Poli Sci Course Changes Unacceptable

Department Cuts Courses Addressing Sexism, Oppression

To Dr. Brian Lewis, Dean of the Arts & Sciences Faculty,

The 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy is a Concordia student fee-levy organization that promotes gender equality and empowerment, particularly as it relates to marginalized communities. Given this mandate, we are concerned about recent changes to curriculum in the Political Science department.

Concordia’s Political Science department has long had a reputation for providing challenging and relevant course content.
This letter is in response to significant changes in the list of courses offered for the current academic year.

Long-standing and popular courses such as Sexuality, Identity, and Politics—POLI 398T—have been cancelled abruptly for the 2012-2013 academic year without consultation with faculty representatives on the Curriculum Committee or students.

POLI 398T in particular consistently reached high enrollment and was a mainstay of the Interdisciplinary Studies in Sexuality minor program.

It is disturbing to us that a high proportion of the courses cancelled were aimed at a better understanding of sexism, oppression or marginalized communities. These include: Feminist Ethics and the Law, Women and Politics in Canada and Public Policy and the Politics of Equality.

When these courses were cancelled, students not only lost out on valuable education, but also lost irreplaceable insight from provincial and federal political policy advisers, sitting judges, community activists, respected labour organizers and feminist philosophers.

Students further lost what was seen as a strong opportunity to bring a feminist lens to the political sciences.

In light of high enrollment for many of these courses, their cancellation raises questions, considering previous chairs not only approved but requested and encouraged these courses.
It is important that the spirit of Concordia’s former motto, “Real education for the real world” is not lost in favour of the sentiment of our new motto, “Well-being through harmony.”

Indeed, harmony at the cost of political diversity would go against the very spirit of intellectual education and debate, and—one would assume—the discipline of political science as well.
In response to concerns about the direction of the curriculum, the 2110 Centre was informed that part of the rationale for cutting these classes was their status as “slot courses,” a segregating category they had been listed under for numerous years.

Using this argument to justify their cancellation seems to imply they were of lesser academic value or relevance than others. What the standards are for making this determination is unclear, but this seems to be a subjective value judgment at best.

This move is also rather insulting to the academic integrity of the professors and former chairs who developed the courses and other departments within our university who saw the value for students to engage in these learning experiences.

Further, while the original intent of the “slot” system may have been to give a trial to courses, at one time Concordia’s Political Science department was so rich and diverse that these slots became necessary in order to offer the highest possible number of courses.

It’s important to remember political science courses are not only for those majoring or minoring in the subject, but are a popular option as electives for students in a wide variety of other departments and faculties.

These students benefit greatly from rounding out their education in this way, and may not traditionally find such subject matter in their faculties. Therefore, it is to the benefit of the majority of students in the university to have a wide range of choice of political science courses to attract the most diverse members of the student body.

In another recent change, Associate Chair James Kelly was hired by the department and assigned to handle student complaints. This has reduced access to the Department Chair Csaba Nikolenyi for students as well as direct accountability for the policy changes made to the department.

Rather than engaging with the chair directly, students are obliged to first meet with the assistant chair—an additional level of bureaucracy that means more time out of students’ busy schedules.

It is imperative that student concerns are dealt with openly and accessibly, and by the person originally paid to do so as per their job description and normal university structure.
In addition to sitting on various committees for his university administration roles, it is critical that Nikolenyi prioritize the duties assigned to the chair of the Political Science department and demonstrate that his first concern is students.

We are asking for action from Concordia University administration—specifically, the dean of Arts and Sciences—to ensure the Political Science department is a place where social justice issues can be explored and taught alongside other courses without fear of political retaliation, academic hierarchical intimidation or political discrimination.

—The 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy

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