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Manipulation of the Haifa Motion Minutes Overturned by Senate

May 3, 2011

Update: Finalized March 7 minutes now available here.

On March 7, I presented a motion to the University of Ottawa Senate (LINK, LINK) to halt the Exchange Master’s in Laws program between the University of Ottawa and Haifa University in Israel.

The Minutes from the March 7 meeting (LINK) sent to Senators for approval at the April 4 meeting listed a vote count for each of the four separate votes on the Haifa motion.  The counts were 1 vote for and 6 abstentions, 1 vote for and 8 abstentions, 1 vote for and 11 abstentions, and 1 vote for and 13 abstentions.

The motion was heard on the first day of Israeli Apartheid Week on campus, and was intended to feature contributions from campus members of Students for Palestinian Human Rights and from the national organization Independent Jewish Voices.  The guest speakers were unilaterally blocked from making their presentations during the meeting by Senate Chairman and University President Allan Rock (LINK).

The numbers of abstentions on the votes are significantly higher than for a typical motion at Senate and demonstrate that the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) effort to block an academic link between the University of Ottawa and an Israeli University is a substantial concern to the university community.

At the April 4 meeting, approval of the Minutes relevant to the March 7 motion on the Exchange program with Haifa University in Israel was blocked by President Rock who stated (LINK to video):

“Here, I think there may be an error, we’re going to review the video tape just to make sure we have the vote count right.  There’s some uncertainty whether in fact there was more than one vote in favour of at least some of these motions, so if you’ll permit us we’ll defer that paragraph from the Minutes until the next meeting and verify with the video tape to make sure that the numbers reflect precisely what occurred last month.”

In advance of the following meeting of May 2, 2011, Senators received a new version of the Minutes of the March 7 motion on Haifa University for approval. The new version (LINK) had all of the official vote count numbers arbitrarily removed  – both the votes for the motion and the numbers of abstentions – despite that the number of abstentions on the four votes had not previously been questioned, and despite that Mr. Rock’s stated reason for delaying the approval of the Minutes (with which the Senate agreed by consensus) was to revise the number of votes “for” in each case.

Mr. Rock was not present at the May 2 meeting.  After I stated to the Senate that the above-described manipulation of the Senate’s public Minutes would harm the reputation and integrity of the Senate and of the University of Ottawa, the Senate voted to approve the Minutes as initially presented at the April 4 meeting, with the correct vote counts included.

In my opinion, given the inadequacy of the University’s official video record in this matter, student representatives in university governance should consider the benefit of independent filming by public observers as well as committee members at governance meetings to present a further needed barrier against such apparent attempted administrative machinations to remove or “re-examine” vote counts regarding sensitive issues of public interest (LINK).

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