Firstly, I want to clear up a misconception about the supposed charity she was supporting. I was able to find out for which organization the bikini pictures were from a friend who knows the girl and chatted with her about the photo shoot. The pictures were for Unigirl Canada, a for-profit organization that takes photos of college and university girls to sell calendars with only 10% of the profits going to charity. From the organization's website, their self-stated goal is to "provide Canadian students with a sense of real-life beauty and offer young women across the country the necessary exposure to help them make it in the rough and tumble world of modeling." The charity portion, while admirable, is only marginally part of the organization's aims. At best, Unigirl Canada is an organization supporting the modeling careers of women with a portion of profits going to charity and at worst it is a business profiting from the bodies of young women (the girls don't get paid) that hides under the guise of charity. This is why I think writing "she took the pictures for charity" is highly misleading. This wasn't Red Cross; these were personal reasons for the photo shoot.
Secondly, I want to draw the distinction between the Dean's stated reason for suspending the team (misuse of the Student Design Centre (SDC) for an unauthorized photoshoot) and the likely underlying reason (he was stated as saying the incident was "denigrating to women" and described the bikini pose as a "setback" to the work the university has done to promote an open and welcoming environment for men and women).
Addressing the former, arguments against the Dean have focused on the fact that other groups (e.g. the photography club) have taken photos around campus without asking permission and therefore this photo shoot should have been allowed. I don't think this is very persuasive, given that the photos were for a for-profit competition (i.e. not for personal use only) and contained the Waterloo logo (on the car); these aspects distinguish the shoot from others. Ultimately, use of the SDC is a privilege granted by the university, not a right, and UW has the right to revoke the privilege for what it thinks is abuse.
Furthermore, to argue that no sponsors have publicly rallied against the photos is to be presumptuous that no sponsors had a problem with it. If I were a sponsor, why would I risk backlash by announcing it in public? It would be much easier to privately e-mail the Dean or to just withdraw my funding later. In the end, it comes down to professionalism. If the shoot were done in front of a co-op employer's logo for similar purposes without prior authorization, then the discipline would have been the same.
Next, I'd like to tackle the issues regarding the Dean's statements that the images were "denigrating to women". The responses to this statement can be categorized into two groups, depending on whether you thought the images were offensive or not (I think they were). Obviously if you thought the images were offensive then you feel the photo shoot was wrong, but I'm going to argue why, even if you don't think the images were offensive, the Dean's decision was the right one.
Before that, however, I want to briefly explain why I feel the images are offensive to women. I anticipate backlash for this because I am not a female engineer, but I'm merely expressing my opinion and speculating where I think the Dean is coming from. As both a brother, boyfriend and roommate to female engineers, I have seen how hard it is to maintain femininity in the profession. And I have definitely seen it from the other side, too; I've seen how male engineers can belittle a female engineer's accomplishments for the way she looks or criticize a female engineer for not dressing a certain way. I believe these attitudes stem from a fundamental lack of respect for women in engineering and that this lack of respect is reinforced by the objectification of women. When women are promoted as objects, it reinforces the notion that her worth is measured by her body instead of other aspects of who she is. As a result I feel that it is sad that this smart, talented girl felt it necessary to express her femininity in a way that reinforces this disrespect for women.
Whether you agree with the previous paragraph or not (and it's valid not to), I still think the Dean was right in implementing disciplinary action against the photo shoot. The faculty advisor to the team put it best when he wrote, "they failed to fully appreciate the ease with which these photos could be taken out of context". This lies at crux of the Dean's decision. I wish we lived in a time where a woman could be free to express her femininity without criticism, but unfortunately the reality is that we're not there yet. Nowhere is this more evident than in the lewd comments made from anonymity on the news articles. The first one I read was along the lines of, "Which of the guys on the team must she have slept with to be on it?" which is not only disgusting but typifies the environment we still live in. If you must express your feminism by posing in a bikini next to a car for your own personal reasons, at least don't draw in the university and the sponsors into your decision.
Finally, the harshest criticism of the Dean has been his response to suspend the entire team rather than just the members involved. This I acknowledge is debatable and I support less than his reasoning for the discipline. That said, it once again speaks to the professionalism that UW is trying to maintain. There are very few workplaces I can think of where you could set up a photo shoot of a girl in a bikini posing with the company's and partners' names without even asking for permission. It was definitely a momentary lapse in judgment, but arguing that "it was for a good cause" (it wasn't) or "that it wasn't a big deal" (I believe it was) doesn't mean that there shouldn't be repercussions. Given the stakes (the university's reputation) and the flimsiness of the defense, I'm not surprised the Dean threw the book at the team. He probably wanted to make it harsh enough that no one would think about doing something similar again; he e-mailed the entire faculty with the news, after all.
In conclusion, I just wanted to present the reasons why I support the Dean in his disciplinary decision. Given the backlash against the Dean and his actions, I felt at least someone should be arguing the other side. To me, this incident is a case where a student used university space for personal reasons without authorization and in a way that could be misconstrued and hurt the school's reputation; for this, she and everyone around her were made an example of to prevent further incidents.
In email response I got from the Dean, he had this response to add about the punishment being dealt to the whole team:
"On the last point of why punish the entire team , you got part of the reason. The other aspect relates to the concept of the teams as self governing units. The Faculty deals with them as teams and not as collection of individuals. The space in the SDC was allocated to the team and when the space was misused , the team's access to the space was withdrawn for a couple of months."