Monday, November 28, 2016

Commitment to Transparency and Engagement

Over the last decade or so one UBC faculty Governor has set the gold standard of faculty engagement and transparency in governance.  Nassif Ghoussoub, writing in his blog Piece of Mind, made his views known, encouraged discussion and engaged with us as peers in the governance of UBC.  I find much to emulate in Nassif's example.

Our Governors have a responsibility to act in the best interests of our public university.  One important way to do this is to make oneself available to our colleagues, to listen to diverse and divergent voices, and to be as inclusive in our processes as possible.  I already maintain several social media platforms that will allow me to share information (within the legal bounds permitted to me). If elected I will use these platforms to share information and to receive feedback.

As a Governor one has an opportunity to put questions to the senior administrators who are making the operational decisions regarding UBC. This gives one an opportunity to bring a range of concerns, ideas, and thoughts into the center of UBC's decision making process.  If elected I will bring your questions and ideas forward.

I pledge to act with openness. I pledge to place the voice of faculty firmly, clearly, and without apology, at the center of my service as a member of the board of governors at UBC.


Saturday, November 26, 2016

Speaking notes: UBCFA-BoG Faculty Candidates Forum, Nov. 24, 2016

I acknowledge that we are on the traditional, ancestral, unceded territory of the Musqueam Nation.
            Over my years at UBC I have been actively involved in our community.  I have served several terms on the UBC Faculty Association Executive. From 2012 to 2016 I served as an elected resident director on the University Neighbourhoods Association Board, the erstwhile municipal council for non-student residents on campus.
            My academic research is focussed on resource dependent communities here in British Columbia and in Western Europe (Brittany and Ireland).  In British Columbia my work has been predominantly concerned with First Nations engagement in government to government negotiations.  For ten years I have been involved on negotiation teams and technical working groups with some of the most significant energy development projects on coastal BC. I bring a level of expertise and experience that spans academic and community issues that is not currently in evidence on our board of governors.
            I firmly believe, and consider there is evidence to support this belief, that our governing bodies require a diversity of perspectives to function fully, effectively, and democratically.  Currently our governors come from a narrow legal and/or business background.  Our faculty needs strong and diverse voices that will not be content to simply go with the flow.

            I honoured to have been able to have committed a significant portion of my adult working life to UBC. This university is an important part of BC. As a native BCer I know how important this place is to our province.  At the heart of what makes UBC strong is our faculty.  We, and our students who come to learn from us and work with us, are what makes UBC UBC. As your board representative it is my goal to ensure that faculty are not again silenced and sidelined by a narrow corporate vision.  We have much to offer and a responsibility to step forward and act.
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The forum was video taped and archived by the UBC Faculty Association. My spoken comments are not identical to my prepared speaking notes, but the above covers the general sense of what I said. To see my actual comments click this link. 


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Statement for Board of Governors Faculty Election

It’s time for a change in how the BoG responds to faculty members. It is time for new faculty voices. Charles has served four terms as Member-at-Large on the Faculty Association of UBC (FAUBC), 2001-2007, 2012-2014. As a resident of the university area Charles has served two terms as elected Director of the University Neighbourhoods Association (UNA), 2012-2016. He has been a faculty member at UBC since 1996. While at UBC Charles’ research has focused on First Nations natural resource management, decolonization, and social justice and fairness in human relations. 

The University needs a Board that is accountable, transparent, values shared governance, and is responsive to faculty, staff, and students. This past year, we heard loud and clear why the Board needs a renewed commitment to accountability and shared governance.

Charles is recognized as a strong advocate for shared governance, transparency, and democratic process. As a past representative of faculty in the UBCFA and University residents in the UNA Charles consistently advocated for the expansion of democratic principles and effective community engagement. As an elected governor Charles will value community input and uphold best practices of accountability and governance.

Charles has a PhD in anthropology from the City University of New York and has published in anthropological, political economic, and Indigenous Studies journals. His most recent book is People of the Saltwater, a story of his home community Gitxaała, north coast BC.    


Further details about Charles can be found on his faculty web page http://www.charlesmenzies.ca and his blog. http://charlesmenzies.blogspot.ca/

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

'Climate of Fear' or 'Fear of Commitment'?

There are lot of strong statements these days about a climate of fear at UBC or the categorical dismissal of any such thing. Truth often lies somewhere in between.

Over the course of my own life I have often heard people say they feel they can't do this or that for fear of some kind of social sanction being brought down upon them.  From school to work to family life the are formal and informal mechanisms at play to shape social behaviours and attitudes. My disciplinary guild, anthropology, has studied these kinds of social pressures in kin-ordered societies - cultures within which there are no formal state institutions.

