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Progressive Librarian's Guild - London Ontario Chapter: cultivating spaces for critical dialogue and collaborative action on core issues affecting information workers.

Beyond the money: Understanding the UWO salary scandal, Bill C-51 and Canada Post austerity as the attack on the public sphere

The 2015 salary scandal at the University of Western Ontario (UWO) gained media attention for various reasons but what should be emphasized most is the greater context, which is the undemocratic undermining of the public sphere. This context usually leads to a private versus public debate related to the corporatization of post-secondary education. Corporatization implies not only funding but standards, ones that prioritize things, like marketing over research, that do not fit the measures of success of a public institution, evident in the state of the people who produce the research every day. If the choice is between state capitalism and private capitalism, the debate should ultimately transcend the public versus private parameters of argument to ones of organization (whether democratic or capitalist) and distribution of wealth and income (egalitarian or inherently unequal).[1] Nevertheless, the public vs private debate is useful for directing the discussion of the scandal to the undemocratic erosion of the public sphere by connecting the functioning of a public institution to two other issues, namely Bill C-51 and the neoliberal policies, often called austerity measures in the ongoing European crisis, brought upon the crown agency Canada Post.

All three examples of the erosion of the public sphere produce different critiques but ultimately allow one not to see the UWO scandal as an isolated incident that can be resolved with the returning of the salary or the dismissal of an individual. While these actions set precedent just like accepting the contract in the first place, the focus must stay on the context that allows for such scandals to exist. This context creates a platform that allows for solutions to be implemented that represent alternatives addressing structural flaws rather than policies that aim to fix symptoms.[2] While it may seem that one inflated pay cheque, the right to protest once or one home losing delivery is not a cause of concern, for a country that holds itself to a G7 standard, these are indicators of a society showing its increasingly undemocratic side. To elaborate, what is at stake is deliberately irresponsible use of public funding, the right to express one’s conscience without authoritarian consequences, or being denied a right to seek, receive and impart information in a socially sustainable manner that demands a level of accountability, is affordable, indiscriminate, builds infrastructure, generates employment and forms an identity.

A scandal such as the one at UWO, regardless of whether legally justified or not, reveals the issues that plague public institutions facing ever dwindling state funding and increasing influence of corporations. It is not just funding but influence from corporations, which for post-secondary education results in the narrowing of the public sphere by standards that bend the public institution out of shape because it does not follow the same rules in terms of measuring success, revealing the “irrational logic” of capitalism.[3] Therefore, efficiency and effectiveness have very specific definitions that allow funding to be distributed in a highly discriminate way, like setting priority to certain departments in a divide and conquer strategy or focusing primarily on marketing, much like a company might spend disproportionately more on marketing than research.[4] Even without the scandal, if one were to look at how funding is portrayed at the university, the perception of the big “extraordinary” posters would certainly be different if instead of the alumni individuals being propped up, the corporations they stand behind were showcased.

Bill C-51 sets precedent in the previously mentioned undemocratic context by stretching the justification of security by blurring the lines of who or what is deemed a threat or could be in the future.[5] The public sphere is attacked through targeting the individual or group, normalizing the idea of creating a potential terrorist out of anyone and ultimately eliminating any platform for discourse, necessary in a democracy. Meanwhile, the Canada Post austerity measures may not be unique in how a crown corporation is handled but the policies do undermine rights in a multifaceted way.

Eliminating home delivery is the focal point of the transformation plans for Canada Post that is portrayed in the media. However, what is not always mentioned are the flawed justifications behind the policy like the projected deficit derived from questionable calculations and lack of adequate research into exploring alternative options postal services in other countries have pursued.[6]  In viewing the issue within one of the public sphere, it allows one to study further these alternatives in order to maintain the important aspects of a public service. These aspects include affordable and indiscriminate service to individuals, small businesses, and everyone in between, all the while turning a profit (though not always the bottom line), and producing infrastructure and decent wages amid public accountability. Also, not to forget contributing to access to information in a world where we are told everything is online, typically implying its free, yet are increasingly being cut off through ever greater barriers to access, physically or virtually.

While all three examples present different and overlapping examples of the undemocratic undermining of the public sphere, when combined they reveal the underlying shortcomings of each, whether they be stretching the veil of security, irresponsibly prioritizing public funds, or undermining a necessary public service. Within the context of the other two examples described, it is clear that there is more at stake at UWO than an unpopular contract that can be resolved with returning the paycheque or even a certain number of people being dismissed.  A more critical discussion is needed to propose alternatives that deal with the corporate influence and secure sustainable funding that do not discriminate against departments and undermine research by prioritizing marketing and leaving the people, who produce research day in and day out, starving.

