Monday, November 30, 2015

Universally Annoyed

My university has made the news and not in a good way.  The Board of Governors are aiming to be as opaque as possible.  Closed meetings are a really bad idea.  Telling the professors who are appointed to the Board to represent the faculty that the BoG is now like fight club--that one cannot talk about it--seems to run against the purpose of having profs on the board.

While going into closed session when discussing personnel issues, to operate entirely closed seems problematic in the extreme.

Of course, the Canadian prof union is overreacting, possibly telling aspiring profs not to take jobs at Carleton (in this job market) and not to go to conferences.  Seems like quickly pushing the "nuke all" button.

Not a great way to start the last week or two of the term as our focus should be elsewhere.

Could be worse, our universities could be under attack by the ill-informed.  Ooops.

Update:  I just got this email from Carleton.

Monday, Nov. 30, 2015

Carleton faculty and staff are advised that the Ottawa Citizen published an online article on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015 and in their print edition on Monday, Nov. 30, 2015 that contained a number of inaccuracies about the Board of Governors.

At the request of the Citizen, the university provided a statement about their story. Only a portion of that statement was included in their story. Another communiqué was subsequently forwarded by the university to the paper outlining the errors contained in their story. The Citizen updated its story, but used only a portion of the second communiqué and failed to correct the errors. Contrary to what is stated in the article, the communiques did address the allegations made by the Carleton Association of University Teachers (CAUT) and the Carleton University Academic Staff Association (CUASA).

It is important to keep the Carleton community informed about this issue and to share accurate information and context. For full transparency, a copy of the letter to the CAUT can be found here:

The Citizen article incorrectly states that the Board adopted a new policy about discussing Board business publicly. The Statement of General Duties, Fiduciary Responsibilities and Conflict of Interest (“the Statement”) is a code of conduct adopted by the Board of Governors that has been in place at Carleton since 2008. The Statement outlines not only the fiduciary duties of the Governors but their responsibilities as Governors and their obligation to avoid conflicts of interest. The Statement also includes the obligation of members to appropriately maintain confidentiality. As with all governance documents, the Statement is reviewed periodically. The Statement was amended and again approved by the Board in 2015. The obligation to maintain in confidence matters or documents discussed in closed session is neither new nor controversial. All universities and institutions require their Board members to comply with similar confidentiality obligations.

The Board has not banned faculty or student union representatives, although the matter of removing union and association executives from eligibility was considered in the past. There was never any discussion to change the composition of the Board, which consists of community members, alumni, faculty, staff and students.

The Statement has been signed by every Governor since 2008 including, for the two prior years, by the Board member referenced in the Citizen article. In fact, 32 out of the 33 current members, including the faculty, staff, alumni, students and community-at-large members have signed the Statement. The Statement does not interfere with any academic freedom issues or collegial governance, which are enshrined at Carleton through bicameral governance.

Every Board meeting consists of an open session accessible by the public and a closed session in which confidential matters are discussed. Every Board in the country handles sensitive matters dealing with issues such as personnel, legal and contracts through closed sessions. No Board of Governors allows members to speak publicly about in-camera closed sessions. This has been the university’s consistent policy and was recently reaffirmed by board members.

The open session of Board meetings are publicly streamed and accessible by all members of the public at a location on the campus. In addition, a limited number of individuals from the public who have sought permission are able to attend the open session of the meeting in person. For example, the November meeting was attended by journalists from the Charlatan. The September meeting was attended by journalists and student association and union representatives.

As for the issue of commentary, once the Board has made a decision, the minutes become the record of the meeting. Proper governance requires fulsome, candid discussion and debate by Board members at meetings, without fear of being misquoted or maligned following the meeting. Blog posts by the member referenced in the article making inaccurate statements about members, meetings, discussions and decisions of the Board are neither appropriate nor legal, according to advice obtained by the Board. Indeed, such posts stifle the freedom of speech of all other members of the Board. While faculty members are free to express themselves, once a faculty member becomes a governor, he or she is required to adhere to the same duties and responsibilities as all governors with respect to board business. Carleton regrets that this sole governor does not want to abide by the Statement that has been previously respected by all other faculty members.

Currently, all the bylaws in the university, including conflict-of-interest issues, are being studied by the Governance Committee of the Board to ensure their conformity with the Ontario Not for Profit legislation. The bylaws will be discussed by the full Board in the future.

