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.

In a letter to the Chair of the Carleton Board of Governors, Michael Beukert, Ph.D. student, board member, and former president of the Graduate Student’s Association stated, “This crisis was entirely avoidable; the university should never have applied for and accepted a grant that had such strict scheduling deadlines, deadlines that couldn’t be met without threatening to undermine nearly a year’s worth of research from one of our most important departments….Moreover, once the university had decided to go down this route, it should have immediately undertaken extensive consultations with students and faculty–but this never happened.”

‘I am a neuroscientist and I was given 2 years notice about the renovation to my department/lab. Four months’ notice is ludicrous, unfair and jeopardizes important, funded research,’ says Karen Szumlinski, Santa Barbara, CA

At the time of the eviction notice, no interim space or facilities had been designated for the department. On November 30th, Carleton University Administration announced that they had unilaterally signed an agreement with the University of Ottawa. This agreement was secured without the Department of Neuroscience involvement and provides less than half the animal care facility space than is currently in use. Due to the size and duration of occupancy, this facility will be unsuitable for many types of studies into mental health and neurodegeneration currently conducted by the department. To compound matters, the November 30th agreement contained no provision for wet lab space access, and no provision for students or faculty. At the time of this release, space for student and faculty research remains in question.

The current situation imposes 2 moves in less than one year for students and faculty, with insufficient temporary research space, and no indication of whether specialized equipment that is critical for research will follow. If this eviction proceeds, it will effectively bring most of the department’s critical research studies in Parkinson’s disease, stroke, neurodegeneration, depression, anxiety, chronic pain, regeneration, obesity and eating disorders to a complete stop.  Both graduate and undergraduate students attempting to obtain a research education will be seriously affected.  Many students will not obtain lab training promised and may have to be granted extensions to complete their degrees. This eviction could also result in job loss for research staff and technicians.

All attempts to engage the administration in collaborative talks to find a mutually agreeable solution for a single move to the HSB have been ignored or flatly denied.

“The lack of transparency, consultation, and communication with stakeholders over this issue has been astonishing. As an administrator, I have been directly witnessing the negative impact this eviction is having on our students, and I can’t believe more isn’t being done to mitigate that impact,” says Lenore Gale, Undergraduate Administrator, Department of Neuroscience.

The lack of foresight and support to a flourishing and productive department by senior administration, including the Board of Governors, will be detrimental to the future of students, staff and faculty. Over 75% of the student body in the Department of Neuroscience are women. Given high dropout rate of female graduate students in STEM fields, this eviction is a terrible blow to a department that is actively supporting and promoting women pursuing research careers in Neuroscience.

The students in the Department of Neuroscience are experiencing anxiety and stress related mental health problems associated with this premature eviction.

Cathy Nesbitt, a graduate student in the Department of Neuroscience says, ‘for so many reasons, the disruption to our research is most distressing to both our faculty and considerable student body. Once more, the proposed alternative falls woefully short of the mark. The personal toll this has taken on me has already exacerbated a chronic disorder and I’ve become somewhat anorexic and I’ve developed insomnia.’

Many students are working around the clock, including the Christmas break to try and complete their research. “I now have to work day and night to finish on time – I am unbelievably stressed, not only about finishing this study, but also about the effect that this will have on my future studies and grant opportunities. I may be delayed in my primary research for as much as a year, as I don’t believe I will be able to conduct research at the interim facilities due to time constraints of the temporary move and the required length of my studies.” said Ashley Thompson, Ph.D. graduate student

The disruption of scientific work, graduate education and use of research funding will be terrible if all their research work is stopped for several months,’ says Jane Stewart, world renowned neuroscientist, member of the Royal Society of Canada Academy of Sciences and an Officer in the Order of Canada.

This disruption arises directly because of a building grant awarded from the Strategic Investment Fund for Post-Secondary Institutions, announced in April 2016 by the Ministry for Science, Innovation and Economic Development, Canada.  Though this fund was intended to foster development and innovation in educational institutions, the deadlines imposed for building completion are resulting in direct and long-term harm to students’ education and opportunities for success.  Students and staff in the Department of Neuroscience are actively working to pressure the senior University administration, the federal government and provincial agencies to work together to obtain an extension and hold off the eviction. A website has been launched outlining the situation; Over, 2000 signatures have been collected on a petition that will be sent to provincial and federal officials requesting their intervention. The petition has garnered national and international support. If the eviction continues to proceed, the students will be seeking compensation and filing an Ontario Ombudsman Complaint.