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November 18, 2008


Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering
Minutes of the Departmental Meeting on November 18, 2008

Present: R. Abhari, C. Brown, P. Caines, C. Champness, L. Chen, J. Clark, J. Cooperstock, D. Davies, F. Galiana, W. Gross, A. Hamoui, K. Johnson, G. Joos, R. Khazaka, A. Kirk, F. Labeau, T. Le-Ngoc, H. Leib, M. Levine, L. McKenna, P. Menon, Z. Mi, B.T. Ooi, D. Plant, M. Rabbat, G. Roberts, R. Rose, J. Webb, Z. Zilic. S. Ahmad (ExCESS).

Regrets: T. Arbel, K. Fraser, D. Giannacopoulos, D. Lowther, S. Musallam

The meeting was called to order at 3:05 pm.

1. Adoption of the Agenda:

D. Plant asked if there were any additions to the agenda. None. A. Kirk, seconded by H. Leib. Carried.

2. Adoption of the Minutes (October 21, 2008):

No changes. F. Labeau, seconded by M. Rabbat. Carried.

3. Remarks from the Chair: ECE Departmental Meeting Briefing Notes – November 18, 2008:

D. Plant informed the meeting that regarding research funds year end Mar 31/09: If you require retro-active salary adjustments to be reflected on the financial statements for the year ending Mar 31/09. These requests should be submitted to Lori by December 31st in order to give Payroll enough time to process the retro-active adjustments.

As meeting Chair, it is my prerogative to determine, within reason, the amount of time assigned to agenda items. In this context I have allotted 30 minutes for the discussion of item 3 of today’s agenda. If after 30 minutes there is an interest in continuing the discussion, we will decide on appropriate next steps at that time. Voting on the item will be conducted by the Academic Staff using balloting.

4. Notice of Motion:

F. Galiana re-read the motion that he initiated on September 23, 2008:

At the ECE departmental meeting of 25/9/2007, Prof. J. Cooperstock used highly offensive language against the chairman of ECE, attacking Prof. Plant's honesty and good name in both words and in writing. I quote one of Prof. Cooperstock's statements from the minutes of that meeting:

"Mr. Chairman, your assurances have proven worthless, and your silence until now has left me questioning your leadership. If you value academic integrity and if you wish to convince us of your personal integrity, I call on you to step down as Chair, effective immediately, until such time as matters are resolved in a manner as outlined in my list of Desired Outcomes."

These vengeful words were directed at Prof. Plant, a person of undeniable honesty who we all respect, before a room full of colleagues, staff, students and vistors. Our silence in response to this is hurtful and will be corrected today. Intended to humiliate and be hurtful, these words have without a doubt achieved their purpose. It must be noted that Professor Plant acted in good faith when offering certain assurances to Prof. Cooperstock regarding a case of plagiarism. Being new to the job of Chairman, Prof. Plant made promises that he was unable to fullfill for reasons beyond his control, something for which Prof. Plant has been kind enough to apologize.

The malicious words uttered by Prof. Cooperstock are contrary to the best traditions of this department and unacceptable, and this, irrespective of the reasons that may be motivated them. I note that, according to the definition below, Prof. Cooperstock's words may have constituted harassment under the rules of the university:

Harassment means any vexatious behaviour by one Member of the University Community towards another Member of the University Community under the control and authority of the University in the form of repeated hostile or unwanted conduct, verbal comments, actions or gestures, that affect the dignity, psychological or physical integrity of a Member of the University Community and that result in a harmful environment for such an individual. Within the employment relationship, a single serious incidence of such behaviour that has a lasting harmful effect on such an individual may also sonstitute Harassment.

I move therefore that the ECE department request Prof. J. Cooperstock to apologize to Prof. Plant for having called into question Prof. Plant's Integrity."

This motion was seconded by Prof. B-T. Ooi.

D. Plant opened the floor for comments:

A discussion ensued. J. Cooperstock asked what the quorum was for the department. J. Clark stated that quorum in the Faculty Meeting was 30% of faculty members. G. Joos suggested that we should operate as we have done in the past and not change anything.

