Friday, February 11, 2011

Freedom of Information Documents Show Joanne St.Lewis’ Lack of Independence from Central Administration

In 2008 the Student Appeal Centre published a report which focused on the many injustices and unfair treatment faced by students accused of academic fraud. Numbers revealed that the majority of the students who had consulted the SAC to seek advice concerning accusations of academic fraud were visible minorities – some of whom had openly been targeted because of their ethnic origin. The SAC had warned President Allan Rock of the problem months before but his administration failed to address the problem.

When the SAC’s annual report came out the upper administration asked one of its common law professors and then Director of the Human Rights Research and Education Centre, Joanne St.Lewis, to conduct what they referred to as an “independent evaluation” of the SAC’s report. Joanne St.Lewis accepted and her evaluation was emailed to every single professor and student at the University.

Within the first few lines of her report, Joanne St.Lewis claims her independence and immediately qualifies our annual report as unsubstantiated, inflammatory and inconclusive. Joanne St.Lewis’ conclusion was that the data we had provided was too limited to support our conclusion of systemic racism. She indicated that “the entire analysis and its conclusion are based on less than 1% of the total university population” and that the SAC data was “too limited to enable any analysis”.

However, this conclusion did not deter the Administration from requesting that the SAC provide all of its confidential data to Joanne St.Lewis. In a letter dated March 24, 2009 the then Vice-President Academic Robert Major informed the SAC that Mrs. St.Lewis had been asked to conduct an independent systemic review of the student academic fraud appeals process and asked the SAC to collaborate with Mrs. St.Lewis namely by sharing all of its data. The SAC responded that the University was in possession of the integral data on academic fraud and that the only information the University could possibly obtain that it did not already have was the identity of the SAC’s clients.

In the summer of 2009 the SAC filed a request under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to obtain all communications regarding the Centre’s work. The documents obtained confirmed our concerns regarding Joanne St.Lewis’ independence from the administration and revealed the following:

  • Upon meeting with Robert Major, Joanne St.Lewis browsed through a few lines of the SAC report, was outraged by what she read, and immediately accepted to write an evaluation of the report.
  • Joanne St.Lewis sent her draft evaluation to Robert Major and Allan Rock saying that she was “happy to respond to any suggestions that [they] may have.”
  • Allan Rock commented on the wording of Joanne St.Lewis’ first recommendation saying “my only concern is with the first recommendation, the wording of which seems to assume that there is some racism present already. Since Professor St.Lewis already concluded that there is no evidence of it, such wording is wrong and inconsistent with her own report. [] One last point, I would like Robert to be the only point of contact for us with Professor St.Lewis. Although her report is excellent it may be criticized as not being “independent” from the administration. So far, our dealings with her have been through Robert, and have been scrupulously objective. We have simply sought her view, and have imposed no limitations, constraints or conditions. She has been entirely free to say anything she wants. In order to maintain this professional and objective relationship with her, I want Robert to be the only one in communication with her. Robert can simply observe that the first recommendation is inconsistent with her findings. It will then be up to Professor St.Lewis to decide whether to make a change. If a number of people all send emails and call, we will lose that focus of professionalism and independence.
  • The University arranged for Mrs St.Lewis to speak on CBC morning radio.
  • Prior to the interview Robert Major emailed Mrs St.Lewis to say “a thought occurred to me and I’m sorry to have missed it. The report of the SAC deals with appeals in courses. In truth if one calculates the full time equivalent of students (each student taking a number of courses per year) the number of course registration is approximately 240 000! So we have a few possible cases out of a possible number of over 200K. And the SAC is slandering the whole University based on that sampling”.
  • Joanne St.Lewis reported back to Robert Major after her interview with CBC saying that she “tried to work in the additional info on the context of courses versus individual cases so I hope that they keep it in.
  • In March 2009 Joanne St.Lewis wrote a lengthy letter to Robert Major thanking him for having appointed her to conduct a systemic review of the student academic fraud appeals process. In this letter Joanne St.Lewis asks the Administration to write a letter to the SAC “asking them to cooperate with me in the sharing of the data and reassuring them that I will be independent of the University and that all personal information provided will be strictly confidential and that any reports will not in any way reflect said information or be available for use by the administration.

The access to information documents show a close collaboration between the Administration and St.Lewis in elaborating the final report, in securing media access, and in dealing with media messaging. In addition, there is troubling evidence of a cover up of the lack of independence engineered by the President himself.

Joanne St.Lewis was an untenured professor charged with a high profile task and she elaborated her final report and her media work in communication with the Administration, yet she wrote in her report that her evaluation was “independent”. She knew or should have known that her high profile public report about racism in academic fraud appeals could not be characterized as independent.

The most troubling aspect of the St.Lewis exchanges with the Administration and their report is a total lack of admitting the possibility of the systemic racism or unequitable procedure indicated by the SAC report.

Since the publication of the 2008 SAC report the University has introduced an accelerated process for dealing with academic fraud cases. In cases eligible to the accelerate process, students who agree to recognize guilt, whether voluntary of involuntary, receive the guarantee that their case will be dealt with within fifteen business days. For students wishing to defend themselves via the regular process, the administration continues not to be bound by any time limit for dealing with the case. The SAC has observed many cases where students opt for the accelerated process although they believe to be innocent in order to avoid having to deal with further administrative delays.

Our most recent data concerning academic fraud continues to show that more than half the students who consulted the SAC concerning accusations of academic fraud are visible minorities.