Nikola Mitrovic, PLG London

[1] Richard D. Wolff, “Going beyond private versus public”, Democracy at work, (Dec 15, 2014) online: http://www.democracyatwork.info/articles/2014/12/going-beyond-private-versus-public/.

[2] For a more detailed comparison between universities and postal service see: Robert M. Campbell, “There’s a future for Canada Post as a public institution”, The [Toronto] Globe and Mail, (Dec 12, 2013) online: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/theres-a-future-for-canada-post-as-a-public-institution/article15909840/.

[3] David McNally, Another world is possible: globalization and anti-capitalism, (Winnipeg, Manitoba: Arbeiter Ring Publishing, 2006) 122.

[4] York University, “Big Pharma Spends More On Advertising Than Research And Development, Study Finds”, ScienceDaily, (Jan 07 2008) online: www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080105140107.htm.

[5] For more specific details of the Bill see: Alyssa Stryker and Carmen Cheung, “Six Things Protesters Need to Know about Bill C-51” The [Vancouver] Tyee, (Mar 11, 2015) online: http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2015/03/11/C-51-Six-Things-To-Know/.

[6] For more details see: Erin Weir, “Canada Post: A Billion-Dollar Boondoggle?”, Behind the numbers [Ottawa] (Dec 12, 2013) online: http://behindthenumbers.ca/2013/12/12/canada-post-a-billion-dollar-boondoggle/.

Also: Francis Fortier, Hélia Tremblay-de Mestral and Simon Tremblay-Pepin, Should Canada Post be privatized? : A socio-economic report, Institut de recherché et d’informations socio-économiques (IRIS), (Montreal: April 2014) online: http://www.iris-recherche.qc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Note-Postes-WEB-en.pdf.

After Team Harpy

At the London Chapter of PLG, we’re late to the bandwagon. Many other library groups were quick to either condone or condemn the Joe Murphy/Team Harpy lawsuit. We’ve found it very difficult to publicly articulate a position before now. We have discussed it numerous times as a group in private, and we feel that the issues it raises – about workplace harassment in a gendered profession, freedom of speech, and white, male, privilege – are important, pressing issues that librarians need to tackle. Now that the lawsuit has finally settled, what we’ll take away from this case has become somewhat clearer.

There are three main reasons that we have not posted about this issue previously.

For a good refresher of some of the facts of the case, see Librarian in Black, Popehat and
Library Journal.


At first, we were reluctant to post a public statement about Team Harpy because it appeared clear to us, non-lawyers that we are, that Team Harpy was indeed guilty of libel. Their actions fit the bill. nina de jesus stated as a fact, rather than an opinion, that Joe Murphy is a “sexual predator.” Lisa Rabey based her assertions off of this statement. Since Team Harpy did not bring forward evidence to this effect, this claim is unsubstantiated. As a group, we waited to see what evidence would emerge, if any, and who would come forward as a witness or as a victim – and held off judgement until then.

Generally, we’re fans of passionate, loud opinions. We are not fans of censorship, but of debate and dialogue. We do not agree with how Joe Murphy used legal action to silence the accusations against him, even if he was legally to do so. In our opinion, Joe Murphy has ruined his own reputation through the Streisand effect. We’re happy to be able to voice our opinions, but do not claim that they are facts – and that’s an important distinction.

There are a number of supporters of Team Harpy who got carried away and forgot that this lawsuit was a libel case. Joe Murphy, as he has pointed out, has never been accused of any crime. It was nina de jesus and Lisa Rabey who were on trial for libel. Team Harpy supporters wrote about supporting victims of sexual harassment and standing up against oppression. Sign us up for such a cause: but supporting Team Harpy is not the same as supporting victims of harassment.



