Indigenous education prof calls for systemic change after UBC allegedly deletes her interim reports

Editors’ note: Since this story was published, questions have arisen around the validity of Dr. Wolf’s Indigenous identity. The headline of this story has been changed to reflect this. Read this for more information.

Dr. Amie Wolf, an Indigenous adjunct professor in the Faculty of Education, is alleging the university deleted administrator-approved interim reports of students that were transferred out of her class last fall.

Wolf alleges that, in a January 14 meeting with Associate Dean, Teacher Education Dr. Marianne McTavish, Teaching Education Office Director John Yamamoto and a representative from the President’s Office, McTavish told Wolf that she had deleted the interim reports on file and asked Wolf to do the same. Wolf said no.

The President’s Office had allegedly received an email from a parent of one of the students. Wolf wrote in an email — sent to The Ubyssey by two sources — that she was told by McTavish that a parent wrote “an anonymous letter complaining about [her] ‘excessively harsh’ feedback on a Discussion Board, which some of you found to be ‘publicly humiliating.’” Wolf said that she was told the parent feared for their child’s future employment opportunities.

The university did not confirm or deny the existence of this letter.

Wolf teaches two sections of EDUC 440, Indigenous Education in Canada, a required class for all teaching candidates in the faculty. She said that 12 students in the class were transferred to a different professor’s section after conversations by both Wolf and the students with the Teaching Education Office (TEO) due to “unprofessional” and “hostile” behaviour in class.

“I have never had 12 students work together behind my back and refuse to participate in class activities and refuse to communicate with me in order to resolve difficulties,” Wolf said in an interview.

The university did not comment on specifics, but did confirm that there was a change to these students’ enrolment.

As part of the transfer, Wolf wrote interim reports outlining her concerns with the group of students. She said that Yamamoto helped her write the reports — a claim the university did not comment on — and that these reports stay in a student’s file and are part of their evaluation for a teaching certificate.

The university, however, said that these reports were simply interim — meaning once the report is considered fulfilled, it would be removed from the student’s file.

“Interim reports are used for a variety of reasons, such as when student [sic] move from one section to another, or when instructors have specific concerns pertaining to students enrolled in a Pass/Fail course. When these matters are addressed and the student has passed the course, the report is considered fulfilled and no longer applicable or part of the student’s file,” Matthew Ramsey, director of university affairs at UBC Media Relations, wrote in a statement.

“At no time are interim reports forwarded to the President’s Office or to any government body outside of the University,” he added.

The teacher education program policies posted on the TEO website outline that instructors may issue interim reports if they have concerns about a student’s progress in a course. Interim reports outline concerns and recommendations and allow for a student to address those concerns.

“Copies of interim reports will be filed in the Teacher Education Office,” the website reads.

The interim reports

In one student’s interim report obtained by The Ubyssey, the report says that the student — whose name was redacted — demonstrated an unwillingness to communicate openly with Wolf, negatively affected the classroom climate and seemed to exhibit characteristics of “intolerance.”

Two sources, including Wolf, confirmed that all of the interim reports contained the same content, with the names simply switched out.

“At best, choosing to leave my class, rather than making an effort to understand what I am actually teaching and why, reveals an intolerance for ‘otherness.’ At worst, it points to the possibility of unconscious and unacceptable biases, the reinforcement of white supremacy and/or Indigenous specific racism and misogyny,” Wolf wrote in the report.

“This intolerance shows a lack of compassion and thoughtfulness that will not serve Indigenous students in a classroom setting.”

Wolf recommended that the student reflect on the concerns presented in the report, submit a two-page reflection of their class experience to pass and commit themselves to Indigenous Education Development opportunities.

She said in an interview that she provided these recommendations and did not fail the students because she wants them to learn.

“I’m still going to support their learning because that’s my job,” Wolf said.

Wolf said that both Yamamoto and Dr. Shannon Leddy, the EDUC 440 course coordinator, signed off on the interim reports. A copy of one report appears to include their signatures.