Generations of anthropologists have found that indeed human societies (within or outside of states) create rules and mechanisms for enforcing them.  Each society creates particular ways to try and constrain those who deviate from the accepted norms.  From joking and teasing to outright coercion, humans work hard to ensure that group members toe the line.  Anthropologists studying non-state small-scale societies have realized for a long time that group formation and a sense of identity and belonging has been a critical aspect of human sociability cultural stability for millennia.

Pushing social norms is often seen as a threat to social stability. But it is also an important source of innovation and change. In fact, pushing norms and challenging sacred truths is a critical aspect of human resiliency and is part of what contributes to our success (so far) as a species.

So lets turn back to this "climate of fear" at UBC.  It seems to me that it is simultaneously true and false. It is true in the sense that there is much pressure to conform as a faculty member at UBC.  It is false in the sense that if one meets the technical requirements for tenure (grants, publications, teaching) allowances are given for norm pushing behaviours.

Conforming as a faculty member means to do one's work, not cause too much of a fuss, publish and get grants. Going along to get along is a general aspect of most human work environments and it's been my experience at UBC. That's not to say people don't appreciate dissenting voices, but rather that the prevailing work place culture is one that prefers people focus on a narrow technical range of activities that define the workplace.  This breeds a form of workplace conformity in which more junior people try to ascertain (not always correctly) who the power brokers are and then to curry favour.  Conformists, it would appear,  are more likely to be afraid that if they step outside the norms they will be punished.

Ironically so-called 'excellence' is partially measured by innovation - that is, norm breaking. And it is 'excellence' that brings tenure and promotion.

The false side of the "climate of fear" perspective is that the reality is as long as a faculty member does publish when and where it counts, does get grants, and does meet the standards of teaching one can  push norms on the political front - to be a dissident- and still get tenure and promotion.

While it may be true that there are academic administrators who might wish that faculty just shut up and focuss on research I think that most are more interested in finding ways to get us to publish more, get bigger grant's and keep our students happy.  I think that UBC would be an even more interesting, exciting, and engaging place if more people threw away their perception of fear and realized that in the University of Excellence we have a lot of freedom (as long as we publish) to engage in legal acts of political dissent.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Twitter, University Politics, and Critical Engagement


"Hey Menzies don't you have some boring lectures about fishing villages to get back too?" 
 (A Twitter Admirer)

It's not the first time my twitter path crossed threads with student advocates who take umbrage with my commentary.  On the eve of the Paris Terror Attacks last fall UBC's  AMS was engaged in a massive tweet out of Drake Tribute videos. Long before any of us knew what was taking place in Paris my stray comment on the sorry state of student politics had started a mini twitter storm that ended up with a satirical take down of me in the venerable Ubyssey.  World events overtook the AMS video, but not before my twitter feed had been spammed by hundreds of tweets explaining how wrong I was, or a massive nasty facebook dissection of my academic work (mostly ill-informed and ad hominem), or someone in a reditt page (ironically more supportive of my views) found the space to call me a d**k-h**d.

More recently my tweets supporting Nassif Goussoub's and Professor Jennifer Berhdal's perspectives on the sorry state of UBC governance generated some pushback from the author of the "boring lectures" tweet and from several other student luminaries.   

In the old days political critics and opponents may have stood facing each other at a debate, over a picket line, or may have exchanged barbs in the letters page of a local newspaper. Twitter is both a more immediate and intensely public forum of short (easily misunderstood) comment, dialogue, and snark.  The delight of twitter as a forum is it's immediacy.  But that's also it's downside.  In the moment of squinting at small type on a phone, trying clever abbreviations to fit more into the 144 char limit, or just getting in a timely response, a lot of sideways slippage in comprehension can occur. 

We shouldn't overlook the ephemeral aspect of twitter (even as it lasts apparently for ever in a databank somewhere).  The form is ephemeral, the comment's effects ideally fleeting, and the response proportionally ephemeral. This is part of the charm of twitter as a social space. 

The various twitter threads that have led me to this reflection all involve aspects of university politics. My interventions arise from my own history and experience of activism, though history is not well transmitted in the twittersphere. 

A while ago I reflected upon the possibilities for activism and the conditions of work within the contemporary university of excellence. I drew upon my experience as a student, and then as a faculty member, in North American universities of excellence (a la Bill Reading: The University in Ruins). Unlike the earlier university of 'culture' in which what one might say had a potential impact, the measure of success in the contemporary university of 'excellence' is more focused upon how much one might say (in print, in the 'right' journal). My paper, "Reflections on Work and Activism," presents three linked, but autonomous stories that offer counsel to an interested audience on the ways in which engaged progressive political action might intersect with the realities of everyday work and life in the contemporary university of excellence.  It is from (and against) these personal experiences of activism that I measure and consider the actions of other actors in our common political world.

