Winter semester, 1990

Touch wood
The alloyed coin
No exit
No-name society
To purposes fickly faithed
Interlude: Lesson from Leo
Pulex in the rapids
In the brass's spittoon
The whited sepulchre
All-terrain vehicles
Salomé in the buff


Thirteen weekly letters written in 1990 reflect personal observations and feelings about Dawson College at that time. They are reproduced here in the autumn of 2017—with a few editing touches and footnotes for clarity.  0

Dear Colleague:  2

Being at peace with one's environment may simply be a state of accomodation, a capacity to resist the temptation to push against the forces that shape our place, our thoughts and our actions. Peace is a fine feeling. It gives rest. To voluntarily forfeit its comfort seems darn near foolish. How well those forces that hold us in place know it! That's why they see themselves as wise in the ways of Man.  3

But they can cause damage, not the least of which is an affront to someone's dignity or personal convictions. What, seen in one light may seem an admirable smart strategy, becomes in another light a dastardly act. Take the Minutes of the Dawson Board of Governors, for example.  4

They are manipulated. Copies of these Minutes go to the Minister of Education. It seems wise, therefore, to carefully edit their contents before entrusting them to his curious fonctionnaires in Québec City. That such manipulation may actually do damage to a cause or to some individual is easily considered a lesser evil, if indeed it is viewed as an evil at all.  5


This letter is one of a series I want to write. They are intended to look at some of the things we are doing—or not doing—and how they affect our function as educators. Their factual substance, by and large, affect me personally. They are facts I know best. They are facts about which I have documentation; facts about students in my classroom; facts about the Minister of Education, for whom I happen to have respect, and facts about his coterie of bureaucrats, who, taken tgether, certainly don't appear to me as equally deserving. This is not to say that these letters are about me. I am just one of hundreds of Dawson teachers, one of hundreds of thousands of teachers in North America. Besides, a few more years and I shall be gone from the scene, so why bother rocking the boat about a few things that bother me personally. Who would be concerned about such things anyway?  6

I am interested in education somewhat beyond simply being a wage earner in Québec's college system. There should be nothing unusual about that. I know a number of colleagues who are much more than merely conscientious—and probably far more so than I am—colleagues who are, in fact, dedicated. I value them. True believers, they may be foolish people, but they are the people's people.  7

The history of Dawson College is Golding's Lord of the Flies playing out among is in a languishing sort of way. We are the Ralph and Piggy, Jack and Simon, and Roger, and all those other little savages. Twenty years ago, we landed in a dream of educational renewal, jeans-clad semi-savants most of us. Humanity Before Efficiency! To create a better school we often put more effort in trying to grasp voices out to win arguments than in winning the orignal cause of our hearts and, hence, we lost it. We broke the shell quite early in the game, but otherwise, no, we have not gone to extremes; hell the Mother House* is hardly the place for the Devil. Yet, the spirit does not move us easily anymore. Those who persistently outmanoeuvered us have stilled our lives, or worse, maybe. An ideal environment we are for fiddling with the offical Minutes—documents that may be used as silent, but false, testimony in legal disputes. Rather disgraceful if one looks at things this way.*  8

One of my causes became the vicim of such manipulation. Having wrangled an invitation by the then Chairman of the Board, I spoke at the meeting of January 11, 1988. I shall quote some lines I wrote on January 31 to the members of the Board.  9

"Upon gaining approval to speak I listed some examples of events that are detrimental to a climate of respect and trust. I tried as much as possible to keep my comments impersonal. You will recall that the cases [I] presented were not personal grievances—they were just examples reflecting a style of management that I sense as being increasingly prevalent in the College. I hoped that the case-by-case presentation would most clearly demonstrate the slipping of credibility to a point that truth can hardly be distinguished from falsehood. I also hoped that the laying-off of people would not become directly associated with the striking out of positions but that in the end, after the abolishment of selected posts, the remaining ones would go to those most capable and having the right spirit."  10

"You will ... recall that my comments at the Jan. 11 Board meeting met with silence until, after long moments, Ms Greta Nemiroff was so kind as to express some words of appreciation. That long silence mede me feel that my action, undertaken in the interest of the community and at some personal risk of becoming the victim of harassment and cooperation withheld [emphasis added and to be commented on in a future letter], was actually not at all appreciated by most members of te Board. I find such attitude hard to understand in terms of the letters by the Acting Director General and the Board Chairman.... I also found it quite strange (and rather uncomfortable, but psychologically eloquent) that during the past few weeks no administrator has seen fit to query me about my comments even though there was ample opportunity to do so."  11