With that said, the London Chapter of PLG is an advocate of progressive librarianship. This includes supporting gender equality and women’s rights. We acknowledge the inequality that exists between genders and that there are many, many reasons that victims of sexual harassment may not come forward. We recognise that divisions of power create an unequal playing field, and that questioning authority is sometimes necessary and right when that authority is itself unjust, as patriarchy is. However, we don’t want to be blind and conflate our issues. It would be a mistake to overgeneralize and claim that a vote of confidence for Team Harpy is a vote of confidence for victims of sexual assault. It isn’t that clear-cut. And, it would be a mistake to believe libel about Joe Murphy simply because he is a white man who sometimes acts like an asshole around women (opinion substantiated by this video). In short, we cannot hold up this specific case as representative of the worthwhile cause of advocating for victim’s rights. This is not the case for that. Broad strokes, in this instance, would make us guilty of an injustice against Joe Murphy, and nothing else. We also fear that broad strokes also ultimately undermine efforts to support victims of sexual harassment.

nina de jesus’s blog post – the one that got her in all this trouble – was specifically about supporting and believing victims of sexual abuse pre-evidence and pre-conviction. She wrote phrases such as: “Don’t ask for ‘proof’” and “Don’t treat ‘both sides of the story’ as if they hold equal weight.” And we get it. It’s difficult to address the issue of sexual harassment when one side has all of the power. We believe, though, that change must ultimately be achieved within the auspices of the law, and not outside of it, if we’re to make real progress. Doing so prevents the kind of mayhem that can ruin a man’s life.

Real People


Finally, the reason that most held us back from posting before now is also what initially made us want to post in the first place. This case has impacted real people’s lives in drastic ways. At first, like so many others, we wanted to reach out to Team Harpy. We wanted to tell them that we believed they were well intentioned, that we sympathized with their plight, and that we, too, rankle at the thought of sexual harassment. Later, the fact that Joe Murphy is a real person really hit home when his step-father posted this emotional open letter detailing how his son’s reputation has been ruined. We wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

The last people to consider in this case are real, and ubiquitous, but often ignored and overlooked. They are the victims of sexual harassment. Despite the fact that they are the cause of Team Harpy’s initial statements, they are nowhere to be seen in this case. They hang about as phantasmagoria. It is important that we acknowledge the real threat of sexual harassment and the very real silence of victims, even if their presence in this case is insubstantial. We feel very strongly about supporting victims, and we sincerely hope that the Team Harpy debate has raised awareness that will lead to positive change, despite its failings.

CUPE 3902 Picket Line Crossing

In solidarity with the Toronto Chapter of PLG, we would like to express our distaste for the University of Toronto ischool’s decision to breach picket lines rather than reschedule or relocate the 50th Anniversary Bassam Lecture by R. David Lankes on”Radical Librarians.” The protesting CUPE 3902 members were picketing for the sake of their employment rights. That a lecture on radical librarianship would justify devaluing this good work is ironic in the extreme and lacking good sense, and we cannot condone it.

Please see the PLG-GTA’s post here.

Our Thoughts on the Charlie Hebdo Attacks

Lately, the PLG London Chapter has been having discussion after discussion on current events. We most recently spent a great deal of time talking about the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo office and related acts of violence in France. Our talk covered censorship, terrorist motivations, French  colonialism and imperialism, and the purpose of terrorism and its effects. We would like to share snippets from our debate with the world. If we did have a conclusion – apart from the apparent one that more voices seeking understanding is better than just one – it would be that seeking a single answer to a complex situation such as this is often dangerously polarizing and shortsighted.

Charlie Hebdo Wordle

Charlie Hebdo Infographic_Revised

Image credit: Wordcloud: Amanda Denman, Infographic: Angela Kwok; Eagle Icon credit to Lincoln Cushing via http://www.docspopuli.org/LibraryCulture.html

Ideas: PLG London Chapter

Notes from the Copyright Awareness Roundtable, July 2014

The roundtable we hosted this past Wednesday, July 23rd on copyright and contemporary librarianship was a resounding success! Thanks to all who attended and especially to our fantastic speakers who took the time to share their professional experiences and offer approaches to issues such as copyright literacy, risk mitigation, advocacy, and institutional policies. We’ve provided key points from the talk below:

Tom Adam, Project Manager and Special Advisor to the Provost
The Copyright Literacy Project @ Western

  • The library is the place where people should come for copyright information, especially in an academic environment
    • As creator, user and enabler of content as well as resources/tools for the academic community
  • The Copyright project is currently in its third phase
    • (1) Fall – December 2013: Environmental scan, launch of copyright website
    • (2) January – May 2014: Further development of website, strategies for delivering the message campus-wide
    • (3) June – December 2014: Sustainability
  • Many of the concerns are the same – still a matter of considering the rights of both creators and users
    • However with the five pivotal cases, the landscape has changed especially with regard to higher education
    • Can look to action in the courts for guidance
  • Copyright Decision Map offers a foundational tool to help users think about copyright and make sense of Fair Dealing
  • Copyright literacy is not a matter of “policing” or “going after infringement” but rather making copyright part of the conversation

