Forestry college cuts ties with former director who defended fired instructor
Gerald Redmond believes Rod Cumberland was dismissed for his views on glyphosate
Gerald Redmond, the former director of the Maritime College of Forest Technology who was still teaching at the school, was told Thursday his "services were no longer needed."
The decision comes less than 24 hours after Redmond publicly criticized the dismissal of a well-known instructor at the Fredericton-based college.
Rod Cumberland, a wildlife biologist, was fired on June 20. A letter from the college listed several reasons for the move, but Redmond told CBC News on Wednesday his former colleague's opposition to glyphosate is likely the "real reason."
The following morning, Redmond received a brief letter saying the college was severing ties.
"I wasn't overly surprised," Redmond said Thursday.
Redmond retired after 17 years at the school in 2017, but he had been teaching a few courses through the continuing education program as an independent contractor.
He said he felt pressure from the board of governors during his tenure as executive director to sanction Cumberland on several occasions for his outspokenness on the controversial herbicide used by the New Brunswick forest industry.
On Wednesday, Redmond said Cumberland should be reinstated and he reaffirmed that belief on Thursday.
"You know the college is a wonderful place and it has some really, really good people working there, and I don't want to see them jeopardized either in this controversy," Redmond said.
"But I'm also standing up for someone who I believe in and many, many other people too."
Redmond created a private Facebook Group — called Friends of "Rod Cumberland" — in support of his former colleague. Many graduates posted to the group, calling the firing "outrageous" and questioning the real reasons behind it.
The posts said Cumberland was a teacher who promoted a good work ethic, discipline and punctuality and that he was an ethical, thoughtful and caring instructor.
Calls for investigation
Redmond called on the provincial Department of Post-secondary Education, Training and Labour, which accounts for the majority of the school's funding, to launch a third-party investigation into Cumberland's dismissal. Green Party Leader David Coon made a similar call Wednesday.
The college declined to do an interview but sent a statement that said the reason for Cumberland's termination had nothing to do with his views on glyphosate.
It also accused Redmond of recently disclosing confidential information belonging to the college he obtained while executive director.
"This is a serious breach of his ongoing confidentiality obligations," the statement said. "The confidential information he disclosed was not contained in his comments to the media."
It didn't elaborate further on what the information might be or how Redmond breached his obligations.
Among the accusations against Cumberland listed in the letter are that he prevented students from attending his class because they were late, insisted that they remove their hats in class, and made disparaging remarks in the community about the college, its director and some fellow instructors.
The letter also said he engaged "in communication and a course of conduct, both at MCFT and in the community at large, that constitutes harassment and has caused embarrassment and damage to the reputation of MCFT."
Cumberland said he was surprised by the decision to fire him and is unclear on the college's reasoning.
"It doesn't make sense when you look at it on the surface," he said in an interview Wednesday.
Outspoken on glyphosate
The wildlife biologist and competitive lumberjack has spent 29 years working for the provincial Department of Natural Resources and the college.
After leaving government, he began publicly discussing the effects of glyphosate on New Brunswick's forests and, in particular, the deer population.
The dismissal letter said Cumberland undermined the content of a vegetation management seminar approved by the college. Cumberland said he was accused of deterring students from attending the seminar, adding that was never the case.
Tom Beckley, a professor in the forestry and environmental management department at the University of New Brunswick, has known both Cumberland and Redmond for many years. He said Cumberland sought his advice on what he could and could not say in the classroom.
Beckley said Cumberland knew there could be repercussions with his choice to not self-censor. He said speaking against the status quo in the forestry industry is often seen as "troublemaking" or "advocacy."
But he said debating clashing opinions is part of a post-secondary institution's mandate.
"I think conversations like that are exactly what we should be doing with our students, not telling them what the right answer is but also not hiding our own opinions," Beckley said.
Cumberland said he encouraged his students "to look at all the science" and critique his views.
"Look at what I'm saying, see if it's true or not," he said. "I think that's a wise thing to do [for] anything in life. Get all the facts before you make a decision."
The college, originally called the Maritime Forest Ranger School, was established as a co-operative venture of the New Brunswick and Nova Scotia governments and forest industries, according to the college's website.
Its Fredericton campus is on the grounds of the Hugh John Flemming Forestry Centre, also a co-operative venture of government agencies, educational institutions and industry associations.
With files from Catherine Harrop