A Member’s question: What Happened?

Most of us long-timers remember the early and mid-2010’s, when STLHE functioned as three constituencies with a growing membership (and more than triple our current paying membership numbers). Conferences brought together a range of people from VPs to students to national partnerships and government-funded organizations like HECQO. Member-driven publications and listservs arose from discussions and conferences.

EDC was growing too, and beginning to create more programming, including institutes. Situated within STLHE, the relationship was previously one where EDC was respected for its work and activities, including the outreach to institutions (the reason EDC receives 10% of STLHE’s institutional membership fees). EDC budgets and living plans were created with EDC membership, and there was continuity of support and recognition of EDC by STLHE leadership. 

This is the STLHE many of us long-timers remember. It was an STLHE community that listened to National Teaching Fellows at plenaries and sought to recognize National Student Fellows in the same standing. Their plenaries were described as the heart of who we were as STLHE. The work of EDC was championed.

So what happened? While EDC continued to grow (including in the areas of grants, guides, and Accreditation) through the efforts of members, STLHE has faced a series of internal issues, slowing memberships, loss of collaborations, and additional challenges. We began to hear comments by STLHE leaders against Fellows and a move to restrict their voice; there were also public statements questioning the standing and role of EDC. But these silencing actions were often assumed by many of us to be simply “people blowing off steam”. Looking back now, though, I recognize the survivors of those hurtful times, some still with us and some who have left.

The organizational ethos of EDC and STLHE continued to diverge. EDC engaged with its community, such as through action groups, to make major decisions; STLHE centralized power and focus on the Board, with the President’s power and voice becoming increasingly central. Key EDC information was provided to members throughout the year, while centralization of decision-making and power grew in STLHE. 

EDC continues to be an intentionally decentralized decision-making structure with transparency and openness. Our EDC executive members recognize that they are first and foremost accountable to the members of EDC. Questions about colonization and who is included regularly have been raised and discussed. Tangible steps began in 2019 related to equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI), including talks with POD, that were paused at the request of STLHE to wait for them. I recognize still that for some our community is still not sufficiently safe, welcoming or inclusive in decision-making. There is still learning and work to be done.

In 2019 the relationship of STLHE with EDC took a darker shift. STLHE shifted from interacting “with” EDC to enacting actions “to” EDC, with pressure for EDC leadership to simply enforce or comply with STLHE. The EDC Chair was no longer allowed to consult members or even the EDC executive on matters pertaining to members. Communications were to be centralized and finances increasingly hidden, even from the EDC treasurer and non-Executive STLHE directors. The EDC surplus and budget lines were no longer referred to verbally as EDC’s funds but as being STLHE’s to control. Member-created EDC programming, values, and logos were slated to be subsumed and replaced by STLHE. Those of us on the executive thought these plans were grounded in a misunderstanding, and thus was something we could reason on with STLHE leaders. For a while, it seemed that requests and attempts to clarify held changes at bay.

As soon as I joined the STLHE board, I encountered silencing and threats of removal. I was told that the constituencies could not be trusted and not to advocate for EDC before I even said a word. I asked questions internally in fulfilment of my duty as an STLHE director, and stood by EDC executive and EDC member requests through internal requests and questions. In the fall of 2020, the STLHE Executive and the board suspended me as an STLHE board director and EDC chair, solely for asking questions. My questions were related to serious concerns I had on topics including STLHE Executives ignoring director votes and motions, the misuse of policy, crucial governance changes being proposed without member engagement, the dismissing and name-calling of Fellows and EDC members who raised EDI issues, missing financial reports, and the financial impact of decisions (all topics listed as reasons in my suspension letter). As a result of the suspension, I was legally gagged and feared for my reputation and career. The EDC Exec were blocked by STLHE, who denied them information about my suspension. STLHE leaders asked EDC to remove me as EDC Chair and to call a new election. I was suspended for 6 months, but STLHE implied I was permanently removed to the EDC Executive, while telling me I was merely suspended and was welcome back after my suspension. My requests to the STLHE Board for an independent external review of my case were denied. I engaged a lawyer to provide a letter of appeal as I had not even been appropriately notified according to policy. Later, I learned that I had been removed illegally from the board’s federal corporation documents without notice and against STLHE bylaws.

