Ellie Perkins: Letter to President Shoukri

Dear President Shoukri,

I am writing to express my deep dismay and shock about the Vice President Research and Innovation’s decision to recommend that York’s Institute for Research and Innovation in Sustainability (IRIS) not be re-chartered.  This recommendation contradicts York’s professed commitment to interdisciplinarity and sustainability in research, teaching, and administration, and it is a slap in the face to the dozens of faculty members and thousands of students who have developed and worked on IRIS research initiatives over the years.
The VPRI’s decision also goes against the recommendation of the three-member external review panel that the VPRI engaged to assess IRIS’s record and potential.  The panel, which spoke highly of IRIS’s work in many areas, recommended that IRIS be rechartered for two to three years in order to solidify and focus its interdisciplinary research program at York under a new director, and seek additional external funding. IRIS’s Executive, in responding to the external reviewers’ report, underscored its intention to engage in broad consultation across the university and establish a Research Committee in order to set priorities and pursue funding in specific areas.  However, winding up IRIS’s operations, and suspending the search for a new IRIS director at the final stage as the VPRI has done, leaves all this hanging and is a tremendously disrespectful, inefficient and cavalier way to treat the many York faculty and students who have served on the Director search committee and who have worked with IRIS.
I have served on IRIS’s Executive for years and formerly served on the Executive of IRIS’s precursor organization, the York Centre for Applied Sustainability. I have been the Principal Investigator of several IRIS-supported research projects, and I continue to carry out research based at IRIS.   I led the 7-member York University delegation to the 2009 Copenhagen climate change conference, after IRIS Director Dawn Bazely successfully pursued York’s application for United Nations observer status.  This has in turn assisted other students and faculty members to become involved with global climate change research.  IRIS’s research on participatory engagement in climate change governance, and climate justice networking with dozens of global partners — from academia, governments, and local communities — is something of which I am very proud.  Building on and drawing together the work of many colleagues in the sciences, arts, business, health and FES, we are now able to assemble global partnership grant applications addressing many aspects of climate change awareness and policy using methods that are at the forefront of participatory and collaborative research design.  This has come together through Dawn Bazely’s energetic leadership and deep commitment to interdisciplinarity, which is shared across the IRIS Executive, but I fear that the ill-will and deep disillusionment generated by the VPRI’s actions will destroy what many colleagues have worked so hard to build.
As you know, the current Senate process for rechartering ORUs is new, controversial, untested, and has been developed and explained in a fairly opaque way.  There are questions about the extent to which full information has been provided to decision-making committees.  There will almost certainly be heated debate in Senate when IRIS’s charter is discussed.
I urge you to exert your formal and informal leadership at York to advocate the renewal of IRIS’s charter for two to three years, as the external review panel recommended, so that we can get on with pressing and important sustainability research.
Sincerely,
Patricia E. (Ellie) Perkins
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