An Update on the latest “Neuroscience Update” from the President

Just before Christmas (December 19th), Carleton President O’Reilly Runte emailed yet another “Neuroscience Department update” to the Carleton community trying to assure everyone that all is well, and our interim move will be just a minor disruption to our work. (Why was it labelled “#1” when there have been at least 2 prior updates? But I digress…)  She also pointed out how important it is that they get this money. Apparently “Delaying renovations” is not an option. Because constructing new buildings and boosting the local economy are apparently more important than keeping those commitments to existing students and faculty.

In her lengthy email, she once again justified why she thinks the collateral damage to the students and faculty of the neuroscience department is acceptable.  The express and implied commitments made to students and researchers; the hard work and studies that will now have to be cut short or not executed at all; the work put into building an exceptional degree program; the effort promoting science at Carleton; and the time spent establishing one of the most productive research departments, isn’t as important as the $26.4 million dollars they will be getting in federal and provincial funding for a new building. Yes, you CAN put a price on integrity at Carleton.

And the excuse for not including us in the planning process from the start doesn’t hold water.

“The government’s announcement of these funds was under strict embargo and could not be shared with our campus community until the announcement date.”

While that statement about the actual AWARD process may be technically true, I cannot believe that the application process was required to be secret.  In fact, it would be imprudent and irresponsible NOT to include all impacted departments in that planning, especially if winning the grant would mean that students and faculty in active research labs would have to be displaced and relocated to an entirely different institution. In developing the application, one would expect professional administrators to have run a cost-benefit analysis, and understood, based on the (very public) substantial completion deadlines, the substantial adverse impact to the Neuroscience Department. There is no plausible reason why that analysis (back in April and May) could not have been shared with the department so that students and faculty could have time to participate in developing a “plan B” should the funding be awarded.

No such consultation took place.

If proper planning HAD taken place, we wouldn’t have had to wait until November 30th to find out that a secret deal had been made to move our mice and rats to the University of Ottawa for a year, nor would we still be waiting to find out where our lab space will be come March 1, 2017. (Hint: We STILL don’t have anything officially confirmed). The fact that we are, at this late juncture, having to make the administration aware of the very real and substantive costs and impracticalities of the interim solution being foisted upon us, is appalling.

Where was the oversight in this process?  Why was the planning information withheld?  Was this information shared outside the “campus community”?  Why was the MERX bid for Expressions of Interest from potential contractors only open for 15 business days on a multi-million dollar building project (Nov 11 to Dec 1st)?  This seems an exceedingly short period of time to allow potentially qualified vendors an opportunity to put together a substantive bid.  Especially if no information was allowed to be released before the grant was officially awarded.

But back to the president’s message.  I’d like to clarify a few OTHER things that were stated in her “update” of December 19th:

“To accommodate renovations to the Life Sciences Research Building, on Nov. 30 it was announced that the core section of the Neuroscience Department’s research activities will temporarily relocate to the University of Ottawa, where space has been secured until the construction of the new Health Sciences Building is complete in August 2017. “

To be clear – “the core section” means our mice and rats. And that agreement takes us from 17 available housing rooms to just 4 rooms.  A large number of our planned and potential studies will not be able to be completed in this interim facility because they cannot be run in a single room with hundreds of animals.  The “Core section” does not refer to all the research laboratories and equipment we use on a daily basis,which is at least 2/3rds of our work.

And of course, what is NOT mentioned, is that we have been told that animal space in the new Health Sciences Building will actually not be ready till December 2017, (at the earliest).

“The new building, currently under construction and scheduled for completion this summer, will house health-related programming, including neuroscience. The cost for this project is being covered entirely by Carleton and it is a strategic investment in our future programming.”

Again, let me fill in the blanks between the lines. This “new building” had the budget cut during the planning process and now will have 2 unfinished floors, with all of the active neuroscience labs from 2 floors in LSRB crammed into a SINGLE FLOOR.  The Department Chair went on record on June 12, 2015, stating,

“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.”

So even our shiny new building is not everything it is purported to be by the administration, and yet it is being touted as this shiny prize at the end of a tunnel of turmoil. You’d think after this, they’d at least FINISH the damn thing so it can actually properly support the current Neuroscience research needs, not to mention future growth.