J. Cooperstock read the following comments:
For several reasons, I would have preferred simply to ignore this ridiculous motion, as the outcome of the vote is, in any case, meaningless. A coerced apology, which I will not offer under any circumstances, would serve only to legitimize the corruption within our department, faculty, and university.

Moreover, I question the underlying motivation of Professor Galiana in having brought forward his motion at the very departmental meeting in which we were discussing my motion concerning matters of academic integrity. If Professor Galiana was so concerned with my supposedly "highly offensive language" of 25 September 2007, why did he wait a full year before launching into his ad hominem attack against me, based on his own imagination rather than substantiated facts? Could it be that his outrage was only aroused when it served his attempt to discredit my efforts, and intended, in his words, only to "humiliate and be hurtful"? In his earlier attack on my "motivations" for the proposal on restoring academic integrity, he claims that I wrote, in my Untied.com website, "that it would take a written apology and the resignation of the airline's top administrators" for me to close the site.

The problem with this claim, like so many others made against me by Professor Galiana, is that it is demonstrably false. The results of a Google search on these keywords turns up nothing from my website, as shown in the handout you received from Debbie prior to this meeting. It is ironic that Prof. Galiana chooses to accuse me of using defamatory language when he is clearly guilty of this himself.

At any rate, as the motion has been put forward, and you are now being asked to vote on whether Professor Cooperstock has been a naughty boy by calling into question the integrity of our Chair, I believe that a review of the background that led to my call last year, and some reflections on its aftermath, is warranted.

In 2007, I presented to Associate Dean Ghoshal two successive cases of blatant plagiarism, involving the same two students in my class on Artificial Intelligence. At the request of Associate Dean Ghoshal, I invested well over a dozen hours providing supporting documentation and analyzing the code of all students in the class. It also bears comment that one of the students' assignment code could not run yet he produced bogus output graphs, copied from the second student. The students were initially given grades of 'K' at the specific request of Associate Dean Ghoshal. Following the end of the course, I was harassed by one of the two students involved, who, even with no penalty assessed, was unhappy with the mark he received on his plagiarized assignment. Evidently, he had done the math, and realized that his final grade, even without penalties for plagiarism, came to 43.4%. The student proceeded to threaten that he would sue me, the department and the university so that his "rights are maintained". In one of his 12 emails messages, sent between April 28 and May 26, he indicated that he had been exonerated. Associate Dean Ghoshal at first denied this.

When I brought up this matter in our department meeting on 23 May 2007, the consensus was that I should contact Dean Pierre and discuss my concerns with him. I wrote the Dean that same day, and resent my message a week later. I was then contacted by the Ombudsman, who indicated that he was calling at the request of the Dean. The Ombudsman wanted me to meet with the students to see if there was some way I could raise their grades. Two weeks later, the Dean replied, "Academic integrity is a very important issue and I strongly support sending a clear message to students that there is zero tolerance to academic integrity offences."

On 7 June 2007, I was summoned by Professor Plant to an urgent meeting to discuss the student's grades. The student wanted to have one of the plagiarized assignments re-read by another faculty member, and I was asked to provide samples of other students' assignments. The student was also appealing his final examination grade, so this was being re-read as well. Both re-reads were to be conducted by Associate Dean Clark. During this meeting, I expressed my paranoid (at least, they seemed paranoid at the time) concerns to Professor Plant. I was afraid that the Faculty was trying to find some way to graduate this student quickly so that everyone can later claim, "Oh, we wanted to deal with this in a serious manner but of course, now it's too late."

Professor Plant reassured me as follows: "You will be intimately involved in every step of the process with respect to a grade change from the 'K' to something else. I give you my word on this. Furthermore, your opinion will be solicited as to what that 'K' will become." Professor Plant also indicated that as Chair, he "looks after his faculty and makes sure they are treated fairly." In turn, I agreed not to escalate further until the re-read process had worked its way through the system.

On 25 June 2007, I received a note from Associate Dean Ghoshal that suggested he was about to change the student grades. I reminded him (with cc to Professor Plant) of the assurances of our Department Chair and asked him to keep me intimately involved in every step of the process with respect to any grade change. In the meantime, the Dean was still not responding to my requests for a meeting.