Bobby Glushko, Scholarly Communications & Copyright Librarian
University of Toronto

  • There continues to be a real market for librarians with a knowledge of copyright law – it is a growth industry
  • The role of the librarian can be considered in terms of risk mitigation
    • For those disregarding the law, there is a need to convey a sense of ‘reasonableness’ and reduce the likelihood of serious legal consequences
  • It is important to establish the narrative of an institution that respects copyright law
  • Libraries and universities have an opportunity to expand the conversation on copyright
    • While the law can be complicated (not written to be easily comprehended, instills a lack of certainty) doubt and fear should not overshadow academic activity
      • Librarians can focus on the parts that are comprehensible like fair dealing and make this easier to understand by “harnessing a narrative”
  • It is useful to consider copyright in the context of the doctrine of Jack Bernard:
    • (1) “Righteousness is our greatest ally as librarians” – we should be focusing on our positive role of facilitating knowledge
    • (2) Think about your actions in a narrative context – How are you approaching something? Will this look good or bad [in a court of law]?
      • Not a matter of “outsmarting the courts” or disregarding and going ahead
      • Instead we must think about and research what we can do – work with the rights we have in this area… there is a great deal of potential

Sam Trosow, Associate Professor
FIMS and Faculty of Law, UWO

Following the ruling of CCH v. LSUC in 2004, librarians were granted the privilege to provide legal advice to library patrons on copyright issues. This authority allows us to influence policy on copyright through five venues:

  1. International treaties/agreements
  2. Parliament (e.g. Bill C-32, Bill C-11)
  3. Courts: infringement litigation and review of Copyright Board decisions
  4. Copyright Board (tariff applications)
  5. Local institutional policies.

In order to change policy, there must be action at all levels of society. Institutional policy change is the easiest way to make change at your own establishment and it is often overlooked by librarians as an effective means. The mobilization of academic libraries in the area of copyright policy has been lagging behind in Canada, and has only become an important issue since Bill C-11 was passed, the Copyright Pentalogy was ruled by the Supreme Court, and Access Copyright changed its licensing agreement with CAUT. Librarians in every setting should exercise their right to influence policy in a democratic direction that pushes our mandate as information providers.

The importance of copyright officers with M.L.I.S. backgrounds will likely become more prevalent in the years to come, even in non-library settings. This is tied to commentary by Kenneth Crews, who argues that educating authors and students in all aspects of copyright law (meaning both the things you can’t do and also the things you can) is essential to academic freedom and the advancement of knowledge.

Please see the attached slides:

PLG Roundtable talk – Institutional Copyright Policy-making

Copyright Awareness Roundtable: Wednesday July 23rd @ 12:00-1:30pm, NCB 293

This Wednesday, the PLG is hosting a roundtable looking at the role of copyright in contemporary librarianship. The speakers below will be discussing their professional experiences with copyright initiatives and the emerging issues affecting library patrons and service. Please join us!

Copyright Awareness Roundtable
Wednesday July 23, 2014
12:00 – 1:30pm
North Campus Building 293, UWO

Bobby Glushko, Scholarly Communications and Copyright Librarian
University of Toronto Libraries

“Bobby Glushko leads the Scholarly Communications and Copyright Office at the University of Toronto Libraries.  In his role there he directs and coordinates scholarly communications and copyright policy, works with faculty, staff, and students on those issues, and supports other divisions of the library in their efforts.  Bobby holds degrees in information science from the University of Michigan, and in law from the University of California at Berkeley.  He is particularly interested in the library’s role as an academic nexus, and its role in creating and making available copyrighted and public domain content.”

Tom Adam, Project Manager and Special Advisor to the Provost
The Copyright Literacy Project @Western

“At Western, responsibility for copyright belongs to us all. Building and implementing a comprehensive copyright literacy strategy for the university is the goal of this sixteen month project. The three project outcomes are to:

  • Design copyright information resources, tools and services and put them into action
  • Create and deliver copyright information sessions and workshops
  • Plan the long term sustainability of copyright literacy at Western

We also are building on the foundation that the library is the go-to place for everything with respect to copyright. Western’s librarians and library staff must gain knowledge and comfort about copyright and the changing copyright landscape in Canada in order to respond to the copyright needs of the Western community.”