Just days after the December 2020 meeting on EDC’s vote not to engage in STLHE’s EDI process based on their mistreatment of equity-denied groups during the process, the STLHE directors officially denied my appeal and continued my suspension. In response and based on legal advice, I sought relief through the only feasible method at the time, namely to petition the relevant court of law to lift the suspension early and require harmful policies to be revised. STLHE’s lawyers argued that the suspension should remain. Although the presiding judge declined to lift the suspension on an interim basis, the merits of my legal claim were not determined at that time and have not yet been determined. On legal advice that STLHE could suspend me as a member at any time without cause and I had not heard a ruling on the suspension itself, I did not withdraw the case even when I returned though indicated that I would pause it while EDC had its vote and while it separated.

During the 6-month suspension, STLHE’s board voted to change governance without member engagement or input, removed constituency representatives from the board prior to April, changed National Fellow plenaries to service sessions, left the EDC conference in fiscal jeopardy, delayed passing a budget for two months with the result of limiting EDC access to funds while STLHE continued to spend money, channeled thousands of dollars away from awards to an administrative company with ties to leaders, and passed a budget based on inaccurate financial reports. They also, for the first time, gave themselves powers beyond the budget to delay the timing of board approved EDC’s funding for EDI, holding up $15,000 in EDI funding for over 10 months: these funds still have not been released at the writing of this letter. Awards coordination and use continue to shift. National student Fellows now must work for their money to produce a project and appear in promotions for STLHE rather than be recognized and awarded. These changes and the lack of transparency for finances were the ones that EDC leaders advised against back in 2019 and early 2020. 

To justify these expansive changes, executive members also rewrote recommendations in STLHE’s governance committee report weeks after the governance subcommittee was disbanded (in the same timeframe that a letter was sent to trigger the incivility suspension process). Though the report’s conclusions changed, they kept my name on it and claimed it was written by the sub-committee. Upon learning of these changes, I requested for my name be removed. This governance plan is still not available to STLHE members, despite membership requests including through a petition submitted earlier this year.

So, a lot of changes have been enacted by STLHE leadership under the cover of a pandemic, during a time when many of us have had to contend with enormous difficulties in both our professional and personal lives. I am reminded by a comment from one of our leaders in Spring 2020, who rhetorically asked “Why waste a crisis?”. My response at the time was to look at them and wonder what they had in mind then comment that I’d rather help our community survive it.

The leadership’s stated reasons for these changes have continued to shift without any evidence or documentation (including a staff crisis, the potential loss of funders, a financial crisis, a request from insurance that not even STLHE’s secretary has seen, the threat of “radicals among us”, a court case threatening the board that only sought to address policy and restore my seat). However, the changes have remained consistent since I first heard them years ago. The aim is for STLHE to be transformed into an organization that is staff-led with centralized and tightly controlled communication, a small advisory board, reduced Fellow memberships, and no resources or formal powers for constituencies.

Why the poll in July? In late June 2021, the STLHE President asked for a vote by EDC members in July 2021 as to whether EDC should separate from STLHE. This request came weeks before a previously planned August open community meeting for EDC that would have preceded any consideration by EDC to poll its members. The leaders of the EDC Future group were told that the vote must occur in July or it would not be recognized. With no other option provided, the vote was held in the timeline decided by STLHE. The result of the poll was that EDC members voted to separate from STLHE. To this day, STLHE has not publicly acknowledged that they will honour this vote that they requested.

I personally have experienced a full list of mistreatment that would have been illegal in some Canadian jurisdictions, had I been a paid employee of STLHE. I have witnessed mistreatment of Indigenous, racialized and 2SLGBTQIA+ colleagues, including hearing comments about them that would make your stomach turn. These actions against individuals, constituencies, and against the values of STLHE seem out of place until one sees the system or hears a leader says that this is done to create a colleague’s “legacy” or that they need more “control”; while crushing those who speak. 

Why the silence? I regret the lack of transparency throughout this ordeal with the EDC Community. The threat to further worsen my situation was used to attempt to silence the EDC Executive during the suspension and the threat that my words would harm EDC was used to silence me. Even my launching of a legal case as a last effort to lift the suspension and address the misuse of policy was twisted by STLHE leaders as an attack against them and used to pressure members at the AGM. Even Robert’s Rules were notably ignored in STLHE leaders’ efforts to deny a member vote and silence a seconded motion at a Members’ Meeting this past summer. Requests for accommodations for communication were denied by STLHE’s board in the Member’s Meeting as well. Enough is enough.

