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McGill Reporter
April 5, 2001 - Volume 33 Number 14
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The following is an open letter recently sent to Chancellor Richard Pound and signed by 50 members of the Faculty of Engineering.

Dear sir,

It is my task, as one of the older members of the "McGill family," particularly that part known as the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, to write to you, as the titular head of the University, on my behalf and, I believe, that of many colleagues, to try to express to you both mine and their feelings over the loss of a highly liked and most respected and admired member, Al Malowany.

Since you probably did not know him, it is my purpose to write to you about Al and, at the end, to express my feelings of chagrin over a certain event, which clearly has become a source of great hurt and disappointment to many of our colleagues.

Al Malowany was a remarkable man who dedicated his life work to McGill. He was a three-time graduate, BEng in 1959, MEng 1962 and PhD in 1967. I was proud to count him as one of my students in the 1950s and later his daughter Morie Eve, BEng 1987, MEng 1989, as well.

Al's wife, Evelyn (Rocque), MSCA 1983, is the director of nursing at the Montreal Children's Hospital. In this context, the term McGill family takes on a very special meaning.

Starting as a graduate student research associate, Al served McGill continuously for 30 years, duly progressing to the rank of professor.

In the beginning of the "high technology era," he quickly recognized the importance of the coming impact of computers on society and his work constituted a major contribution in this area over a wide range of activities.

Al Malowany was one of those who liked and was liked by people. He excelled in teaching, both at the graduate and undergraduate level, and at the same time was a prolific innovator and researcher.

He was equally adept at the theoretical and the practical levels and was responsible for the building up of the department's laboratories in his area. He was a tireless worker and a creative researcher, well recognized by this peers. Some numbers attest to all this.

During his career, he supervised about 150 final-year undergraduate major projects. He supervised about 80 postgraduate students, of whom about 10 were at the PhD level. His list of refereed publications and conference papers is well beyond 150. Al was also fully active in his relevant professional community as well as in his home community in Montreal.

It is highly probable that, had Al survived, he would have been proposed to be named an emeritus professor.

Al Malowany decided to take early retirement at the end of 1998, mainly in order to be with his family, particularly his two grandchildren. This was not to be.

Toward the end of last year he became seriously ill with cancer and died on March 13 this year. The funeral service was on Monday, March 19, and the Church of St. Monica's was full. There were two eulogies, one by Professor Frank Galiana and another by Dr. Elaine Tam, one of Al's former graduate students, who flew in from California to be present.

And now to come to the point of this letter:

The McGill flag was not at half mast.

Why is it that such a singular sign of disrespect by the University to one of its own distinguished members could have happened?

Several people in the department and in the faculty attempted to persuade the appropriate administrative unit to arrange for the flag to be lowered. They were confronted by the bland retort that "the flag is not to be lowered in the case of a (sic) "retired employee." This characterization is in itself an affront, a form of grave disrespect to the person and represents a regrettable misunderstanding at the administrative management level of what a University is all about.

What happened was clearly a case of institutional "human system failure," and that regrettably at a time when so much concern is being expressed about morale. It happened at a moment when many people were overwhelmed by a sense of deep grief -- and their "home institution" failed them.

I believe that many people have been profoundly affected and offended by this regrettable, unfortunate administrative gaffe and I feel strongly that some form of remedial action is needed -- minimally, at least an apology to the family of the deceased. I would advise not to try to hide behind the weak excuse of "administrative policy," -- that would only compound the offence.

I have shown this letter to a number of colleagues and they have asked to append their signature, in support.

Tomas J. F. Pavlasek,
Professor Emeritus Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

We invited Secretary-General Victoria Lees to respond.

To the editor:

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to Professor Pavlasek's letter.

It was not my good fortune to know Professor Malowany, but from Professor Pavlasek's letter I realize he was much esteemed by the Faculty of Engineering and that the staff in that faculty are grieving the loss of a colleague and friend.

The University's policy regarding the lowering of the University flag, which is now many decades old and which can be found in the Administrative Handbook and on the website of the Secretariat, states that:

"The flag is lowered to half-mast to mark the death of members of the University community: any serving member of the University staff, whether academic or non-academic; any student currently registered at the University; current members of the Board of Governors (including emeritus governors); emeritus professors; and honorary graduates with close connections to McGill."

A notable quality of the McGill policy is its inclusiveness: we lower the flag to mourn the passing of any member of our very special community, be they carpenters, full professors, secretaries, or first-year undergraduates.

The flag is lowered for those with emeritus appointments (they have a lifetime position at the University), but not for those who have retired or left the University.

The death of retired professors is marked in another way, by the reading, first at Faculty Council and then in Senate, and into the minutes of Senate, of a eulogy on the life and contributions of the departed member of the academic staff, and the approval of a motion of condolence.

Both the eulogy and the motion of condolence are subsequently sent to the family.

Although it would be a beautiful gesture to lower the flag upon the death of retired academic or administrative and support staff, and upon the death of alumni, to do so would mean, alas, that the flag would be forever down, the gesture thereby soon becoming meaningless.

The Secretary-General is, according to the policy, responsible for its administration. My belief is that the University has created policy on the lowering of the flag for the same reason it has created policy on any number of matters: to ensure consistency and impartiality and to prevent idiosyncratic decisions from being made.

Although I apply the policy as generously and as sympathetically as possible, I do honour it. To do otherwise would be, I believe, an arrogation of authority in a sensitive matter that is of importance to us all.

Victoria Lees

To the editor:

In a recent article on China and international trade (Ventures in China; Feb. 22), political science professor Samuel Noumoff states that the issue of human rights should not enter into Canada-China trade talks. He also states that Canada is in no position to lecture China on human rights, citing the abject poverty under which our own native people live.

I agree with professor Noumoff that Canada's treatment of its native people has been reprehensible. However, I believe that it is our moral obligation to help the oppressed and persecuted, wherever and whoever they may be.

This obligation requires us to place human well-being above political, ethnic and cultural prejudices. This obligation also forces us to place social justice over economic interest.

Consequently, the total disregard that the Chinese government has towards human rights within China itself and in Tibet requires condemnation. Since China began its occupation of Tibet, over one million Tibetans have been murdered in a genocide that continues to this day. A small number of Tibetans have been able to escape to India, Nepal and Bhutan, where they are free to observe their culture and practice their religion.

China has begun an aggressive plan to eradicate the remaining vestiges of Tibetan culture by relocating millions of ethnic Chinese into Tibet. The cultural genocide will ensure that within a few generations, the "Tibetan problem" will once and for all be a fleeting memory for the Chinese leadership.

Sadly, the West is helping to finance this genocide. China enjoys a significant trade imbalance in its favour that helps maintain and advance its military infrastructure. Multinational corporations have lobbied hard to prevent the issue of human rights abuses in China and Tibet from being a topic at trade talks. The politicians have obliged by turning a blind eye to the oppression and persecution of the innocent.

The only way that China will be forced to deal with Tibet is if human rights is made an issue at trade talks. It will then be in China's own interest to deal with Tibet in a humane manner. However, as long as the international community puts profit above human dignity and freedom, the destruction of a vibrant people and their ancient culture will continue.

Barry Kewmar
BSc, McGill '93
Boston, MA

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