Concordia senate debates thesis secrecy

University plans to give $3 million in tuition wavers to international students

Judith Woodsworth wasn’t the only topic of discussion at a Concordia Senate meeting a couple weeks back.

The university’s highest governing body also discussed new rules governing thesis secrecy. The new rules state that in some cases “all participants to a thesis defence” will be required to “sign an undertaking of confidentiality.”

The new rules will also require professors to inform students if they have “contractual obligations” with companies which “require that research results are not publicly disclosed.”

The rules were established by Concordia’s council of the school of graduate studies in October. The university’s 2010-2011 graduate calendar contains no references to confidentiality when it comes to theses or research. Theses are generally public documents.

While senate has no say on the new rules, they were still the subject of debate. Several senators questioned whether a public university should be getting so cozy with corporations.

“Let’s not kid ourselves, [corporations] are not doing us any favours. They are gaining access to cheap labour and the minds of the next generation,” said film studies professor David Douglas.

But provost David Graham maintained that students do benefit from the experience and connections gained from working on corporate projects.

Mourad Debbabi of the Concordia Institute for Information Systems Engineering also pointed out that there were situations when researchers might have access to information that they cannot legally divulge.

Student senators also questioned whether secrecy is becoming too prevalent when it comes to theses and research.

That’s really the thing here, these rule changes are just acknowledging what’s already going on. While it’s probably better to have some rules rather than no rules, as was the case at Concordia, the new changes are pretty vague. Other schools, like Waterloo, have highly specific rules on when and how a thesis can be defended confidentially.

Concordia is also planning to give out $3 million in tuition wavers to international PhD and MFA students over the next three years.

“Most other Quebec universities currently offer tuition waivers to international students at the PhD level and so clearly we have been in an uncompetitive situation or a less than ideally competitive situation in the past,” Graham Carr, dean of graduate studies, told senate. “This is a very significant step forward, I think, in addressing that.”

The university says the wavers will benefit 35 students each year.