Letter to the Editor: PDEng renewal committee and the Dean’s message

Donald A Fraser - Senior Demonstrator and Head TA (retired)
Posted on: May 19, 2010

Dear Editor,

This letter concerns the final report posted yesterday by the PDEng renewal committee and the Dean’s message, both posted on the PDEng renewal website.

Finally we got the magnitude of changes needed to restore credibility. It took (shouldn’t have taken) a great deal of pressure and an Independent Review (shouldn’t have been necessary) to stir up enough awareness to accomplish this.

No better choice could have been made than Professor Gord Stubley, to oversee “WatPD-Engineering”, the new handle for PDEng. He is the standard in academic, teaching and ethical excellence at UofW. You can bet your last penny that none of the runaway nonsense of the past PDEng will be tolerated even for one second under his guidance. Good luck to him. He is doing a great service by accepting this post to clean up the PDEng mess and start over. The only word of advice I would offer Professor Stubley is to remember what work terms were like and to take it easy on the students who are often pushed to the limit by their employers who rightfully have first claim to the energy and attention of our co-op students.

In the aftermath of this fiasco, we should stand back and look at the bigger picture. Why did this happen? Why were the students ignored for five years? (Some engineering students left UofW because of PDEng.). Why was it necessary to go outside our UofW Engineering community to obtain an independent review which only confirmed what all of us knew after the first of fifteen terms of hell the students were put through?

I believe the reason lies in the method of management that has invaded many institutions, not just universities. I call it “Formalism”. Formalism consists of trying to control human behavior by making stacks of rules and policies. Those in charge can then avoid the responsibility of making common sense judgments and then standing behind their judgments with sound reasons. Instead, they can just refer to “Policy 75, page 67, paragraph 4, subsection (ii), sentence 3”. Quite frankly, many of these rules and policies violate the rights and freedoms of citizens in a free society and therefore are illegal. Most of the rule-making committees have no training in the law and no concept of how law comes into being with proper opposition, debate and decision by majority vote.

For example, about 10 years ago, somebody up on the 4th floor of CPH decided that the word “beer” could not be used in any advertising of events. To demonstrate the stupidity of eliminating a word in the dictionary, thousands of sheets of paper with the word “BEER” were pasted all over the engineering buildings and in every stairwell and on top of every urinal. Advertising still proliferated with pictures of full beer glasses with a nice head replacing the word “beer”. You CANNOT control human behavior with a bunch of stupid rules and blind adherence to same. We all acknowledge the need for rules such as speed limits for simple, well defined circumstances, but most human circumstances require the sound judgment of competent, honest, WISE overseers. With these competent people in charge, we can then use “guidelines” instead of rules. The previously mentioned idiotic “beer” rule could then be replaced by a common sense guideline such as “No advertising of events should include the encouragement of drinking to excess which endangers the health and safety of the participants or members of the surrounding community.” This then allows the use of the word “beer” in a responsible ad and eliminates the use of any word or phrase promoting unhealthy behavior. A violation then requires a sound judgment by a responsible, wise overseer to interpret the violation in light of the guideline.

What happened in the past 5 years was that those in charge failed to properly oversee PDEng because of the belief that rules and policies would replace the need to keep a close reign on those running PDEng. There were students on the steering committee and the senate and in Eng Soc so how could anything go wrong? Of course these students were raising hell about PDEng but they were simply outvoted or ignored. The PDEng staff should have been told after one term, “Shape up or ship out! No engineering student should be treated this way!!!” “Policyism”, a branch of Formalism, was used against anybody (including me) who complained too vigorously about PDEng. Policyism is the use of existing policies to threaten and scare off proper debate. For example, Policy 33 is designed to protect members of the UofW community against threats to their well being by those in positions of power. Instead its reference to creating a poisoned environment was used to threaten those who rightfully objected to PDEng and whose objections were fully vindicated by the Independent Review!!! The irony is that they (the PDEng ers) didn’t read further to the portion of Policy 33 which refers to undue interference in the workplace environment of members of the UofW community. This certainly applies to interference in the workplace of co-op students on their work term by PDEng itself.

In conclusion, we must return to sound, common sense guidelines administered by wise, honest, competent people in charge and get rid of rule mongering, agenda driven, functionary bureaucrats who drive us all crazy and waste the precious creative energy of the fertile minds of our engineering community.

Yours truly

Donald A Fraser,

Senior Demonstrator and Head TA (retired)