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Freedom of Expression Committee

Letter to UofO Pres. Gilles Patry, from Maria Al-Masani, 7 Jun 2007
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Maria Al-Masani
Carleton University Student

Dear Dr. Gilles Patry:

I am writing to you concerning SCI 1502, SCI 2101. First of all, I would like to commend you for having such visionary direction, as i'ts wonderful that Ottawa is finally catching the trend in the Ivy Leagues with the return to the interdisciplinary, a reaction against post-enlightenment compartmentalization. I would like to thank you and the forward thinking of your wonderful department for these amazing courses. As I wanted to take the class but was on sick leave, I was quite disappointed (health is truely wealth). You maybe on a tighter budget next year and these courses may not be offered to my and many other's deep regret. I hear, to my surprise, that they may not be running again, as the budget is short, and was told the best thing was to write to you, the dean and the "Freedom of Expression Committee", at the addresses above.

However, I heard, though can not be sure how much rumour may be true, that Dr. Rancourt has been unconventional and was not perfectly diplomatic with the way the course was presented to the department. The interesting things that people say to cover up financial issues, I presume. I am sure, as the head of department, you have survive due to your tact, grace, maturity and diplomacy, and therefore, would not let one member of the faculty's awkward presentation get in the way of the interests of your students. I am certain of it. You are here to do what's best for your student population: to equip them to do something with their education, to give them tools to assist in finding meaning in it and connecting it to the rest of the world.

As Ottawa HR, May 14, 2007 issue states, in the article, "The Blunt Truth: Socially Inept Geeks Need Not Apply," p.7-10 (ouch! nasty title, being a geek myself), that technical skills alone are not sufficient, especially for small businesses, but the ability to connect those to the world, the competitive environment is essential, which is why many students want to take SCI 1502, SCI 2101. As an economist, science and politics come time and time again. I worked on the parliament hill, and you couldn't get through a question period without hearing these questions, and looking around you, and realizing how ill equipped so many of us are to address these questions. Hence, I am interested in taking the first course.

I am finishing a degree at economics at Carleton, for me this course is interesting, because it will equip me to answer questions of environmental policy in third world countries, the connections to the first world, and for the rest, I can use my economics background to evaluate the costs. I do not have a sufficient background in the sciences, but environmental accounting seems to be taking over my field, and the ever persistent questions: how will reductions in environmental hazards be effective and not damage the economy? How can we have a statically significant change with minimum economic side effects? The ability to find answers would make one a strong asset to their employer. In economics, the next questions are, how are multinationals involved, who is affecting legislation and how, how much will it cost, etc. SCI 1502.

In University of Pennsylvania, the biology program has a course, where, in order to get an A, the professor requires students in genetics to affect legislation in their state on genetics. I was proud that U of Ottawa was following the tradition of the Ivy Leagues in that area.

I regret deeply the compartmentalization of the sciences after the era of industrialization, which is finally being turned around, though mainly at the cutting edge of academia. There are many courses on the role of activism in society, biochemistry, and geochemistry. What makes SCI 1502 unique, is that it equips ALL students with knowledge to understand and form educated opinions about their environment and world. It connects students' theoretical knowledge to their lives, and gives it meaning, as well as a reason to stay in the field in addition to tools to do something about it. I am surprised you haven't done more to promote this brilliant course.

I do hope you follow the Ivy League traditions and keep this course. It has an ancient Cambridge flavor, connecting the sciences, arts, the way they have been historically and in all traditions except post-enlightenment western canon. Cinema Politica I have found to be very enriching and expanding not only U of Ottawa students' horizons, but the community's. It promotes applying strong science skills to more fields AND making an impact in other disciplines, creating more flexible interdisciplinary candidates are now preferred in this more unstable and more competitive working environment. I am surprised the department has not done more to encourage it. It brings speakers such as one of the youngest Afghan women members of parliament, an excellent documentary cinema series that ties it in, with a bit of a Brookings institution and graduate course flair (had an fascinating professor that taught there, amazing course on Russian political, social and economic institutions).

The format is highly reminiscent of her courses at the Wildrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University uses. At Harvard, the grading schemes which Dr. Rancourt used are quite popular, pass fail and similar grading systems. If an exchange with similar Ivy League professors is possible, contacting Newsweek as well as other newsmagazines, would create even more curiosity on the international scene of Ottawa's already well known science program.

I am just writing to say thank you for your visionary leadership for adding such brilliant courses in your program, being so au courante. I understand that you have a limited budget, funds are short, but if you have to axe a course, please not one as fundamental to learning as this one (besides, better yet, you could co-opt it for positive media attention worldwide, i.e. Time and Newsweek and promote our lovely Ottawa universities so that you could add it to your funding proposal and make a strong case for more funds).

I would appreciate a response to whether or not your department will give it full support and offer those courses next year. This course has an increasing rate of marginal retuns and such positive externalities that exceed their financial value by several hundred percent (there, the "nerdy" economist HR magazine warned you against :-D )

Sincerely Yours,

Maria Al-Masani

Carleton University

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