Two days later, I discovered that the student had been given a grade of 'D'. So much for paranoia. Recall, without penalties for plagiarism, the student's grade had been calculated as 43.4%. I haven't been teaching as long as many of you here, but in my experience of five years teaching courses in Toronto and 11 years at McGill, I have never heard of a student's grade changing by more than a couple of percentage points following a re-read. So what happened?

Associate Dean Clark explained that he had raised the final examination grade by 5 marks (from 14/40 to 19/40) and awarded an extra half mark to the plagiarized assignment. To date, of course, he has refused to elaborate, or even indicate which questions on the final examination he deemed had been unfairly graded. However, he noted that he used his own grading standards, rather than the standards I had adopted for the entire class. If this is acceptable practice, then every student should appeal my grading, in the hopes that Professor Clark is asked to conduct the re-read.

In addition, Associate Dean Ghoshal removed a late submission penalty I had applied to the plagiarized assignment, despite his own assurance that he would do so only if he deemed the student had no way of contacting me before the due date to inform me of his medical excuse. This excuse was a doctor's note that read: "Vu à mon bureau aujourd'hui. Il dit avoir manqué ses cours mardi 13 février en raison d'un gastro-enterite maintenant rétablie." (He said he missed his courses Tuesday...)

Collectively, these measures allowed the student to reach the 50% threshold and pass... and graduate immediately.

What did Professor Plant have to say to me about his promises at the time? Not a word. In fact, when I learned what happened, I attempted to contact both him and Associate Dean Ghoshal. Both were "out of town". My efforts, in parallel, to meet with the Dean, the (acting) Dean of Students (Prof. Starkey), the Deputy Provost of Student Life and Learning (Prof. Mendelson), were all rebuffed. Nobody wanted to touch this. I then turned to the Secretary General and asked for her advice. She first suggested I discuss this with Deputy Provost Mendelson, who of course, had already refused. She then suggested that she would contact Dean Pierre. I agreed to give her an opportunity to do so, and indicated that I would defer in escalating if the Dean gave me his immediate assurance that "the student's grade will be placed back on hold and the matter of plagiarism investigated more thoroughly by individuals competent at assessing computer software." Needless to say, there was no response from the Dean's office.

The next week, after I contacted a reporter about these incidents, I was immediately summoned by the Dean for a disciplinary hearing. I later discovered that I had forgotten to remove the students' names from one of the documents I provided the reporter and this mistake, of course, offered a pretext for the Dean to retaliate. As is evident from the treatment of our Chairman's predecessor, our Dean does not take kindly to faculty who dare stand up to him.

Where was Professor Plant through all of this, ensuring that his faculty are treated fairly?

In September, I learned that the Dean had ordered the CIM systems administrator to retrieve copies of my correspondence with another reporter from our computer archives and turn these over to him, all in total secrecy. When the systems administrator requested clarification for the order, he was threatened with disciplinary action if he did not comply immediately.

Where was Professor Plant through all of this, ensuring that his faculty are treated fairly?

In advance of the departmental meeting of 25 September 2007, I circulated a handout with some of this chronology, posing numerous questions related to Academic Integrity, an item I had placed on the agenda for that meeting. Two nights before the meeting, Professor Plant asked me to meet with him. When I responded that my schedule was, unfortunately, full, he exercised his "prerogative as Chair" to remove the discussion of academic integrity from the agenda.

So what to do? I had a Department Chair who made promises and broke them without a word of notice. I had a Department Chair who "looks after his faculty" but stood by while I was threatened and disciplined for speaking out. I had a Department Chair who stood by while my computer files were investigated without notice. And worst of all, I had a Department Chair who was now attempting to silence discussion of academic integrity in a department meeting, for fear that I would be critical of the university's (and perhaps his own) mishandling of this important issue.

A university is supposed to be a bastion of free speech, a place where ideas are openly exchanged and debated, and where the leadership is accountable for its decisions (and orders). Suppression of free speech and debate is antithetical to the historical role of universities. A respectable institution such as McGill should be the last place where such abuses are tolerated. Similarly, we have seen much criticism in recent years of secret orders and secret investigations conducted by various branches of the US government. Both are seen as an assault on basic civil liberties. Why are we tolerating these actions within our own university?

