Urgent Request to Halt the Eviction of the Neuroscience Department

Subject: Urgent Request to Halt the Eviction of the Neuroscience Department
To: Chris Carruthers <chriscarruthersmd@gmail.com>, Roseann Runte <Roseann.Runte@carleton.ca>
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.


Giving Tuesday…

The hack of Carleton Servers today only served to compound the stress of our faculty and students.  One of our graduate students had his entire Dropbox account (4 years of research) corrupted with ransomware.   Fortunately, Dropbox maintains backups and he can get his original files back, but it will take time and this kind of event on top of the uncertainty around the building eviction just compounds the stress overload.

Since all our lab computers were offline, we took an hour out to hand out information leaflets in various campus locations including in the Ravensnest today. We were shadowed by two burly security guards for much of the time we were there (except that they didn’t follow us into the women’s changeroom).  We will continue our information and awareness campaign both on and off campus.

On November 11, we were told it would be one more week for “The Plan”. On November 18th, we were told it would just be a few more days.  On November 25th, Ms. O’Reilly Runte said that we needed to “be patient” just a couple of more days and the infamous Plan would be delivered.  Is The Plan like the Health Sciences Building? Is it going to get smaller and leave whole sections unfinished as time goes on?

Well, a couple of more days have passed, and we are still waiting.  Time ran out long ago on our patience.

All around me I see students working nights and weekends, and planning to give up their family time over the holidays to try and salvage their projects before the coming eviction.  There are students suffering from panic attacks and depression and sleepless nights.  We will be posting video testimonials and impact statements about this situation soon. But no matter how sick or upset or depressed they are, they are still wanting to fight back.

We will not go quietly into that dark night.
We will rage, rage, against the dying of the light

(forgive me Dylan Thomas for adapting…)

Ms. Runte told us in Senate that the March 1 eviction date was based on being able to complete construction by a Provincially-set April 2018 deadline. But according to the press release, the provincial contribution is only $3.9 million dollars.  It will likely cost far more than that to move us twice and house us for close to a year at an interim location.  Why not just push out the start date and forgo the provincial contribution?

It’s Giving Tuesday, and we’d  like Carleton Administration to give us the consideration and respect of sitting down at the table for genuine and transparent dialogue on this issue. Give us back our family time, our research goals, our hope of completing our degrees on time.  Truly, the best gift we could get from the Carleton administration is to have them live up to their original commitment to us – give us our current space in LSRB until the HSB is ready.

Neuroscience Eviction from LSRB: Who is being displaced if we don’t move by March 1?

In the Carleton University Senate Meeting of November 25, 2016, our GSA representatives attempted to get an emergency motion passed which would allow us to add a resolution to the agenda. Our resolution called for a motion to halt the eviction of Neuroscience from LSRB until a mutually agreeable solution had been found through open and transparent consultation.

We needed the emergency motion, because the GSA was only notified of our issue on Nov 16 (my bad for not contacting them sooner!), and it took time to assess the situation, gather information and determine next steps. Senate rules of order require 10 days advance notice prior to a meeting to add an item to the agenda. We had just missed the cut-off.  The Carleton GSA, (Thank-you William Felpchuk and the team!) did a brilliant job, regardless.  The chair, Roseann O’Reilly Runte, who also happens to be the president of Carleton university (why is this not a conflict of interest?), insisted that the administration was working on a solution, and forced the reading of their media relations statement regarding our eviction.  Ms. Runte insisted that we just needed to be patient and more information would be forthcoming, “in a couple of days” as they were still working on some kind of Agreement In Principle with an unnamed 3rd party.

The vote to add the resolution to the agenda was 54% in favour, but we needed 60% by senate rules to have it pass.  We were shy just 3 votes. It was deeply disheartening to see the Dean of Science, Malcolm Butler, vote against this motion, given how much he has been promoting Neuroscience in undergraduate recruitment fairs. We have explained, in numerous letters from students and faculty, how this move would seriously damage the education of his students and harm the reputation of the department of Neuroscience, one of the fastest growing departments in his portfolio, for years to come.