Is this leadership?

This past year and a half for me have centred on learning, listening, grieving and reflecting. I have wrestled with many questions since I was told to change my vote at my first experience on the STLHE board in June 2020, with the first and foremost being “How does one best serve as a leader?” Three questions have arisen from this one, asked by myself and others: 

  • Who do I stand with? I chose to stand with the EDC community and our Indigenous and mistreated colleagues, while also advocating for Fellows and STLHE members to have a voice. 
  • Why didn’t I work quietly to address these issues, instead of speaking out publicly? For months and through dozens of conversations, I tried to work quietly behind closed doors to counter decisions by our leadership that would cancel National fellow sessions, silence equity-denied colleagues, created two systems of access to money and approvals, strip Fellows of membership, and deconstruct EDC by stripping it of funds and standing. I worked through committees and one-on-one conversations, raised questions in both synchronous meetings and during asynchronous votes. I was told repeatedly that a “real leader” would side with them, would disband EDC’s selection committee, and would control and silence the EDC exec and members. I responded that we have different definitions of leadership.
  • Why didn’t I just walk away? In Spring 2021, I left the board so I was able to call for a petition as a member since board directors still are legally not allowed to differ in opinion from the STLHE board or speak to members, even in cases of financial issues, untruths or policy misuse. I did not leave the EDC Chair role because no one should have to face the abuse and pressure I faced, and EDC still needed a leader.  

In a National community that often stays loyal to those who mentored us and dined with us, even when we hear or witness abuse, I know my decisions to speak out reflect the other path, where we say not okay when hinted that we should also act to cover or perpetuate abuse.

I recognize that for some members my drawing back the curtain collides with your memories and our long-standing norms in STLHE of hiding abuse. I recognize also that to build a community going forward we need truth and a commitment to never again allow colleagues to be harassed. Our Ed Dev community is and can be beautiful in our sharing, our commitment to questioning and reflection, our scholarship and creations, and in our commitment to living into a more equitable, decolonized, and anti-oppressive way of being with each other.

I am eternally thankful for the previous and continuing EDC Exec for pursuing openness in the face of pressure to be silent, who have worked to plan and bring programming to the community without clear access to EDC funds, and who continue to centre and stand with the voices of equity-denied members. I am deeply grateful to IKAGs, EDC community members and all who wrote letters and signed letters seeking transparency or saying things they saw were not okay. 

Why so much English-only? I regret that our communications this year have not been sufficiently translated into French. EDC’s translations typically run through STLHE’s translator; I should have sought other support to ensure communication throughout this mess was more equitable.

What’s next?

EDC has visioning, exiting,and logistics working groups shaping what our organization looks like going forward. The EDC Coordinators and Executive are ensuring programming that you value continues in the meantime.My current plan is to finish my term in June 2022 as promised in the manner I was told by you – to walk with our community, to provide coordination, and to support discussions to take place – and to create space for new leadership. An EDC Chair serves, and is first and foremost accountable to, our community. 

I believe that our community is at different stages of their journey with what has happened to the STLHE we remember and the EDC that is emerging. Your emails are welcome; my virtual door is open.

I am hopeful for the future of the emerging educational development community for at its core our community is about listening, questioning, and sharing. May we remember that our community is all of us, not use a select few.

With great sincerity, and hope,

Carolyn

P.S. If you would like more details, there are additional timelines and updates from EDC in the older post section of the website for EDC 2021 BudgetEDC Community Q+As, and More Information and Timeline of Events to Date.

Update: Visioning, Exiting and Logistics for the emerging EDC

The first EDC Community Meeting for visioning occurred on August 10th with a Padlet (PDF) and small group discussions. A community preference was indicated for a spring 2022 or July 2022 exit. A letter, as requested by STLHE, has been sent by the exiting team to the STLHE board. The date of the next EDC Visioning Meeting will be finalized soon.
 
At the end of August, the Exiting team reached out to STLHE to request a meeting, and are continuing to follow-up on the request.