Carleton addressed the issues raised by the CAUT by letter to Mr. Robinson on Monday, Nov. 23, 2015. Carleton confirmed its commitment to transparency and that the confidentiality obligations were for closed sessions, which is the same as all universities.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Pondering Podcasting or Ponderous Podcasting

After taping a segment for a CBC radio program (to be broadcast sometime on December 6th with to be posted eventually) to discuss the use of sci-fi for the teaching of IR, Stephanie Carvin (who was anti- and thus wrong) and I (pro) started talking about doing a podcast to talk about international relations, Canadian foreign policy and whatever. 

It got some immediate interest from our friends and a couple of potential outlets.  So, I asked the following:
Only 20% thought it was a really bad idea or thought that "A Really Bad Idea" might be the right name for the podcast.

We are still thinking about it, so any ideas for titles, for stuff to cover, for ideas about organizing or any insights into what should or should not go into this adventure, let us know.  

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving Non-Football Watching

We watched plenty of bad football games today, but the nieces and my daughter decided to watch Dead Poet Society.  A good movie but one fraught with stuff that makes for a poor collective watching experience during a holiday: suicide, parental resentment, betrayal, Robin Williams.

So I pondered what would have been a worse choice and then asked the twitterverse.  I got some interesting responses:

I thought Deer Hunter as it was chock full of war, Russian roulette, and drug addiction but Alex usher came through with Sophie's Choice.  Not just depressing but likely to create fights and resentment--hey, Mom, which of us would you choose?  Well played, Alex.

Thanksgiving 2015: Mo Driving, Mo Family, Mo McD's

Once again, we have much to be thankful for on this Thanksgiving.  This year, like last year, we get a chance to see our daughter for a few days as we are all jammed into one hotel room again like the days of yore.  Two of us are Canadians, so we could have done this last month, but nearly forty years of socialization will not be overcome by thirteen years of mapled socialization, a citizenship guide, a test and new passports.  Which reminds me:
  • my first bullet of gratitude goes to Canada which made the citizenship process relatively quick, easy, and anxiety free.  Of course, much easier for us than for the refugees, but I am thankful that the new government is trying to expedite, rather than delay and cherrypick, the inflow of refugees.
  • which leads to my second note of thanks: that the election produced a new government, which means that a friend of mine, and a very sharp person indeed, has the ear of the new Prime Minister.
  • as always, we are most thankful to the Canadians who continue to welcome us and make us feel at home in Ottawa.  I am very thankful for the opportunities Canada has provided me and mine and for the move to Ottawa, which continues to provide dividends in both my professional and personal lives.  And, yes, I am used to the Canadians being mystified by how far we travel to eat some turkey and apple pie.
  • I am grateful to those advisers/mentors that continue to support me, writing letters of recommendation, long after I have moved on from grad school.
  • Which leads to thanks for the fellowship that will make next year's sabbatical more productive and less stressful.  
  • I am thankful for the fellowship application processes, which caused me to reach out to Japan's embassy in Ottawa.  That one visit proved to be very fruitful: a great conversation, a trip in January to Tokyo, and an interesting conversation this week with three Japanese scholars who were in town for an event at the Dept of Foreign Affairs (or whatever they call it).
  • I am grateful that the edited volume is done and launched and appreciate the hard work and patience of the contributors.  
  • I am very thankful that my next book is now in the very last stages of production, and will be available shortly in the new year.  I will be thankful next year for the book tour that will take me to interesting places and good skiing (I hope).  
  • As always, I deeply appreciate the friendships I have made via the course of my life and the magic of social media.  I am looking forward to meeting an Aussie friend in DC that I have only known via the internet until now, for instance.
  • Speaking of the winterfest holidays, I will be thankful that my luddite mother-in-law has wifi!
  • Ever since 2008, I have been thankful for Obama's win as it ended the yearly arguments about Gore v Bush (even though both my parents and my sister's in-laws are on the same side).  I hope we can avoid discussing Trump, Carson and the other cancers on the Republican Party tonight.
Anyhow, I hope you and yours have a great Thanksgiving.  I will try to keep my gluttony under control.

And clear skies and roads to those who are traveling over the weekend!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

More Than the Least We Can Do

Canada's new Prime Minister is facing a tough decision: a campaign promise to pull out of the air mission over Syria/Iraq after the attack in Paris.  Trudeau has discussed sending more trainers to Iraq to help train Iraqis (mostly Kurds) to add to those already doing that.

