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.