In his 2003 book, Why Societies Need Dissent, Prof. Cass Sunstein, Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, discusses the importance of welcoming dissent and promoting openness. Quoting from his book summary,

"Sunstein demonstrates that corporations, legislatures, even presidents are likely to blunder if they do not cultivate a culture of candor and disclosure. He shows that unjustified extremism, including violence and terrorism, often results from failure to tolerate dissenting views. The tragedy is that blunders and cruelties could be avoided if people spoke out. He notes that institutions that fail to do so often lead to extremism, including violence."

And quoting from reviews of his book:

Sunstein shows "that a free society not only forbids censorship but also provides public spaces for dissenters to expose widely held myths and pervasive injustices...

"Dissenters are often portrayed as selfish and disloyal, but Sunstein shows that those who reject pressures imposed by others perform valuable social functions, often at their own expense. This is true for dissenters in boardrooms, churches, unions, and academia."

I should note that the "dissenting" views I've been expressing are not uniquely mine. Other members of the university community, both past and present, including Professor Juan Vera, a former Associate Dean of Engineering himself, have taken the time to express their support for my efforts. Most, of course, have preferred to remain anonymous, given the climate on campus, in which our administration threatens those who express themselves in opposition to the current regime.

Finally, on 2007 November 26, Professor Plant explained his actions, or rather, lack of action, as follows: "On July 3 when I returned to the office, I was instructed by the senior administration of the University to have no further interaction with respect to the particular case."

This excuse rings hollow, coming from someone in a position of authority himself. Moreover, the defence "I was just following orders" is deeply disturbing, considering its historical implications.

When I asked our Chair, at the following day's department meeting, who issued these orders, his response was "No comment."

When I asked him why this "instruction" prevented him from letting me know that he was unable to play any role in the case, he told me I'd have to ask the "senior administration" about this.

When I asked him who in the "senior administration" I should ask, he responded, "I'll get back to you."

And indeed he did. Nine months later, on 8 September 2008, Professor Plant sent me a memo (that was included in the handout prior to this meeting), in which he wrote, "I write today to inform you that I have no additional comment on this matter."

Unfortunately, this abdication of responsibility and professional ethics seems to have encouraged others to act in a similar manner. In May of this year, I was asked by our department to turn over "All electronic copies of Assignment #2 and the students' individual grades" to facilitate a re-read request of that assignment.

The relevant regulations of the Faculty of Engineering clearly state:

"Any request to have term work re-evaluated must be made directly to the instructor concerned."

As no student had contacted me to request a re-evaluation of term work that semester, I questioned why I wasn't first being given an opportunity to verify the TA's grading myself. In response, I was quoted an article from the Green Book and told again to turn over the assignments. Beginning 26 May 2008, I repeatedly sought an explanation for this deviation from Faculty policy, from the appropriate administrator of our department. I also asked which other professors in our department had been subject to this different policy. The departmental administrator continued to respond, "I will not answer your questions", instead deferring the matter to Associate Dean Ghoshal, who remained silent from 9 June 2008 until 26 August 2008. Remember, I was asking about policy and practice of our department. Finally, Associate Dean Ghoshal responded, "I am unable to provide the information you are seeking."

On 29 August 2008, I again asked the departmental administrator which other professors in our department have been required to provide all copies of a particular assignment, graded only by their respective TAs, to an unknown reviewer, without having been given an opportunity to regrade the work themselves, and without even knowing the reason for the student's request that initiated the process.

Finally, the answer arrived: "This is the first time."

When I asked who formulated these departmental policies that were in direct contradiction with those of the faculty, I was told, "I don't know who formulated these policies... but they were standard practice when I took over (in my position)."

Let me get this straight: "This is the first time" such a deviation from Faculty policies have been applied... but "this was standard practice." Could someone explain to me why this is not a logical contradiction?

We are a professional faculty, and we include an ethics course as part of our curricula. But why should we expect our students to absorb the ethical values we profess when our own administration fails to uphold these itself? How are we to expect our students to view plagiarism as wrong when our own faculty pass off invented quotations as a colleague's statements? When our administration repeatedly demonstrates to students that it will bend over backwards to assist them in coercing professors to raise their grades, even in clear defiance of our own regulations, and even in cases of blatant plagiarism, are the consequences we're seeing at all surprising?

