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June 11, 1998


Concordia's Thursday Report is interested in your letters, opinions and comments. Letters to the Editor must be signed, include a phone number, and be delivered to the CTR office (BC-121/1463 Bishop St.) in person, by fax (514-848-2814), by e-mail ( or mail by 9 a.m. on the Friday prior to publication. If at all possible, please submit the text on computer diskette. Limit your letter to 500 words. The Editor reserves the right to edit for space considerations, although the utmost care will be taken to preserve the core of the writer's argument. Letters disparaging the behaviour or decisions taken by an individual which are not of a public nature, letters quoting exchanges between two or more parties in private conversation or personal correspondence, and letters venting an opinion about the integrity of colleagues will not be published.

Ecotoxicology shutdown
is a missed opportunity

Concordia University has its share of visionaries, but they don't seem to be the ones calling the shots.

Concordia is shutting down Ecotoxicology, a graduate program in environmental science created in 1983. Internal politics, rigid alliances, a clumsy administrative set-up, and ultimately, a lack of vision left Ecotoxicology stranded in a bureaucratic no-man's land without even minimally adequate support.

By any standards, the program was a huge success: 40 to 60 students enrolled each year, more graduates produced than from either Chemistry's or Biology's graduate programs, many co-op contracts that brought in significant sums of money and equipment and enhanced Concordia's reputation.

And jobs. More than 90 per cent of the program's graduates who did not pursue higher studies found work in their field within a year with industry, as environmental consultants, or with government. In just over a decade, the program won an enviable name for itself. Its graduates were recognized as capable, successful science professionals with practical, real-world skills.

When the program was originally created, there was nothing like it in Canada. Though many "environmental science" programs have sprung up since 1983, few offer any real science as part of the curriculum, whereas the Ecotoxicology program has a core curriculum of environmental chemistry, biology and statistics. Even now the program is unique, on the cutting edge of an important new discipline.

As student representative for Ecotoxicology from 1993-94, I became deeply involved in the program's political fight for survival. I understand the practical how and the political why of the internal reasons for the program's closure, yet I still feel strongly that this is a mistake.

The program helps fulfil one of Concordia's most important
mandates, its commitment to interdisciplinary studies. This is one of Concordia's real strengths, setting it apart from other Canadian universities.

Ecotoxicology was a good idea pursued by a very few committed faculty with true vision, notably the late Michael Hogben, Sylvia Ruby, and in particular, Perry Anderson. We graduates owe them a debt of gratitude. We were lucky.

Times are tough for universities, and difficult choices must be made. Shutting down Ecotoxicology, however, displays an unacceptable lack of vision. Sadly, it makes me wonder if indeed the times will move on, leaving Concordia behind.

As I come into my most lucrative years as a professional, I find myself asking why I should support my alma mater when it has fumbled the ball on such an opportunity, apparently abandoning one of its central mandates.

Alain Carrière
Environment Canada

Dean Singer replies

Contrary to what Alain Carrière may have been told, the Faculty of Arts and Science has not closed the Diploma Program in Ecotoxicology. We have, however, reluctantly suspended admissions to the program for the fall of 1998. We took this difficult decision because at the present time we simply cannot continue to ensure the program's quality for incoming students.

Here are the facts that led us to this decision.

1. Concordia has been under tremendous financial pressure during the past four years. During that period, our operating budgets have been reduced by a total of 25 per cent, while the size of our student body has remained stable. To cope with the reduction in our resources, the Faculty of Arts and Science has increased the average class size and reduced the total number of course sections. We have also offered generous early retirement packages to senior faculty members, resulting in the retirement of 107 of our most experienced professors during the past two years.

2. The early retirement of so many of our professors has impacted unevenly across our 27 academic departments. Our Chemistry and Biochemistry Department has shrunk from 25 to 15 professors and our Biology Department from 25 to 20 during the past two years. These two departments between them enrol nearly 1,000 undergraduate program students and 75 MSc and PhD students. Our responsibility is first and foremost to make sure that students in these programs continue to receive a high quality education and are able to complete their studies. To this end, we have begun to rebuild the Faculty strategically, with three new professors (one in Biology and two in Chemistry and Biochemistry) among the 25 professors that we have hired during the past 12 months. This strategic rebuilding process will take several years to complete.

3. Our Ecotoxicology Diploma program is a joint program of our Departments of Chemistry and Biochemistry and Biology. The depletion in the faculty ranks of these two departments has unfortunately undermined the viability of Ecotoxicology at Concordia. I understand that five years ago as many as six full-time professors taught the eight Ecotoxicology courses. Today, only one of these professors remains in the Faculty and only a portion of her teaching time is devoted to Ecotoxicology. The lack of a full-time faculty base has, in effect, destabilized the program.

4. Our Faculty's academic plan calls for a review of the Ecotoxicology program in light of recent early retirements and available, full-time faculty resources. Both the Biology and the Chemistry and Biochemistry Departments were asked to evaluate their full-time faculty hiring priorities (including the needs of their Ecotoxicology Diploma program). The departments made Ecotoxicology a hiring priority, but both departments also had more pressing priorities in other fields.

5. Concordia University remains committed to environmental studies. We have professors in the Departments of Biology, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Geography and Economics and in our Geology program who are actively involved in this important field. In fact, several professors are currently revising a proposal for a diploma program in environmental impact assessment. Over the next academic year we will review the Ecotoxicology program in view of such initiatives and bearing in mind our available full-time faculty resources.

6. Concordia University remains committed to interdisciplinarity, to which our five unique undergraduate colleges and a number of inter-disciplinary undergraduate and graduate programs attest.

Most importantly, Concordia University remains sensitive to the communities that we serve and particularly to our students. The community has demanded that we decrease our costs while sustaining and even improving the quality of what we do. I hope that our students, alumni and the community will be patient and supportive as we rebuild the Faculty of Arts and Science for the 21st century.

Martin Singer
Dean, Arts and Science

Defies all logic: Aldworth

Following is an excerpt from a letter to University Senate:

Having served on Senate throughout this year, I have been increasingly dismayed by the onslaught of program deletion. However, one deletion has stood out in particular, that of Ecotoxicology.

As en environmental activist, and in full accordance with the constitution of the Concordia Student Union (CSU), I am committed to working with the new CSU administration to launch a strong campaign to save this program.

Ecotoxicology is arguably one of the strongest assets of the curriculum of the University. It is the only program of its kind in the country. Over 80 per cent of Ecotoxicology graduates obtain employment in their field following graduation from Concordia, and it is my understanding that there are few, if any, associated costs to the University.

I ask that all Senate members work to ensure the survival of this vital part of our university. While Concordia is facing massive cuts, and there are some inevitable cost-cutting measures that must be taken, this one defies all logic.

Rebecca Aldworth
1997-98 CSU president

Copyright 1998 Thursday Report.