own dean of science told us the agreement (which we have not seen, btw) only covers housing of our animals and access to their Behavioural Core facilities.  This agreement was produced in secret, without the input or consultation of our faculty or the full membership of our Animal Care Committee.  Malcolm Butler stated, in his first meeting with faculty, that “there is no global plan” for how to address the impact to students, and that the agreement did not make provisions for wetlab space. (which is 2/3rds of our work).

Yet the provost kept repeating to me, over and over, “There is a plan”.

Project plans don’t just poof into existence because you insist they exist.  I can click my heels three times over and over and it will have about the same result in producing a real, honest-to-goodness PROJECT PLAN.  According to Wikipedia (which has a pretty good definition), a project plan is:

“…a formal, approved document used to guide both project execution and project control. The primary uses of the project plan are to document planning assumptions and decisions, facilitate communication among project stakeholders, and document approved scope, cost, and schedule baselines.”

We have seen no such document.  And that facilitation of stakeholder communication… well, let’s just say it’s been sorely lacking until late last week, but we still don’t have a physical documented PLAN.

(BTW: Students still have NOT been consulted are awaiting an option for meeting with the dean.)

When I stated that we had seen no signs of an actual plan, Dr. Ricketts said, “You aren’t privvy to all of the planning”- WOAH! But I thought that President Runte said that the administration would be COLLABORATING with us on a plan moving forward?  I mean, aren’t students STAKEHOLDERS in this mess?  Ok. What about faculty?  (they haven’t seen any planning document either). If there truly IS a “Plan” to ensure that our current and future research can proceed unimpeded, why did Dean Butler tell us that no provisions had been made for students or faculty at University of Ottawa?  Why is he putting the onus on our professors to find space with their collaborators for us?

Where are the documented assumptions and decisions?
Where is the scope, and cost?
Where is the schedule?
Where is the procurement plan?
Where is the risk management plan and contingencies?
Who is packing?
Who is moving?
Where is all our equipment going?

I honestly fail to see how a REAL project plan can exist, given that, as of this writing, we have not had a project manager assigned to this project.  In fact, our faculty had to ASK for one to be assigned on December 1.

When I pointed out this fatal flaw in the “planning”, Dr. Ricketts indicated that a project manager was in the process of being assigned.  I told him that a lack of project manager at this late juncture was further proof that a March 1 move-out date was completely unrealistic and infeasible. Dr. Ricketts kept insisting, repeatedly, that the March 1 date was feasible. In the same way he insisted a “plan” exists, repeating that a target date “IS feasible”, over and over again, does not actually make it so.

Maybe what Dr. Ricketts meant is that “The Plan” today consists of “We will hire a project manager and write another PLAN that actually has DETAILS of how, when and where students and faculty, and all their equipment will be moved”…? I fear our administration does not understand how long it takes to construct a proper project plan for a move of this size and complexity.  I hear Carleton has a very good business school, perhaps they offer courses that our administration could take?  (I pity the poor project manager they hire – guess who ELSE will be working over the holidays?)

I just don’t get what is with this institution.  Neuroscience has been SO GOOD for Carleton – our students and faculty are involved in countless community projects to support science in the schools, mental health initiatives, and women in science. Our students are stars in the undergraduate recruitment campaigns, we have one of the fastest growing faculties, and we are one of the most productive research departments, bringing credibility and significant research grants to Carleton.  Our faculty tried very hard to communicate through proper channels and work with our administration, and it all fell on deaf ears.

If our faculty and students tell you that the current course of action will be disastrous and is not just a few weeks of downtime due to a move, WHY WON’T YOU LISTEN and work WITH us to make sure WE are properly taken care of? We didn’t want to make trouble, but the current course of action the administration is insisting upon is truly untenable.  Why does a new building come BEFORE the department that has been working YEARS to establish itself, and has given so much to Carleton and the community?

Do you think we WANT to be out protesting this and shining an ugly bright light on this whole mess? HELL NO!  We’d MUCH rather be focussed on our designing and planning our next projects, but WAIT – I can’t PLAN any more projects, I can’t DO that follow-on study, because we will be in a new location (which invalidates the follow-on) and I have NO IDEA WHAT FACILITIES I’ll have access to.

The biggest heartbreak for many students is the complete lack of respect shown to our department in this whole process. You’ve broken our hearts but not our spirit.

Merry Christmas Dr. Runte. Merry Christmas…


No brainer: Carleton neuroscientists say plans to move department will disrupt delicate research – Ottawa Citizen Dec 5, 2016

“We have not been consulted about where our animals will go. Nobody spoke to researchers about the process,” said professor Shawn Hayley.