Ramsey wrote that the university is currently reviewing this matter, and would not comment further on any allegations for privacy reasons.

In an email thread sent to The Ubyssey, Wolf wrote to Yamamato on January 15, 2021, saying she felt “censored” and “erased.”

“To be told by the President’s Office to erase these reports and to never speak of them is censorship. To be told, this is just my ‘perspective’ is paternalistic and patronizing. I am the expert in this subject, and I retain the right to know what I know and to say what I see. I’m the expert, not them,” she wrote to Yamamato, asking for support and a guarantee of continued employment, adding that she depends on her job at UBC to pay her rent.

Yamamato replied on January 17, thanking her for her email and writing that the TEO had done its “utmost to try and acknowledge all parties involved, and for the most part we have felt our actions have led to an acceptable resolution to a difficult situation.” He wrote that he could not guarantee Wolf employment.

Yamamoto appears to acknowledge the existence of the anonymous letter Wolf said was the reason for the deletion of the files.

“It is extremely unfortunate that the anonymous letter was sent to the President’s Office, which has triggered this latest set of meetings and discussions,” he wrote.

When asked about the anonymous letter, Ramsey declined to comment on behalf of the university.

Yamamoto also appears to describe the meeting that Wolf said occurred on January 14. He wrote that “the spirit of this meeting was not meant to censor [her].”

He said that he believed students had addressed the report recommendations and that the reports were no longer needed, the reason she was asked to delete them.

“As for the anonymous letter itself, I tend to agree with you that it is a cowardly way to express concerns; however, regardless of the nature of this type of communication, it is a basic understanding that a certain level of response is always required in these instances. Hence our discussion with you to make sure that you were informed of the letter and its concerns, as well as given a chance to respond,” he wrote.

“I believe that our hope is to give a general response to the President’s Office to state that we have looked into this situation and that we are sufficiently comfortable that all concerns have been addressed. I believe that our latest meeting with you was held to confirm these points, and nothing else.”

The Ubyssey reached out to the university for comment on this email, but Ramsey said that privacy issues prevents the university from commenting further.

In an email to students after the meeting with McTavish, Wolf wrote that “none of [them] should be teachers” and alleged that the students’ behaviour and the anonymous letter “continues to confirm that you and your families and this colonial post-secondary institution are racist, white supremacists who are invested in Indigenous erasure, disempowerment and censorship.”

Hope for change

Wolf was formerly an adjunct professor at the Sauder School of Business and started working for the Faculty of Education as an adjunct in summer 2020. She said that the university hired her back to educate teacher candidates on how to teach Indigenous studies.

She believes the interim reports were not fulfilled, and the premature erasure of them undermines her authority as a faculty member.

“When you put it out to a student population that a professor doesn’t have the right to assess their students and the Teacher Education Office is going to erase those assessments, you remove all support from that person,” Wolf said. “You take away their dignity, you take away their stated position and you remove any authority that they have.”

Wolf expressed skepticism that the university would actually fulfil the goals it set for itself in the Indigenous Strategic Plan, UBC’s policy launched last year to guide its approach to Indigenous affairs.

Wolf is asking for the interim reports to be reinstated and to be taken seriously going forward, so the faculty can see if the students have fulfilled the recommendations in the report.

She’s also asking for an apology from the administration saying they’ve made an error, and for greater change.

Wolf said any letter written about her should not be anonymous, and that teaching evaluations shouldn’t be considered in her employment status. Wolf said course evaluations don’t work in classes on decolonization.

“Decolonization education requires privileged students to give up their centrality,” Wolf said. “That can make people angry.”

Additionally, Wolf is asking for a one-time payout for the emotional labour she’s endured, and for “defamation and humiliation,” and an employment guarantee.

“I want to know that I have two sections to teach next term and indefinitely,” she said. “I need help from my students. I need help from faculty. I need help from every ally in every corner of the earth to tell the institution that they need to change,” Wolf said.

This article has been updated to add in information from the TEO website about interim reports.