Though we didn’t get on the agenda, we were able to discuss the motion at the end of the session.  Here is my take from that discussion and some history surrounding this whole unfortunate situation…

When allowed to speak to this motion in “other business”, I stated that given the administrations current definition of “collaboration”, we fear that their definition of “minimal disruption” differs substantially from our understanding of the term and were not willing to sit back and accept that the administration knows best how to relocate Neuroscience without our input. Especially in light of the first proposed options (see below) that came from the Dean of Science.

I also pointed out that if contracts are rushed to signing without proper consultation, and facilities are deemed inadequate by key stakeholders after-the-fact, then it is bad financial management for the institution as there can be penalties for breaking contracts.  How could the institution in any good conscience sign agreements without making sure, through stakeholder engagement and proper planning, that the facilities would be viable?  It is not appropriate to have senior management assessing risk – that is the job of a qualified and certified project manager.  And risk can only be properly assessed if you have a detailed requirements analysis. Given that nobody from the planning office has consulted with any of the lab owners in Neuroscience, I see no evidence of appropriate and detailed analysis.

If you look at the issues with the Health Sciences Building (HSB), and the fact that it was downsized from original plans, and 2 floors will not be finished, there is evidence that there have been significant planning failures with respect to building and facilities management on the Carleton Campus.  This does not inspire the students with confidence in the administration to do right by us, and even less so when their decisions are made behind closed doors.

I asked Ms Runte what the justification was for not consulting with the key stakeholders in these decisions, particularly around the current negotiations with a mysterious third party for some kind of unknown facilities. (We don’t know what or where it is).  Runte claimed that the 3rd party wanted to remain anonymous until an agreement in principle was in place. I asked why then couldn’t they at least share the particulars of the space being offered? Size? Facilities? General location?  She said that these were not known.  (huh?) How then, can you, in any good conscience, and with any degree of fiscal responsibility, sign an agreement on an unknown?  If true, this is irresponsible in the extreme.  Where is the financial oversight in this institution?  Where is the public tender process? Surely it will cost millions to move us twice and house us at an interim location…

Runte went on to say that she had met with neuroscience students and consulted with them, which was met with laughter and snorts of derision from the neuroscience attendees, as we have NO evidence of this taking place. Dear Ms. Runte, “consultation” is not us and our faculty sending you frantic letters of concern, with you sending out the same stock form-letter in reply. Similarly, walking through a couple of labs in our facility and asking a handful of questions in a short 20 minute visit is also not “consultation”.

Ms. Runte, If we REALLY were consulted, if we had been properly included in the planning, we wouldn’t be here today, in this mess and risking the reputation of this institution to make this issue public.  We would really much rather be conducting research. We really DIDN’T want to go public with this, but we have been shut out of the planning process and no longer have faith in your administration.  All of this could have been avoided if proper planning and stakeholder engagement had been undertaken from the start. Not only have we not been at the table, information has been deliberately withheld. Why?  What on earth could preclude starting a move or transition plan as soon as the proposal for the grant was being developed? Is it any wonder we lack confidence in your administration? Especially when you speak to us in a public forum in a completely condescending and patronizing tone and refuse to divulge, even in-camera to the rest of the Senate, what plans are underway for our fate?

Malcolm Butler, the Dean of Science, implied that this move was known about by our department chair, John Stead, since May, and that consultations had been ongoing since then. Sadly, John Stead was not present to explain his experience, but I do know that the earliest he can recall hearing of this issue was mid-August.  In a meeting he found out that there MIGHT be a grant coming which MIGHT mean we have to move by sometime in March, but there was nothing official, and no clear information.  He shared this with faculty, but with the distractions of the start of a new semester, it took a while for the implications of TWO moves in one year to sink in. To a certain extent, there was disbelief. Surely the administration wouldn’t do something this damaging and ill-conceived to our department? There was no time to plan. Moving out by March was untenable. No project manager had been assigned to us. Maybe we should wait for more firm information?   All attempts to clarify and confirm were dismissed. Requests to be included in the planning were denied.

I found out about the “possibility” of this March move in mid-October. There was still no solid information from senior administration.  Rumours started flying. Students started panicking. I raised the alarm with my thesis advisor.  I have 20 years of experience in project management and have overseen many complex site and building moves – for those moves we planned months in advance and gathered detailed requirements, and we didn’t have the complexities of animals, biohazards, chemicals or complex equipment that requires months of lead-time to book specialists for both moving and recalibration.