“Delaying renovations or refusing the government money we have been awarded for that purpose are not options.”

Oh, they ARE options. Just not options that Carleton is willing to consider.  In fact, we were told by Catherine McKenna’s office, that the administration had YET to put in an OFFICIAL application for any kind of extension (RE_ Deadlines). It appears that the administration has deemed that the catastrophic impact to the neuroscience department is acceptable collateral damage in the face of all that money.

“Government partners have established deadlines for all grant recipients to complete their projects. These grants are intended to boost the local economy during this year.”

I didn’t realize that it was the responsibility of  public institutions of higher learning to “boost the local economy”.  How foolish and naive of me. I thought they were here to provide an educational setting for learning, research and the advancement of knowledge.

“The Health Sciences Building will also become an integral part of our campus – a new home for our growing and popular health-related programs that will continue to attract top students, faculty and staff for years to come.”

First and foremost, While I fully support the growth of our new Health Sciences department, the NEUROSCIENCE department is growing at a rate that far exceeds that of Health Sciences – with over 550 undergraduates and nearly 50 graduate students… And what about the top new faculty that ALREADY came here this year, only to find they have to pack up their labs just after unpacking, and seek out lab space off campus for 8 months to a year? What of the promises made to them?

“Since the announcement, the university has been meeting with department and program representatives, as well as faculty, to better understand requirements.”

*Snort* A bit late to the party, don’t you think? The first meeting with faculty took place on December 1. The first meeting with students took place on December 15 (after we demanded it).  My first meeting with the VP Finance took place on December 20th, to try and help him understand how the complete lack of consultation with key stakeholders is a disaster for many planned research projects, and the very real financial impact to students and faculty.  This “consultation” should have happened back in April when the whole bid process started. One can only hope that during these meetings with students, the Dean of Science, Provost and VP Finance started to get a sense of the REAL educational, financial, mental health costs we are incurring – a direct result of the institution’s short-sightedness.  Planning for the future, if done RIGHT, doesn’t have to mean cutting off your PRESENT research at the knees.

“Researchers and senior students engaged in research are also being asked to define their specific individual needs and co-operate in the planning process. Students are encouraged to work closely with their supervisors in planning the moves. “

Because, you know, that’s what the students signed up for when they accepted the offer at Carleton, you know, planning a move in the middle of the semester instead of doing their studies. Apparently they signed up for working for 8 months and breeding a colony only to have the study cut short with no way to continue it at a new location.  Apparently they signed up for Carleton (including choosing housing close by) but will have to complete out the year at University of Ottawa’s Smyth Road Campus (If space can be secured. Still not a done deal). Apparently they signed up for double and triple the travel time between work, home, school and the lab.  Apparently they signed up for scrambling to salvage what they can of their studies over the holidays instead of spending time with family because they are being kicked out prematurely. Being able to define specific needs and plan for the future would require knowing WHERE they are going, what they can take with them, and what facilities will be available to them in the new location.  Oops. Sorry. Can’t tell you this stuff right now because, you know, we didn’t actually plan any of this stuff ahead of time.  But you be good little students and “co-operate”, ok?

The administration’s lack of planning (frankly, dropping the ball big-time) should not constitute OUR crisis, and yet you ask, patronizingly, that we “co-operate in the planning process”.  Most of this mess could have been avoided if YOU, the administration, had co-operated with US in the planning process from the start.  Simple RESPECT and COURTESY for a department who has given so much to Carleton and its community, if nothing else.

“We are securing other offices and laboratory space at various locations, including on the Carleton campus. We will also secure transportation for staff and researchers.”

We are supposed to start packing up in less than a month, and yet they STILL don’t have space confirmed for us.  The department will be exploded across multiple locations. Inter-lab collaboration will come to a halt in many cases. We don’t even know if undergraduates will be able to join us, and even if they could, how would they manage the time cost associated with getting between campus and Smyth Road when they carry a full course load?

Is it any wonder that so many students in Neuroscience have lost all confidence in Carleton Administration?