EDITORIAL: UVic needs a reboot after Computer Science controversy

Editorials Opinions
Photo by Myles Sauer, Editor-in-Chief
Photo by Myles Sauer, Editor-in-Chief

The story of Jianping Pan, the Computer Science professor relieved of his obligation to teach a course after claiming he was unqualified to do so, has inspired no shortage of discussion in the weeks since that fateful day on Sept. 9. Since its publication on Sept. 12, our original report has skyrocketed to the very top of the Martlet’s most-read stories ever, and made headlines not only in our paper, but at CTV and the Times Colonist as well. And weren’t we just saying students deserved some legit controversy?

At the heart of the debate is the question of whether or not Pan was in fact unqualified to teach CSC 349A, and if so, whether or not it was right of him to bring the issue forward in such a public manner. And depending on whom you ask, the answer may vary. Some have said Pan’s actions were unprofessional, and that what was a dispute between faculty and administration should’ve remained as such. Even other professors have said that a tenure-track professor admitting their own incompetence is foolhardy.

However, it should still have been a concern to the department and relevant administrators that Pan considered himself to be unqualified to teach the course, and according to Pan anyway, he attempted to raise this issue with the department on multiple occasions before the course began. Despite the administration claiming that all professors in the department are qualified to teach “foundational” courses, a red flag should pop up on this claim the second that one realizes it’s a third-year course. Furthermore, if Pan attempted to raise these concerns and was ignored, why shouldn’t students be made aware that the quality of their education that they’re paying for is at risk? At the end of the day, UVic is an educational institution that wouldn’t exist without students, and it’s students’ needs that should be of the highest priority to both faculty and administrators alike. If there’s reason to suspect the department administration isn’t working in students’ best interests when they (allegedly) refuse to consider any alternatives, shouldn’t they know that? Pan certainly thought so. UVic hasn’t been the most forthright of academic institutions in the past, and we’ve called them on it before; perhaps it’s about time the curtain was pulled back by one of their own.

We could debate all day long whether Pan was qualified to teach the course or not, or whether he should have involved students in that conflict or not, but the real issue here is this: UVic administration had a glitch in its system, and rather than deal with the issue properly and professionally, let alone quietly, it took actions that have only made the situation worse. For example, why in the world would campus security be involved in order to force students to leave the lecture hall? And why would administrators interrupt and attempt to stop the lecture on at least three different occasions? And why would they call Oak Bay police to “stand by” as they dealt with the situation? All of these actions were antagonistic and inflammatory rather than de-escalatory. And it’s this conduct of UVic administrators, that has ultimately shaken the trust that students put in the institution. Perhaps UVic administration needs a reboot, and needs to start putting students education before misguided attempts to save face.