Post one of twelve, Covering My Final Chair's Remarks at Faculty of Graduate Studies Council in June 2021
Come January 2022, I will be teaching, in-person, BIOL 4095: Applied Plant Ecology. It's the same course I was teaching in Winter Term 2020, when the global Covid-19 pandemic hit. From mid-January 2020 I covered the emerging novel virus in my lectures, while preparing students for virtual learning and lockdowns, through their assignments and explicit digital literacy skills training. The latter has become even more important in the last 20 months.
As the pandemic emerged in early Winter Term 2020, I immediately grasped the (negative) significance for my students' careers, and I also knew that we were in for the long-haul. I have researched and written about non-indigenous invasive species for decades, and in Applied Plant Ecology, I teach about how poorly they are managed.
Many of my non-teaching professor duties fell by the wayside, as I turned to creating authentic, engaging, pedagogy-forward virtual substitutes for in-person learning, including a virtual field course.
All of my research, except for that directly related to graduate and undergraduate honours students, went on the back burner. Conferences were cancelled, reviewing left undone, and much more planned research activities simply fell off the table, because I was a privileged, paid, safe professor, and I could be there to support [struggling, anxious, stranded international] students.
In August 2021, I finally got one full day off from the work of supporting all of my students and colleagues, and taking care of aging parents who, thankfully, live in their own home. That four day holiday in Port Dalhousie, St. Catharines, was much needed after continuous 50 to 70 hour work weeks, during which I reached Jedi mastery of Zoom, and other electronic teaching methods in which I had previously only dabbled. On that break, I only worked 3-4 hours a day, on average, and it felt heavenly.
For my first post, I want to share my Chair's remarks from the last Faculty of Graduate Studies Council monthly meeting that I chaired in June 2021. I have added explanatory annotations in square brackets:
“We recognize that many Indigenous nations have longstanding relationships with the territories upon which York University campuses are located that precede the establishment of York University. York University acknowledges its presence on the traditional territory of many Indigenous Nations. The area known as Tkaronto has been care taken by the Anishinabek Nation, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the Huron-Wendat, and the Métis. It is now home to many Indigenous Peoples. We acknowledge the current treaty holders, the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. This territory is subject of the Dish with One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, an agreement to peaceably share and care for the Great Lakes region.”
This is my last time chairing [Faculty of Graduate Studies] council this academic year [September 2020 to June 2021].
As I complete my term [as chair], I want to thank the members of the York University graduate community for letting me serve you, and for allowing me this opportunity to complete a commitment that I made to FGS 20 years ago!
During the 1990s I had enjoyed serving on several FGS committees, and I was excited to be appointed as vice-chair of council, which is the onboarding year en route to being council chair.
Unfortunately, I was often late to pick-up my two daughters, Maddy and Carrie, from daycare, so I resigned as vice-chair, and instead, I joined my daycare board!
Next year, Prof. Anne MacLennan of the Department of Communication & Media Studies will take over as Chair, and she will be fantastic: I have worked with her on APPC since January 2020.
I want to thank the staff of FGS for their help and support this past year, in particular, Wes Moir and Michael Schiff, who have been wonderful to work with – they are consummate professionals. As well, our dean, Tom Loebbel and associate deans, Aryn and Mark, especially, Mark [who, as a committed policy wonk, always patiently explained the more arcane aspects of some obscure regulations to all of us] , have been great, as has Jodi Tavares, [quietly labouring] in the background of my work for FGS.
I want to use my last chair’s remarks to remind the tenured faculty amongst us that, with privilege comes obligation. Yes, I AM quoting Drew Barrymore in Ever After.
It’s now year two of the pandemic.
Our duty of care, and the pastoral component of our work, as privileged, tenured professors is more evident than ever. By now, we should all have had direct experience with supporting and helping the vulnerable members of the YorkU community, namely, our students, both graduate and undergraduate, many of whom are in the most at-risk demographics for exposure to Covid_19.
But, we have learned from experiences that our graduate students have shared at this council that there is space for professors to level up skills such as leading and managing TA [Teachng Assistant] teaching teams, so that our graduate students are not put in a position where they feel obligated to work extra hours over and above those in their contract. In some undergraduate courses, the TA has been the only member of the teaching team responding to students. It can be difficult for TAs who were not trained to track their hours, to realize that they are working more hours, and then to ask for pay.
Finally, I want to address the report last week of the 215 bodies of children from the Tk'emlups te' Secwepemc First Nation that have been detected by ground-penetrating radar in an unmarked grave at Kamloops Residential School in BC. (for pronunciation guidance, please see https://www.tru.ca/indigenous/indigenous-education-team/pronunciations.html)
We decided that we must address this on Monday in the virtual field course I’m currently co-teaching with Guelph. We have Indigenous students in our course.
In sharing the news in the course, many of the non-Indigenous students found themselves so upset, that we have had to delay their course presentations to next week, while they process what we discussed.
As part of that conversation, where many students explained that they were learning about Canada’s treatment of indigenous peoples for the first time, I explained that I had first learned about Residential Schools during the 1970s in my convent school run by activist nuns who were teaching us through a lens of liberation theology, and that this why I ask students to read the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action in all of my courses. I hope that you will, too.
And with that, on to item two of our agenda.