I was shocked at the fact that no analysis had been done for our requirements, that no project manager had been assigned to work with us. No risk assessments had been done. How could the find a suitable interim facility if they didn’t do the up front due diligence?  How could you assess the costs of a move or what to book?  Was the administration really that ignorant about how research laboratories in the life sciences work? Even if world-class facilities were identified and available, at this late juncture a move in March was a recipe for disaster.  Though we often say in project management that “Hope is not a risk mitigation strategy”,  I hoped that if we made Carleton senior administration aware of at least some of the risks and issues, they might realize how infeasible a move in March would be.  I was wrong.

With no concrete information and rising panic in the department, I urged my advisor to send a letter to Carleton senior administration and the Dean of Science, detailing the issues that we would encounter if faced with a move out by March 2017. It was by no means an exhaustive list. We scrambled to put it together and shared it with the department. After extensive discussion, it was clear that in light of the lack of information and a comprehensive plan, a move out by March 2017 would have terrible consequences for students and faculty alike.

On October 24, 2016, the Neuroscience faculty sent a formal letter to the administration expressing their deep concerns that two moves in one year would result in significant long-term consequences to faculty, students, the reputation of the department and Carleton as a whole. This issue would be further compounded by the short notice on the March moveout as our study planning had not taken that date into account.  (For example, some of our Parkinson’s studies are planned 18 months in advance and can take a further 18 months to execute. Once underway, any changes to the environment will invalidate these studies and destroy the prospects of graduation for the student involved.).  The letter made it clear that an unplanned move of this nature would have dire consequences for undergraduates as well. Our faculty was unanimous in stating that the best possible option to preserve the education of Carleton Neuroscience students was to delay construction of ARISE until the faculty could make ONE move into the Health Sciences Building, when it was complete. This proposes a 9 month delay in the construction of ARISE, to ensure quality of the existing students’ education.

The faculty letter attempted to give the administration a sense of the complexity of our environment and the very real risks, since no one from FMP or administration had gathered any requirements. This letter was by NO means exhaustive, and certainly could not be used in place of proper full consultation and requirements analyses.  Our faculty requested that they work together with the administration to find a viable solution that minimized the impact to students.

This faculty plea resulted in the aforementioned “site tour” by president Runte on October 31st, 2017.  Before the close of that 20-minute tour (of just 2 labs and our vivarium), the message she gave to our chair was that we should expect to move sometime in March.  To me, the tour appeared to be nothing more than paying lip-service in order to ensure the appearance of consultation.

Shock, disbelief and despair were palpable amongst the students and faculty.  And still, we had nothing official in writing – no firm date, no proposed alternate location, no “hey, let’s all sit down and go over alternatives” conversations, NOTHING. Requests to be at the table to look at alternatives were either ignored or denied.  The message we were given was that the administration was taking care of this and the key stakeholders would have no place at that table, despite our clear messaging that at this late juncture, a March 2017 move would be devastating.  Some people thought the idea so impossible and unconscionable, they couldn’t believe it would really happen – our administration couldn’t be so short-sighted and negligent, could they?

On November 2nd, 2017, John Stead sent an email to all members of the faculty and graduate students, stipulating that “While I’d like to be able to update you on specific plans for next year, those plans are still being formulated. It is likely however that we will have to vacate the LSRB (research labs and vivarium) in March….To date, no plans have been finalized (or even formally presented) for the transition of Neuroscience research labs and animal space between LSRB and HSB. Plans are being worked on by the Senior Administration of the university.”

On November 7th, 2017, Carleton Administration made the ARISE announcement to the media, highlighting the federal, provincial and institutional funding that would pay for the project.  Of course, we were busy in the lab, so we missed that presentation. What we didn’t miss was the signs that were erected outside LSRB depicting an artists rendition of the new building. An article in the Ottawa Business Journal implied that construction would start AFTER existing occupants of LSRB had been moved to the new HSB building.

I want to reiterate – the first OFFICIAL communication of any kind to our department stipulating a firm March 1 eviction date, was  NOVEMBER 11, 2017, in an email from Malcolm Butler, Dean of Science. The letter was brief, at which time we heard about the first “options” for our relocation being considered by our administration ( to which we had NO input). Though no alternate location had been confirmed, the option of using biology teaching labs in the summer was proposed.  This was absolutely untenable, and demonstrated a clear lack of understanding as to the needs of our research department, and the students trying to complete degrees within it.

