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Targeting Academic and Speech Freedoms: The Case of Canadian Professor Denis Rancourt
Friday, 2 April 2010
Rancourt called the actions against him an indicator of emergent fascism, which is the state of total and unchallenged control of every facet of life by corporate masters of the economy. Independent thought is eliminated and its influence rendered foreign. America is already in an advanced state, Canada close behind.
Section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a constitutional bill of rights, states:
According to Yale Law Professor and constitutional scholar Thomas I. Emerson (1908 - 1981):
With no free expression right, all others are at risk at a time dissent is called a threat to national security, terrorism, or treason. Howard Zinn called it "the highest form of patriotism," and according to Voltaire, "I may disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
In a post-9/11 climate, it's more than ever endangered, academic tenure affording no protection; to wit, Professor Denis Rancourt's University of Ottawa (U of O) March 31, 2009 firing, ostensibly for pedagogical reasons, but as he said:
On rancourt.academicfreedom.ca, he states:
Rancount's "critical pedagogy" focuses on learning, not regurgitating professorial views for high grades, or as he said in a January 5, 2009 letter to Marc Jolicoeur, Chairman of the University Board of Governors:
In 2007, after criticizing the university's position on academically boycotting Israel, repression against him intensified after Allan Rock became president on June 3, 2008 - a former Canadian politician, UN ambassador, and staunch Israeli supporter.
On his March 8 U of O Watch blog posting, Rancourt said Rock, as UN ambassador, "abruptly changed Canada's longstanding policy on Israel," henceforth "vot(ing) against UN resolutions for Palestinian human rights along with the US and Israel," contrary to virtually all other UN members save for a Pacific island or two.
As U of O president, he was "reprimanded by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association for banning a student poster about Israeli Apartheid Week, (then) strong-armed a student union president into distancing the (organization) from the student-run Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) which had expressed a principled stance towards Israel."
In September 2008 at Rock's urging, the Executive Committee of the Board of Governors (EBOG) suspended Rancourt, recommended dismissing him in December, barred him from campus, then fired him in March 2009.
A University of Ottawa physics professor, he was tenured, a full professor since 1997, a recognized expert in his field, and a "phenomenal teacher" according to members of the Environmental Studies Student Association for providing an "extremely enriching individualized....empower(ing and) positive learning environment where inspired students gained confidence and courage."
How could his pedagogical approach and grading methods "justify ordering the university police to remove (and ban him) from campus, (assign) his graduate students to other faculty, fir(e) his post doctoral research fellow, and summarily fir(e) him without due process?"
It's "particularly ironic given its Vision 2010 strategic plan (stating) that the university will "Support and recognize initiatives designed to implement a range of new and diversified strategies for learning and evaluation."
Rancourt wanted a stronger, more democratic U of O - better pedagogically with a new syllabus, community service offerings, course content, and right to challenge established practices.
He was also vocal on environmental concerns, professional ethics, lobbying, media influence, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In response, university officials tried to silence him, finally by dismissal, the same disposition for others like Bard College's Joel Kovel, De Paul University's Norman Finkelstein, and University of Colorado's Ward Churchill, each distinguished academicians, scholars, and outspoken critics of injustice.
Until his July 2007 firing, Churchill was an award-winning tenured professor. He sued, prevailed, was reversed at the district court level, appealed, and was supported by National Lawyers Guild, Center for Constitutional Rights, Society of American Law Teachers, Latina/O Critical Legal Theory, and Law Professors and Attorneys through amici curiae filings to reverse the lower court's ruling. In summary of argument comments, they stated:
It holds for Canada under constitutionally protected freedoms, Rancourt saying tenure produces obedient academics who won't challenge injustices in society or their university environs. He wrote:
In a detailed February 23, 2009 brief (five weeks before his firing), he said university officials used a "fast track process" against him, wouldn't engage in dialogue, and refused to evaluate him by a committee of his peers to facilitate his firing:
Freedom of information (FOI) documents showed intense illegal university surveillance, "including an extensive use of a student spy and the hiring of professional reporters to produce commented transcripts of my academic and conference talks at other universities."
Methods used included:
Rancourt concluded that "This may be the first time in North American academic history that a university administration (through its highest legal office) hire(d) a student to practice extensive covert surveillance of a professor and (other) students" in violation of Canadian and international law.
Part VI - Invasion of Privacy under the Criminal Code of Canada prohibits "private communication" intercepts from one person to another within Canada. Provision 184(1) states:
Provision 193(1) prohibits disclosure of illegal intercepts, subjecting offenders to imprisonment for up to two years.
