Laurentian University accused of violating academic freedom

The Canadian Association of University Teachers says an investigation into Laurentian University in Sudbury found senior officials have routinely violated academic freedom.

Investigation conducted by the Canadian Association of University Teachers

The Canadian Association of University Teachers says an investigation into Laurentian University in Sudbury found senior officials have routinely violated academic freedom.

The association, known as CAUT, said an investigation committee was established following numerous complaints by faculty at the university.

David Robinson is the executive director at CAUT and based in Ottawa.

He said the committee began to investigate in January, 2015.

"Most of our investigations have been around one specific incident," he explained.

"In this case, it was a whole series of incidents that led to a number of allegations coming forward that involved academic freedom complaints, complaints that normal procedures and policies within the institutions weren't being followed, that some people were being targeted through quasi-disciplinary mechanisms, that grades were being changed without the approval of instructors — a whole litany of things."

Hiring practice 'pretty much unheard of'

Robinson said an example of one complaint was the changing of grades without the permission of the instructor. He said in one case, a grade in the 40s was changed to a grade in the 70s without going through a grade appeal.

He said another example that was 'troubling' were complaints about the hiring procedures.

"In this case, we had an incident or cases where the university contracted with an outside consultant for a faculty position hiring," he said.

"This is pretty much unheard of across the country. Consultants are often used to look for senior administrators, vice-presidents or deans, but for faculty members, relatively unheard of."

He said in one particular case, the consultant vetted all the applicants and recommended one to the hiring committee. Robinson said the hiring committee voted against the appointment, and then the dean overruled the decision.

The report by CAUT makes several recommendations, Robinson said, including calling on administration to reaffirm its commitment to academic freedom and additional training. He said another recommendation is to sensitize some of the senior officials about the importance of academic freedom.

"Academic freedom really is a foundational value of the university," he said. "Any institution worthy of a name 'university' has to respect it."

The president of the Laurentian University Faculty Association said he's pleased the CAUT took the concerns seriously.

"We're hopeful and I'd like to have some faith in the administration that they'll take it seriously and act accordingly," Jim Ketchen said.

Concerns raised already addressed: university

In a written statement, Laurentian University said the report by CAUT does not pertain to academic freedom.

It said the report deals with three areas, including two that relate to alleged "interference in collegial governance" and "improper use of disciplinary measures". The university said it honours its collective agreement in such matters and concerns have been addressed through the appropriate measures, including grievance, arbitration or the collective bargaining process.

The university adds the third area is "failure to maintain faculty complement." Laurentian stated it has among the lowest student-faculty ratios in the country.

Laurentian also stated it supports the principles of academic freedom and collegial governance. It said faculty members who believe that their academic freedom is violated have the right to file a grievance under the collective agreement, and added most of the concerns raised in the CAUT report have already been settled through the grievance process.


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