Now we were really scared.  If that was the sort of facility they thought was acceptable for the kind of research we do, then how could we possibly trust the administration to find us a workable solution?   Malcolm closed with saying, “We recognize that this situation is not optimal for you, but this is the only solution that is possible in the current  circumstances.” “Not Optimal”?  “The only solution”?  Kicking us out by March 1 is NOT the only solution – it is the only solution the current administration is willing to consider.  Is this why they didn’t want us at the table? Because they knew they were going to force us into an untenable situation, and the longer they delayed, the harder it would be for us to identify alternatives? Sadly, based on this email, it became clear that a March 1 eviction would be far worse than we expected.  Especially since it was already mid-November and no viable interim space had been identified.  (It’s November 27 as I write this and we still haven’t seen hide nor hair of a project manager for the move- which is further justification for why we have NO confidence in our administration to handle this properly).

The truth is that Carleton doesn’t have to proceed with the new building as planned.  Growth at any cost should not be the mandate of an institution of higher learning.  Basic and translational research into critical health issues is being sacrificed in pursuit of opening up a new institute.  They CAN delay. They could consider building on unoccupied space on campus. Yes, it might cost more money. The institution has large reserves. Maybe they can involve ALL stakeholders to come to a workable solution that doesn’t involve sacrificing the education and futures of existing students.

But back to the senate meeting…

During the “other business” discussion period, I told the assembly that our lack of confidence in the administration to make appropriate decisions about temporary research space also stems from the fact that the one email we have seen addressing the subject, proposed possible alternatives that were so inadequate as to be ludicrous.  I also stated that if the administration thinks that we can vacate our facilities and set up somewhere else in less than 3 months with “minimal disruption”, it is indicative of their complete lack of understanding of the nature and complexity of our research.

By-the-way, an email edict from administration telling stakeholders what will happen to them is NOT “consultation”, no matter how it is couched in platitudes and apologies.

In their response to my statements at Senate, Malcolm Butler and Roseann Runte kept talking about “4 months” lead time to get ready, and that was completely misleading. It is now almost December and we have no plan, no alternate location, and to be minimally disrupted, we would have had to start ordering supplies and booking specialists by now.  If we are forced into an eviction, packing will start in January and February, and research will be effectively halted.  Right now, neuroscience students are SCRAMBLING to finish whatever they can before January. Some facilities are fully booked because everyone is trying to get access to limited equipment. Not all projects can be accomodated. It’s a clusterf*ck of epic proportions and the mental health of everyone in LSRB is suffering.

Unpacking, setting up and recalibrating equipment, presuming facilities are decent and can actually hold everything we have, will take another 2-3 months before we are fully operational.  This move will result in a loss of at least 4-5 months of research productivity.  And that is a conservative estimate, based on us getting premium facilities and full financial support for moving our specialized equipment – something I have little faith in the administration to support. Some researchers just cannot afford the risk and time associated with moving and setting up their highly sensitive equipment twice and may simply box equipment and wait for HSB to be ready. This will mean a critical loss of facilities and research education for students for up to a year.  Even 2 months of lost research time in this highly competitive field can kill the chances of getting further grant funding for most graduate students.  If we lose access to our mice, our most productive brain research into Parkinson’s disease, Stress, Depression, Anxiety, Obesity, and Chronic pain will grind to a halt.  We will not be able to teach or train undergraduates. The promise of project-based theses will be violated, preventing 4th-year honours students from moving on to most graduate schools.  DSRI students will not have opportunities for summer lab experience in Neuroscience. Graduate degrees will be delayed (A two-year master’s degree simply cannot afford that kind of interruption).

I also stressed to the senate members that this is NOT just a neuroscience issue. It sets a dangerous precedent in allowing the administration to force poorly planned moves without consultation, adversely impacting the educational outcomes for students and harming the research reputation of the institution.  It also poses a very real risk to the institution losing funding from the Tri-Council – SSHRC, NSERC and CIHR.  If the Tri-council pulls out of Carleton, it will hurt the entire university, including the engineering departments who are supposed to be benefiting from the LSRB renovation.