Article 17 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states:
Article 19 states:
FOI evidence also revealed interference to prevent Rancourt from reserving an auditorium, secure computing services, participate in campus demonstrations, enlist students for research projects, accept new graduate students, negotiate his teaching load, propose new courses and curriculum changes among other things. In addition, since 2005, measures "included a multitude of tenuous and invalid disciplinary attempts and interventions including and not limited to....the Dean barging into" his....Physics and the Environment course to close it down."
In 19 prior U of O teaching years, he hadn't once encountered discipline. Thereafter it became intense, malicious, repeated, and wholly unjustified, culminating in his dismissal because of Allan Rock's collusion with Israeli Lobby efforts to "enforce (its) ideological alignment within the University...."
As a result, "At a snap (December 10, 2008) meeting, (he) was effectively summarily dismissed, physically barred from campus, and escorted off the premises by university police" for bogus reasons. Then on January 23, 2009, he was "arrested, cuffed and removed from campus by Ottawa Police" by order of the university administration, "and charged with trespass to property - while hosting (his) weekly Cinema Academica event."
In a December 2009 activisteacher.blogspot.com posting, he called the actions against him "an indicator of emergent fascism. (It's) not a distant historical anomaly. It is an optimum end-state towards which large-scale disruptive and predatory economic hierarchies tend. It is the state of total and unchallenged control of every facet of life by corporate masters of the economy, achieved by an optimized balance of force and a designed mental and social environment. Independent thought is eliminated (and its) influence rendered foreign."
America is already in an advanced state, Canada close behind toward a dark future, prevented only by "authentic (determined) rebellion."Letters Supporting Professor Rancourt
Ones from U of O included:
Adjunct Professor Valerie Whiffen, School of Psychology, calling the university's action "an appalling and unprecedented lack of respect for both academic freedom and due process" in urging his immediate reinstatement.
Department of Criminology Adjunct Professor Robert Gaucher calling the attack on academic freedom "extremely upsetting....I am appalled by it....If a colleague with such outstanding credentials can be treated (this way), then the academic freedom of all of us is threatened."
Instructor and doctoral candidate Claire Delisle, Department of Criminology, expressing concern about the university "exercising rigid control over the staff and the students" and for subverting academic freedom.
Ones from other universities included:
University of Manitoba Mineralogy and Crystallography Professor, Frank C. Hawthorne, calling Rancourt "an outstanding scientist (among the very) few of his calibre, (a man) the community can ill afford to lose...."
Ryerson University Professor Emeritus Helmut Burkhardt calling the action against him "totally inadmissible...."
Drexel University Assistant Professor of Sociology Mary Ebeling calling Rancourt's firing "truly shocking (for having) violated, with impunity, the very principle of academic freedom" U of O claims to uphold.
Babes-Bolyai University (Romania) Faculty of Economics and Business Administration Assistant Edmond Nawrotzky-Torok saying he was "appalled by the violation of academic freedom and the totalitarianism which seems to characterize a university that allegedly stands for 'freedom of expression in an atmosphere of open dialogue, enabling critical thought.' "
University of Western Ontario Professor Emeritus Arthur Jutan, Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering, said:
University of Calgary Associate English Professor, Aruna Srivastava "express(ed) not simply dismay but shock that a university would adopt such heavy-handed tactics to eliminate (a colleague) whose opinions and ideas were (to some) abrasive and unpopular."
Guelph University & Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, University Professor Emeritus John McMurtry, described a similar "harrowing witch-hunt" he once endured, saying "It will be an enduring disgrace if this shocking administrator persecution is permitted to stand."
University of Lethbridge Professor of Globalization Studies, Anthony Hall, compared Rancourt's persecution "to a twenty-first century Canadian version of the Spanish Inquisition."
Others expressed their alarm and disgust as should we all in condemning assaults on academic and speech freedoms, democratic principles, and inalienable liberty in a free and open society.
Mark Twain called "irreverence....the champion of liberty and its only sure defense." Benjamin Franklin explained that "Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech." John Stuart Mill called the "evil of silencing the expression of an opinion....robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation...."
US Supreme Court William O. Douglas spoke for others in calling "Restriction on free thought and free speech....the most dangerous of all subversions....It is our attitude toward free thought and free expression that will determine our fate. There must be no limit on the range of temperate discussion, no limits on thought. No subject must be taboo. No censor must preside at our assemblies. (There must be no restraint against the right to) protest even against the moral code that the standard of the day sets...."
From the web site wewon'tbesilenced.com, "My free speech is not negotiable."
Nor are human and civil rights, social justice, and democratic freedoms, ones that tolerate no subversion of constitutionally guaranteed rights because the alternative is repugnant despotism.
Listen to Lendman's cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.
Mr. Lendman's stories are republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.
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Baltimore News Network, Inc., sponsor of this web site, is a nonprofit organization and does not make political endorsements. The opinions expressed in stories posted on this web site are the authors' own.This story was published on April 2, 2010.
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