I have always taken a dim view of the career resume padding set of politicos who find power in currying favour with the even more powerful.  One of my own early student political campaigns featured the campaign slogan, "Not another smiling bureaucrat" in the place of my own 'smiling' face. I didn't win, but that wasn't surprising given my campaign was a critique of careerists, fun-advocates, and service oriented peers who saw student government merely as a place to pad resumes, meet business/government/university leaders and generally have a great time doing it. Of the many things that may have changed about me over the past 35 plus years, that sense of intense disdain for the careerist is not one of them. 

So when it comes to twitter I will occasional express a critical opinion of political leaders and actors of all stripes and stations. So don't feel singled out. I am very equitable in who I critique. 

I also complement and endorse activists, like participants of Idle No More and the Occupy Movement, or the activists of the Quebec Student's Movement.  These young people are visionaries who are willing to take real risks to make a difference in our world; the kind of difference that does more than pave the way for personal advancement. 

At UBC we have also had generations of hard working, committed activists who have strived to make real differences.  Since I have been on faculty at UBC we have seen students organize the No to APEC protests (1997), an occupation of the president's office (2002), the 2003 TA Strike, support actions for public school teachers (2002, 2005, 2012), and a host of related political engagements focussed on transforming our world into a more socially just place.

Ultimately, what matters more than any 144 char tweet are the actions of many acting in solidarity to create a better world for all.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Visual Assault on the UBC Campus

For three days now I have been compelled to either alter my path or shift my gaze to avoid the “Abortion Awareness Project” (formally called Genocide Awareness Project) [news links] as I walked from my home to my office in the Anthropology & Sociology Building.

On the first day, Wednesday of this week, I had no warning or prior notice of what I would see or that I should expect anything disruptive. I found the entire display profoundly disturbing.  It is racist, it is violent, it is aggressive.  Yesterday and today I found the same group now installed on the mall in front of Koerner Library. 

I do not know whether or not the images that are on display were previewed by anyone in UBC’s administration prior to their being installed on the campus. I can not image that any reasonable person viewing the images would find them appropriate for public display without some kind of warning, shielding, or other indication of what an unsuspecting viewer might be confronted with.   Nor can I accept that any amount of cash payment would be worth allowing the display to be erected publicly.


To hide behind a veil of free speech allows UBC to exempt itself from dealing with the violence of the particular imagery.  These are deliberate images designed to horrify, shock, and to create unease and anxiety in the viewer.  It is fundamentally a form of assault. What has been permitted on campus for three days now is not about free speech; it’s a public display designed to assault.  It is fundamentally a form of harassment that makes me, colleagues I have spoken with, and students that I know feel threatened and violated in our work place.

Combatting Academic Imperialism: Making space for a Canadian Anthropology #CASCA16

Roundtable: Saturday, May 14, 2016 8:30-10:00

Co-organized: Charles Menzies & Max Forte.

The academic and cultural imperialism of the US, the UK, and France has a long history in Canadian and Quebecois post secondary institutions. The impact and implications vary according to region and type of post secondary institution. This roundtable is designed to create an inclusive pro-active dialogue for Canadian anthropologists to collaborate in combatting academic imperialism.  Many of us have noted the long-standing colonial mentality whereby Canadian doctorates are compared unfavourably with those from the Imperialist heartland. This colonial mentality intrudes into teaching and graduate instruction. This colonial mentality affects hiring practices and job opportunities. Then to further complicate matters we, as disciplinary practitioners, have in turn have participated in an internal colonization of Indigenous Knowledge and peoples. Drawing from Indigenous, Metis, and Progressive Settler perspectives we invite our colleagues and students to join with us in this roundtable on combatting academic imperialism.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Moral Rights, MRK II

I received some great news the other day. BC Studies has a revised author's publication agreement that no longer includes a moral rights clause. Progress is possible!
The celebration was short lived.
Truth is the revised clause is arguably worse than the original one.
  • The original clause: "The Author hereby also expressly waives, to the fullest extent permitted by law, all moral rights which the Author may now or in the future have, with respect to the Work."
  • The replacement clause: "Before and after publication the Journal has the right, at its sole discretion, to edit, translate and reformat the Work, including the right to digest, abridge, adapt, index, add to, delete from, alter and/or otherwise combine the Work with other content in any manner and in any media whatsoever." [emphasis added]
The replacement clause is, at least, specific in detailing the rights that the author gives up. That said it expressly and explicitly requires the author to hand over all discretionary rights and enables the journal to essentially do what ever it wishes with the author's work without having to consult with the author, ask the author's permission, or consider the author's interests in any way shape or form.
Hubert Lai (UBC Legal Counsel) patiently explained to me that: "Without an express waiver of such moral rights, UBC's journals could therefore face the risk of possible legal claims for infringement of an author's moral rights.  For example, such claims could be alleged to arise from a journal's:
  • ordinary editing of the author's (or authors') manuscript for publication 
  • reformatting of the published work for publication in other media; or
  • digesting or précising of the work for an index or for archival purposes.
Furthermore, it is also possible that an author's moral rights could be asserted to inhibit a journal's ability to publish a formal correction or retraction in connection with a previously published work. This could be of particular concern in cases where the published work has more than one author.
 No academic author is seriously concerned about a journal being able to carry out normal editorial decisions and practices. Copy editing, correcting errors, digesting for index or archival purposes are are reasonable expectations on the part of a journal.  However, the replacement clause created by UBC Legal Counsel goes way beyond that normative model.  The replacement clause in fact is makes no material difference for an author, except to make very clear that UBC is more interested in taking proprietorial control over an author's work and to grab all of the legal rights they need to act with impunity and without care or attention to an author's interest.