"I must confess that I was quite apprehensive about the manner in which my comments were received. And this apprehension included concern about the correct representation of my remarks in the Minutes. Hence I phoned the Secretary of the Board to find out if she expected any difficulties in accurately representing them. She told me that there was no problem—that, in fact, she would simply summarize them. I understand that the approved Minutes of a meeting constitute a document of some possible legal import, and I, therefore, suggested that I write down my remarks, that these then be referred to in the Minutes and provided separately to the Board members. Thus it was agreed [existing emphasis], and I subsequently mailed the Secretary those parts of my comments that I considered to be most sensitive to inaccuracies.  12

"I saw the Minutes just a few days ago and found that my remarks were neither summarized nor referred to. They were just ignored. The Minutes as prepared for your approval allude to a a wish on my part to apprise the Board, etc. Fact is, I did aspprise the Board, etc. After all the trouble, this unexpected turn of events was made even more pungent by the fact that I had not been informed about this change of course. The Minutes as presented for the Board's approval on February 1, are unacceptably misleading.  13

"There shall be no doubt that I provided the Board with a series of cases reflecting a bad form of management and its effect on a climate of respect and trust in Dawson College. That is what I did and that is what the Minutes ought to portray. It should be quite evident that no climate of respect and trust can exist where one's actions are misrepresented. I expect the Board to agree on this point and that, even in shortened form, that the Board will ensure that the essence of my remarks will be honestly represented in the Minutes. I should also appreciate that the gist of Ms Nemiroff's remarks be inserted."*  14

I understand that a small "correction" was made before the Minutes of the January 11 meeting were approved on February 1. But that still does not reflect what I said at the January 11 meeting about the nature of the management at Dawson College. And Ms Nemiroff's comments were ignored.  15

I am not suggesting that the whole Board is cynicaly falsifying Minutes. From what I have observed I don't think most of its members would stand for that. But when the Board meets at some appointed time in the evening, they already have a full day behind them with another workday coming up soon. They are served a full agenda and they like to get on with things. Thus, with a little assist by a small in-group-in-the-know and a Board Secretary on the payroll complyingly allowing an editing of the Minutes, some things simply slip by.  16

The trouble is that creeping deception is a contageous desease. And there are always those who seek to utilize what is seen as opportunities. The odorous climate of respect and trust then existing was the administration's doing, but the Board provided the loophole. Unforunately, the odor still lingers—and it is quite strong in places—wittingly, half-wittingly, or unwittingly, poisoning the educational mission of the college.  17

I am also led to wonder, in the light of the tiny example here sketched, and which is possibly already forgotten by those who were at those meetings, whether any administrator with some degree of personal integrity can possibly survive on Dawson's exquisite mélange of respect and trust, and of unconsciable ambitions. I wonder how strong the forces are that will to seek to hold him or her in place.*  18

So here, then, is my first letter. The second one, next week maybe, will begin to take a look at "the arena where learning must occur" (ref. the attached item, A Flea in the Bonnet.) I guess it will take some ten or twelve letters in all to say my say, but with some luck that should tie-up the whole package. I hope that in the end it will turn out to be a positive contribution.  19

Henry K van Eyken  20

P.S. If one wonders why on Earth I decided to go to the Board meeting on January 11, 1988, let me supply a little history. A few weeks earlier some posts were slated for elimination because of budgetary restraints, it seems, that had not prevented the allocation of funds for unauthorized purposes. One of the victims was Ms Consedine-Flood, then director of the Faculty Development Office. Someone asked me at the time to sign a petition circulating on Ms Consedine's behalf. I didn't because I had already decided to speak at the Board meeting—not only on this particular case, but on others as well, and do so in a more general way. And now that I look back ..., but that's another story altogether.  21

Et dimitte nobis debite nostra
Sicut et nos dimittibus debitoribus nostris

– Iesu Christi/Matthaeus 6:9-13

Footnotes, added in 2017

Dawson College's first location, Selby Campus, was a renovated pharmaceutical factory that opened its doors in September 1969. In 1988 most of the College moved into the renovated Mother House of the Sisters of Congrégation de Notre Dame, a magnificent facility.  *   fn1

By hindsight I should not have written this paragraph. I can only guess that it seemed not silly to me at the time. Stories such as Golding's Lord of the Flies, Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Joyce's Dubliners, etc., etc. were common fare in academic literature courses; clearly, they were not taken to be silly. Anyway ....  *   fn2

Late in the Fall session of 1987, the Chairman of the Board wrote a letter to all Dawson personnel about re-establishing a Climate of Respect and Trust." My experience showed that those were empty words.  *   fn3

The Acting Director General had not been promoted. Instead an outider was appointed to the position of Director General. I don't think the remainder of the administration made life easy for him and he left the College within, I seem to recall, two years.  *   fn4

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