Last year, in the context of the Chair's attempt to silence discussion of academic integrity, I read a statement decrying the erosion of our institution's values and the mockery of our policy on academic integrity, a policy that has since been removed from the ECE web pages. At the end of this statement, I raised attention to the promises given by our Department Chair and his failure to fulfill them.

Professor Galiana claims that this was "clearly intended to harm Prof. Plant's reputation."

Read my words carefully. "If you value academic integrity and if you wish to convince us of your personal integrity, I call on you to step down as Chair..."

As I noted in my response to Professor Galiana's claim (again, distributed prior to this Department Meeting),

"I was giving our Chair an opportunity to demonstrate his integrity by resigning his position in protest of the 'orders from central administration', which, ostensibly, compelled him to break his promises and permit a gross violation of academic integrity."

The Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec stipulates, in Article 4.02.03 of its Code of Ethics,

4.02.03. An engineer shall not abuse a colleague's good faith, be guilty of breach of trust or be disloyal towards him or willfully damage his reputation. Without restricting the generality of the foregoing, the engineer shall not, in particular:...

(b) take advantage of his capacity of employer or executive to limit in any way the professional independence of an engineer employed by him or under his responsibility...

Regardless of whether you believe, as does Prof. Galiana, that I have willfully damaged Professor Plant's reputation and should therefore apologize, I would ask you to consider whether Professor Plant abused my good faith, or committed a breach of trust, in violation of his obligations as a Professional Engineer.

In Professor Plant's memo of 26 November 2007, he wrote, regarding one of his assurances,

"That I try and look after faculty and make sure they are treated fairly -- this I do within the framework of University policies and regulations -- and in return I expect to also be treated in a fair and respectful manner."

Professor Plant, considering how you've looked after me, as a faculty member, I believe that the treatment I've shown you has been more than fair. As for "respectful", if you want my respect, then earn it. Earn it by standing up and fighting for what's right.

After further discussion, D. Plant called for the vote on the motion. Results: 9 agree, 5 disagree, 5 abstain, 2 spoilt ballots = total of 21 professors. Motion Carried.

5. Report of the Curriculum Committee:

ECSE 621 Revision to course description

New course description: Statistical Detection and Estimation lies at the intersection of telecommunications, signal processing and mathematical statistics. This course provides a solid foundation to the subject and covers: Hypotheses Testing (Neyman-Pearson, Bayes, minimax, nuisance parameters, composite hypotheses, generalized likelihood), Estimation Theory (Maximum-Likelihood, Maximum A-posteriory Probability, linear estimation, Cramer-Rao bounds).

Motion to accept the change in the course description: F. Labeau, seconded Unanimous.

ECSE 432 Revision to prerequisite

Minor change to prerequisite to update the prerequisite to 212 or 262.

Motion to accept the change in the prerequisite: J. Webb, seconded Unanimous.

6. Graduate admissions statistics

F. Labeau presented a few slides to announce that there has been a slight increase in applications/ acceptances and he believes that this is mainly due to the MEDA/MIDA as they are an advantage to graduate students. He also stated that the PhD and Masters increase is due to the PhD interaction – it is more attractive because of the MIDA/MEDA.

F. Labeau also stated that ECE is now in the process of TA recruiting for 2009. He informed the meeting that if there is a green star beside the students name then they are the preferred employee and need to be hired. He also explained that the are graders. The graders cannot hold office hours; they can grade and discuss the grades but that is all.

7. Other Business:

a. Open House: R. Abhari

R. Abhari stated that it is that time of year again, which she is asking for participation of the professors in the open house that will be held on January 25th, 2009 [10 am to 4 pm]. She also asked that ECE get organized and find professor volunteers who would like to set up 10 minute demos. She requests that you contact her or someone on the Undergraduate Student Recruitment Committee.

8. Adjournment:

D. Plant asked for a motion to close the meeting. Motion to adjourn: L. Chen at 4:40 pm. Carried.

D. Davies, Secretary

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