What a way to support academic freedom.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Gossip: The Stuff Anthropologists Study

"Gossip is the stuff anthropologists study."

Yup, we study it, but we don’t do it. Or do we?

Well, I’m not so sure. I guess it depends on what one means by gossip. Most people consider gossip to be half truths or stories that are less than news but more than fabrications. A lot of people think gossip is motivated by meanness (think of the popular tv show Gossip Girl). Gossip is also a kind of social knowledge, independent of it’s content, that maps out social networks and connections. It’s an activity of group formation and exclusion.  Gossip is thus also a cover word for the sharing of social information that knits people together, builds alliances, firms up bonds and excludes others.  To be included in the gossip network is to be part of the group. Exclusion from the network is also a mechanism of social marginalization. Someone telling you a piece of gossip is as interested in establishing and maintaining a relationship as they are interested in the content of the gossip itself.  

In this sense anthropologists track through these social networks asking questions about people, beliefs, and things. This is what I mean when I say anthropologists study gossip. Gossip - social knowledge, perception, and believe- lie at the core of anthropological practice.

It is one thing, however, to study gossip. It is quite another thing to be the subject of gossip (especially malicious gossip).  Gossip seem to flourish in work place settings and small group politics. It seems that in these environments gossip acts as a form of coercive control, a type of peer pressure to constrain and manage the behaviour of group members. 

The academic work place, especially as it has evolved in the context of the university of excellence, is a star-system zero-sum game. Rewards are handed out to some and not others and the process often feels opaque. The academic workplace may at times require collaborative work but reward systems are all individualized. This of course mirrors the mainstream economic and cultural practices. However, in the academy we find an extreme example of individualism in practice. In this kind of work place stray thoughts and angry comments can have a lasting trace in the gossip network that are hard to eradicate.

Gossip spreads through the utterance of an intemperate remark, a poorly phrased fragment of speech, a feeling, or even a stray thought half expressed. These notions become the kernels of stories that take on their own lives, desires, and even a sense of presence. This is a problem, especially if one didn't pay much attention to the thought and its after life at the moment of utterance.

So the task is to find a way to disempower those wayward stories that live in the shadows of our formal, technical communications.

In much of my earlier work (and my more recent work) I delve directly into these types of narratives. In Stories from Home (AE 1994), for example, I pull out the shipboard racism of the men I grew up and worked with.  In that paper I try to understand, without justifying, their colonial folklore. We need to pull these narrative up and into the open in order to disempower them.  In my more recent work I examine the ways in which similar types of colonial folklore lurks within the quiet spaces of our ow academic practice (see REVISITING “DM SIBILHAA’NM DA LAXYUUBM GITXAAŁAand as an Indigenous person I feel I have no option but to speak back.

It is important to me that I also consider how the contradictions of my own social location also complicates they ways in which other people hear me; how they locate themselves in relation to me; how they imagine me as a holder of power or authority in some way. To simply say, that I have no real power is to fall prey to a classic trope of denial.  I do have some power: power to assign grades, power to evaluate students and, in certain cases, the power to evaluate colleagues (though all of these are mitigated by the power of others). So I must take seriously this power that adhers to my social location even as this same power is in fact undermined in this dominant society institution by my Indigenous identity.  


I want to return now to gossip as a focus of study. Many years ago I had a mini-epiphany. We were overhauling a salmon seine in the lead up to the fishing season.  It was getting on in the day so we were taking a break in the netloft lunch room.  My father, a couple other skippers, and our crew were gathered around the lunch table. They were telling stories of big catches, lost sets, and old skippers long departed when it hit me.  These men were linking each of these different fishing events with the marital foibles, breaches, elopements, and flirtations of other men in their social network. Each fishing moment was tied to when "Jake's wife ran off with so-and-so," or that big set happened the week after Bob had found his wife in bed with Joe. And on it went. Some of the stories involved the men in the room directly, others didn't. No one seemed to care.  They laughed, they yelled, they cursed, they argued.  They had fun. That's gossip worth studying.