I have a modest suggestion: Canada has deployed not just CF-18s to engage in air strikes but also two Auroras (reconnaissance aircraft) and a Polaris (refueling and other stuff).  These two kinds of planes are far more "high demand/low density" (military jargon) or valuable and scarce.  Few countries have these capabilities, and fewer still have deployed them to this conflict.  While the US has planes that can do this, the Canadian Auroras and the Polaris have much value-added and are harder to replace than 6 CF-18s. 

So, Prime Minister Trudeau, as you redeploy the CF-18s back home, how about keeping the Auroras and the Polaris in the region, where they provide a particularly valuable Canadian contribution that the allies could use and would appreciate?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Figuring out Trudeau and the Liberals

I had a very interesting conversation this morning with scholars visiting Canada, and they were seeking to figure out the foreign policy stances of the new Trudeau government.  And they were asking me!?  Hell, I have no idea since I am not on the inside, and my friend on the inside is not giving me the inside dirt about the intentions of the new government.

So, did I just shut up?  Of course not, as my readers know only too well.  I focused mostly on the promises the Liberals made.  Why?  Two reasons: first, yes, politicians can break promises but tend not to do so; and second, the Liberals put out a large number of policy papers to demonstrate that they were serious and that Justin was "ready."  So, consult those papers and promises and one can figure out maybe what the Liberals will do.

I could guess more easily at some stuff and not others:
  • Yes, Canada's CF-18s are going to leave the ISIS mission, but the training effort will get bigger.
  • Yes, Canada will keep its commitment to refugees.
  • Trudeau will give the various folks a chance to discuss the Trans Pacific Partnership, but will sign off.  Why?  Well, the Liberal Party should buy into free trade as one of the defining aspects of Liberalism.  Also, it is unrealistic to expect that Canada could get anything better out of the deal by re-negotiating .... unless it was willing to sacrifice supply management (which I would love but ain't happening).
  • Will Canada get friendly with Russia?  Maybe a smidge more.  This government will try to be more diplomatic than Harper (not that hard to do), but any re-set with Russia is going to founder on Ukraine and the various threats to the Baltics.  It is hard to have a good relationship on the Arctic or on ISIS while having a bad relationship on irredentism/aggression.
  • Will Canada join Russia in siding with Assad against ISIS?  Hell no.  This party has too much invested in Responsibility to Protect and in other principals, not to mention the folks here get that Assad is a cause of ISIS success.
Anyhow, informed speculation I got.  But not much more than that.  I think we will have a good idea about the Liberals by June.  Lots of key decision points between now and then to reveal the character of the Prime Minister and whether he listens to the folks who are smart on Canada's role in the world.

UPDATE:  Also, check out the mandate letters that Trudeau issued to his ministers--no better source of future intentions that the marching orders given to the ministers.  H/T to Julian Dierkes for reminding me.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Profiles in Cowardice and Ethnic Outbidding

I knew I could count on Brian McFadden:

Yes, cowards.  Craven.  Pandering to the worst instincts, selling out one's values.  I tweeted the other day, after the House vote, that I have never felt a more visceral disgust for our politicians than at that moment.

The question is: why?  GW Bush was awful in many ways, but he was careful to avoid demonizing Muslims in the aftermath of 9/11.  There are a lot of reasons why the politicians of 2015 are chock full of panic, but focusing on the Presidential race, I have a few clues.

First, because the field is so splintered, the competition is particularly intense.  The candidates need to do much just to get enough attention to get on the debate stage.  Which is an environment ripe for outbidding.  Ethnic outbidding refers to the process by which politicians compete with each other to be the best defender of an ethnic group by making promises to exclude/oppress/alienate a minority.  The literature on this is pretty vast, but the go-to source on this is Donald Horowitz's Ethnic Groups in Conflict.

Second, the field includes so many amateur politicians (Trump, Carson, Fiorina) and relatively inexperienced ones (Rubio, Cruz. Paul) that they cannot point to substantive records nor do they have the experience to able to articulate anything other than the simplest pandering stances.  So, when they face the intense competitive pressure of a race with over 12 candidates, they resort the easiest, laziest, least brave stances.  They resort to fear and anger.