Professor Sam Trosow, Associate Professor
FIMS and Faculty of Law, UWO

“Prof. Samuel Trosow will address how the broad user’s rights, now an integral part of Canadian Copyright law, are being implemented in Canadian libraries and educational institutions. How do the recurring conflicts between these user’s rights and licensing agreements and other institutional policies impede their effective implementation and realization? What is the role of the library community in defending the rights of their patrons in light of these persistent conflicts?”

Response to the USask TransformUS project and fate of Prof. Robert Buckingham

In early May, the dean of Public Health at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) was fired for writing an open letter called “Silence of the Deans,” criticizing its new restructuring plan, TransformUS. The university justified its actions, saying that Professor Buckingham had betrayed the trust of the university administration by publicly criticizing the TransformUS project.

TransformUS is the name of the University of Saskatchewan’s restructuring plan aimed at reducing costs and making the University more fiscally efficient. U of S estimates it will save $25 million in total and will be more likely to avoid incurring a deficit in the future.  Over the course of 2013 to the present, the plan has moved from the development stages to implementation. In November 2013, a report was released by the prioritization task force dividing all current academic programs into quintiles: candidates for enhanced funding, maintained funding, reduced funding, program reconfiguration and program dissolution.U of S has reallocated $5 million to invest in the growth of programs in the first quintile, giving them “priority” status.Most of the cost savings will come from restructuring academic programs, senior administration and support services. This includes disbanding the College of Graduate Studies & Research and redistributing its functions amongst the 12 remaining colleges. The plan also includes consolidating U of S library services and reducing the number of print resources available in the libraries in favour of increased student space.

Regardless of the language used, we are particularly concerned with the closure or ‘reconfiguration’ of the Law, Education, Engineering and Veterinary Medicine libraries as part of the TransformUS project. Consolidating four of seven campus libraries will have a profound impact on their respective faculties and students, not to mention the inevitable job losses. Emphasizing study space for students is not an end in itself and does not make a library if librarians and collections are off-site. This consolidation devalues the expertise of departmental librarians by making their services less accessible and furthermore risks overloading the remaining ‘full-service’ libraries. It also devalues the departments the libraries are associated with. This is particularly disconcerting as the College of Veterinary Medicine and several Engineering programs have been identified as candidates for enhanced resources, suggesting that any fiscal rationale for these actions is misplaced. Furthermore, a law school without a law library is not taken as seriously in the larger academic community and may have more difficulty hiring new faculty and attracting students.

If services like embedded librarianship are being considered, as suggested by Acting Dean Ken Ladd, these developments must be emphasized. Describing the project primarily in terms of space allocation is a slight to librarians and those who benefit from their services.

Basic researchers continue to struggle for research funding while industrial projects are given favour by NSERC, CIHR, and SSHRC (CAUT’s commentary on NRC transformation). According to USask’s research website, the Industry Liaison Office works to, “Accelerate the Commercialization of University Research & Knowledge and Create Economic Value & Opportunity by Transferring University Research & Knowledge to Society.” This flies in the face of conventional scientific progress. Scientific discovery is an exploratory progress that cannot be guided by the whims of industry. Scholars from every discipline are trained to investigate by building upon the work of their predecessors; in this way, the research guides itself.

After the unwarranted firing of Dr. Robert Buckingham, former Dean of Public Health, university administration has undergone several changes in recent weeks with the resignation of Provost Brett Fairbarn and the firing of President Ilene Busch-Vishniac. It is crucial that the administration seriously consider not only how they handle critique but how this demonstrates the flaws inherent in TransformUS. Repairing a damaged reputation does not mean falsely projecting a united front but instead gaining confidence from concerned faculty and students by prioritizing their input on the future of the university.

Some USask students have organized a public reaction to the TransformUS strategic plan. They argue that TransformUS is based on the false premise that an economic crisis is imminent. As a public, educational institution, USask should not be concerned with its financial future to the point where it places a higher priority on its profit margin than on the quality of research and education. We are deeply concerned that establishing partnerships with industry in the excessive capacity of Western University’s recent STEM-focused strategic plan and USask’s TransformUS will stifle research creativity and take away opportunities for faculty and graduate students to take on original research projects.

A previous version of this post incorrectly identified Dr. Buckingham as the Dean of Health Sciences and not Public Health and contained outdated information about the status of TransformUS. These oversights have been corrected.