When I asked why we couldn’t all sit at the table together to discuss alternatives such as delaying the construction start, Runte equivocated and stated that our eviction date was based on a provincial completion deadline of April 2018.  But… but… the province’s 3.9 million dollar share is a very small part of the overall project, and both the River and Canal buildings went over-schedule and the province granted extensions on those.  Not to mention the multi-million dollar surpluses currently in Carleton “reserve funds”. (I didn’t even raise the issue of how it is they can start spending on a new building when they cannot afford to finish the HSB currently in progress).   Surely it will cost well over a million to move Neuroscience twice and house us in highly specialized temporary facilities?

Much to the dismay of myself and my fellow students, Runte also continued in a completely patronizing tone, harping on the idea that she was working for the good of ALL departments and the whole institution, not just one (but clearly ready to throw us under the bus), and that other institutes had been displaced, waiting for this space.  Wait… What? Who will be displaced if ARISE is delayed 9 months?  The research programs it purports to support don’t even exist yet!  Besides, the institution has clearly demonstrated they are incapable of planning moves that far in advance. If the ARISE project is delayed for 9 months, which institute, which students will suffer the same irreparable losses we students in Neuroscience are facing if we are evicted? (Is there a tent-city somewhere on campus housing a poor faculty that I am not aware of?) Isn’t this ARISE building supposed to attract NEW students and NEW research? How can Runte’s office justify sacrificing commitments to current students  for the potential of obtaining new students?

To date, the GSA has no record of other institutes or departments being displaced in anticipation of the space in LSRB.  The ARISE building won’t even be ready till April 2018 (if it is completed on schedule, which Carleton has a terrible reputation for accomplishing).

Of greatest disappointment to me was the number of members from the faculty of Science that voted against our motion for an emergency addition to the agenda. It breaks my heart that Malcolm Butler has turned his back on us and is refusing to support his students and faculty in speaking out against this eviction, and in refusing to have us at the table for true open and transparent consultation.  I wrote a personal letter to Dr. Runte, to which Malcolm, the Dean of the FGPA, and the Dean of Research and International were CC’ed. Not one of the Deans replied to my letter. The reply I received from the president’s office was the same impersonal and patronizing form letter that everyone who wrote her a letter received.

I am also deeply disappointed that we have not been supported by the deans in engineering in our attempts to ensure proper planning and consultation has taken place. My partner is a member of the Professional Engineers of Canada, and he too is deeply disappointed that the faculty within Carleton Engineering have not stepped up, seeing as they are the beneficiaries of this new building.

We are being displaced by the ARISE project, and we have made it clear that irreparable harm will come to students and faculty as a result.  We are delighted that Carleton is looking to expand opportunities for future students, but it cannot be at the expense of an existing faculty.  Our mental health and research is already suffering. The ramifications to the students will be far-reaching.  Engineers sign and swear an oath ensuring they will support the public good. That oath extends to both personal and professional ethics – that neither personally nor professionally will they allow faulty workmanship to pass.  As my partner put it, “Engineers are supposed to uphold the standards of proper planning and process. It’s what we do.” It seems to me that Fred Afagh (Acting Dean, Faculty of Engineering and Design) should not support an action that benefits his department at the expense of other students and faculty (who will suffer due to poor planning and execution of this project).

Although we did not get our resolution onto the agenda at the senate meeting, we started educating other faculty about the FACTS surrounding our eviction. And it IS an eviction. A “move” is consensual, and this forced removal from our facilities will be anything but consensual. The students and faculty of Neuroscience will continue to demand that Carleton Administration live up to its commitments to our department, and begin true, open and transparent consultation with ALL stakeholders, including the other departments who will share the ARISE building after it is complete.

Sadly, all of this mess could have been avoided if Carleton administration had INCLUDED the key stakeholders in the planning from the date they first built the funding proposal for ARISE.

In reply to Dr. O’Reilly Runte’s message to the Department of Neuroscience

In response to the  “Update – Neuroscience”, message to the Carleton Community from President Roseann O’Reilly Runte,

Dr Runte,

Stakeholder engagement and transparency are an absolute necessity when making major decisions that impact our Carleton community. When all planning is cloaked in secrecy, inevitably the outcome cannot be positive. Unfortunately, the mishandling of this project has left faculty, graduate students and staff with unprecedented levels of stress. Asking for patience under these circumstances is not a fair ask. Collaboration was required months ago.

Diane Trenouth