Third, the media is being drawn to the most extreme stances because they are under great pressure to survive in the 21st century.  It is no longer about fact checking but about tweeting immediately and filling up the 24 hours of TV on CNN, Fox and the rest.  Responsible journalism could put this stuff into context, but even when they call out Trump for being wrong/a liar/simply awful, they (Stephanopolous this morning) just point out the lie/distortion/whatever and then "move on".

Of course, money matters as well, but I think the focus lately has not been so much on sucking up directly to the Koch brothers and their ilk but on trying to stay on tv and on top of the polls so that the money folks will keep betting on the candidate.

Anyhow, I keep thinking we live in the darkest time-line, but I know it can be worse.  I am also pretty sure that Hillary Rodham Clinton will beat any of these goons, but in the meantime, these goons are inspiring violence.  And that, alas, is nothing new to those who understand ethnic outbidding.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Rejection Is the Name of the Game

Much discussion lately about how much rejection is in this academic game.  I had a conversation yesterday with a pal who was finding it much harder, it seemed, to get work published after tenure than before. "I thought I knew how to do this."

Folks have been calling for the true CVs of people--where rejections would be listed.  Not sure that is going to happen.  However, in this week where I received news of receiving a fellowship to supplement my sabbatical, I thought I would list many of the rejections of my work along the way (my spreadsheet for tracking my work is pretty good but incomplete, just like my training in the Force):*
*  I have already enumerated my many rejections in the academic job market.

Discussing Post-Paris in Toronto: Ye Olde Students Rock

I went to Toronto yesterday to be part of a panel on the events in Paris and the reactions to it.  Most of my reactions to this event have to do with my old students:
  • Within five seconds of arriving in the room, I got to talk to a former research assistant from my McGill days.  She was part of a large team that coded diaspora data, and it was great not just to see her but hear a bit about her internship at the Canada's Embassy to Libya, currently located in Tunisia.
  • The next student up was one from my last big Intro class, who is now finishing her MA at Munk.  She had nice things to say about how my class set her on this path, which was really nice to hear even though I know that IR is simply inherently interesting.
    • My wife informed me that whenever she bumped into a student from my Intro to IR class (the joy of having a distinctive last name meant that the students would be pretty certain she was Mrs. Spew/Mrs. Prof of Intro to IR), they all cited the same lecture--apples and oranges.  My question, of course, is: do they remember the point of that lecture?  Hmmm.

  • The next student was, of course, Aisha Ahmad, a former Phd student of mine, who now teaches at U of Toronto.  She wrote a terrific piece for the Globe and Mail (web now, print maybe this weekend or Monday), arguing that the refugees play an important role in this battle with ISIS, and the smart way to fight ISIS is to accept these refugees.  It would undermine their ideology, their recruitment base, and their financing.  Just a sharp argument articulately made.  And then, of course, she was the one with the best line of the night:
The other panelists--Randall Henson of U of T Poli Sci, Paul Cohen of U of T History, Lorne Dawson of U of Waterloo Sociology, and Stephen Toope, Director of Munk--all had stuff to say that was incisive and made me think seriously about the past week's events and where to go from here.

One other thing: I loved, loved, loved the organization of the event.  The key pieces were:
  • Nice array of people: an IR guy (as the NATO guy, I thought I would not have much to say but then I realized I was an IR/Canadian defence guy), a Europeanist, a Islamist politics expert, a sociologist who works on radicalization, an historian, and an international law prof.  We didn't repeat each other much, contradicted each other only sometimes but provided many different angles on the issue.
  • We each spoke for only five minutes so that max time could be dedicated to answering question.  We probably could have gone on for another half hour as there were plenty of questions we could have still addressed.
  • The various assistants collected questions from the audience on cards they were given, and tweets were also transcribed onto these cards.  Toope then organized the cards and would use a few to ask a thematic question that some of us could address briefly.  This was so smart because:
    • It avoided the speechifying problem where folks make long-winded statements that are more comments than questions.
    • It avoided the audience just asking one or two panelists questions.
    • It integrated the tweets well.
    • It keep things moving.
I will definitely be stealing this idea.

Anyhow, always great to see former students, always great to have a dynamic interchange of ideas, and always confused about the next steps ahead.

Oh, and I had the chance to hang out with a friend of mine who went to the same grad school as me but about 15 years later.  Good beer, very good poutine, and great company.