“We were sent to the children’s table while adults made decisions,” added fellow researcher and professor Hymie Anisman. “Secrecy is not a good idea. It’s the strangest thing I have ever seen. And I’ve been here for 44 years.”

Being in limbo means researchers won’t be able to collect accurate long-term data. And no data means no papers will be published. Which means new research grants will be hard to acquire, said graduate student Natalie Prowse.

“We’re trying to get into high-impact publications. In this field, three or four months makes all the difference,” she said. “This year of disruption could have life-long impact for researchers.”

Full story

The “Plans” don’t really exist

As many who follow this blog and the Carleton news feed no doubt have heard, president O’reilly Runte announced on Nov 30th,  (publicly, before communicating directly with affected stakeholders, again), that all our problems are solved, as her administration has inked a deal with University of Ottawa that “meets all requirements and standards”.  While I’m sure the much newer facilities at Roger Guindon Hall meet all standards, I’m not sure whose requirements this agreement meets – they certainly weren’t ours.

If, as the press release stated, “Over the summer, the vice-president (Research and International) and his staff” had actually  “met with researchers in Neuroscience and made a list of their needs”, then perhaps they would have been able to come up with a workable plan.  However, no such meetings took place. I resent the attempt at trying to hang our wonderful faculty out to dry on this one.  They were NOT involved in planning this move nor were they allowed to participate in evaluating alternatives and options.  I invite you to look at the Timeline of Communications posted by the Neuroscience Department Chair, and compare it to the claims made in the press release.  In that timeline you will note that funding was cut, and designs were significantly changed for the shiny new Health Sciences Building (HSB). Despite numerous emails and discussions about the changed design, the result remained that,  “The University is pursuing a design for the HSB that was strongly opposed by the Department of Neuroscience, due to inadequate capacity to support current and future research needs of faculty, graduate and undergraduate students.”

On December 1, I was an observer in the first real consultation meeting  between the Neuroscience Faculty and the Dean of Science about the proposed relocation. Students will have their own meeting with the Dean next week, where we get to ask our own questions and voice our concerns directly.

According to president Runte’s press release and later email to us, the goal of this meeting was “to elaborate the plans”. After 45 minutes of questions, there were few answers, and it was clear there is no real “plan”, at least not as anyone who is a project manager would define the word.  While lab space at Roger Guindon hall is certainly superior to the basement of LSRB, the agreement does not guarantee us any wet-lab space -which is 2/3rds of our research efforts. Based on what was presented, the animal space secured is completely inadequate – we will go from 17 available rooms (13 currently in use)  to 2 rooms. It simply is not a workable solution that would allow us to maintain our colonies, much less continue active research (we cannot house animals of different health statuses together). Once again agreements were signed BEFORE consultation with the key stakeholders took place. And, quelle suprise, the proposed solution isn’t viable.

If the faculty had been truly and properly consulted FROM THE START, when the proposal went out back in May, we might have found a workable solution, with plans now well under way.  As it stands, options like portable lab “pods” are off the table because it is too late to get them in and set up in time for a March 1 move out.

We all left the meeting with more unanswered questions and outstanding concerns than I can elaborate on here. In my opinion, it is now even MORE evident that it is completely unrealistic to think we could be out of LSRB by March 1 with “minimal disruption” to our research.  It sunk in, through the course of this meeting, that there are still huge holes in addressing the most basic of needs for our department to function effectively over the next year.  Graduate students, undergraduate students and faculty will be significantly impacted.  I personally felt sick and dejected after the meeting, and I know others felt the same. The deteriorating mental health of the students and faculty under this cloud of uncertainty is now of critical concern and cannot be ignored by our administration.

The icing on the cake? After all this, they STILL have not assigned a project manager to work with us – this had to be insisted upon in the meeting.   It is just indicative of the mismanagement and poor planning that has gone into this entire endeavour.

The federal government didn’t even announce the availability of the SIF money until April of this year.  Institutions, Carleton included, had just ONE MONTH to whip together plans for a grant proposal. This funding was unexpected and had to be considered a windfall if obtained.  It certainly wasn’t counted on in prior strategic planning because it didn’t exist.  I’d be all for this new ARISE project, if it didn’t mean crippling an active, productive and growing research department and yanking the rug out from under the students who trusted the institution to live up to their commitments.  More importantly, how can they justify starting another building project when they cannot afford to finish the HSB to meet the real needs of the researchers who will be using the space? I just don’t see how our administration can view absolutely devastating impact this will have on our entire research department as acceptable collateral damage.

It feels like our senior administration is strangling the beautiful songbird they have in one hand, in the hopes that there might be two fat chickens in the bush.