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  Challenging Canadian Civil Liberties Association Members for Opposing Academic and Expression Freedoms at the University of Ottawa

COMMENTARY:

Challenging Canadian Civil Liberties Association Members for Opposing Academic and Expression Freedoms at the University of Ottawa

by Dr. Jeff Schmidt
Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Introduction and editorial comment by Stephen Lendman:

Denis Rancourt is a distinguished, tenured Professor of Physics, a recognized expert in his field, and an Environmental Science Researcher at the University of Ottawa, Canada.

Yet because of his activist position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he was unfairly fired and barred from campus on threat of arrest - a violation of his tenure, academic freedom, and beliefs about human rights and equal justice.

Author Jeff Schmidt wrote the following article and letter, calling on Canadian Civil Liberties Association board members to repudiate their organization's attack on a man to be honored, not vilified or abused.

Because of his activist position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, professor Denis Rancourt was unfairly fired and barred from campus on threat of arrest - a violation of his tenure, academic freedom, and beliefs about human rights and equal justice.

OTTAWA, 11 May 2010—Dr. Jeff Schmidt, author of Disciplined Minds: A Critical Look at Salaried Professionals and the Soul-battering System That Shapes Their Lives, has written individually to all 66 directors, executives and board members of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association to ask that they publicly distance themselves from their organization's recent attempt to justify the firing of dissident University of Ottawa physics professor Denis Rancourt. [1]

Schmidt found it odd that a civil liberties organization would seek to justify the silencing of a dissident -- and do so without conducting any investigation -- until he learned that the head of the organization, General Counsel Nathalie Des Rosiers, had played a direct role in the firing. Des Rosiers was the university's vice president for governance last year and remains on the university payroll (2009 salary: $182,500.08).

Des Rosiers responded to Schmidt [2], arguing that she shouldn't be held responsible for silencing Rancourt, because she was just doing her job: "As VP governance, I had the job of requesting compliance with University's decisions, including the suspension from campus, and did so." Physically removing Rancourt from campus was the first step in his dismissal. Des Rosiers also defended CCLA's decision to accept as fact, without hearing from Rancourt, the university's accusations against Rancourt and its explanation of why it fired him. Despite the toll that such apparently unfair behavior by CCLA could take on the organization's reputation, Des Rosiers told Schmidt that she does not intend to resign "at this stage."

Schmidt, a physicist, was outraged that CCLA was willing to stab a dissident in the back to protect its director. His letter asks the organization to investigate Rancourt's firing and Des Rosiers's role. It is appended below and posted elsewhere [1]. Schmidt asked each CCLA member to answer individually so that their positions could be made public.

CCLA board member Janet Keeping, who is president of the Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership, responded to Schmidt's letter. [3] She admitted that Rancourt's firing may raise civil liberties issues, but she said that CCLA should not look into the matter, despite its director's admitted participation in silencing Rancourt.

Most board members, however, shamefully acceded to CCLA's backstabbing through their silence. A list of those members appears below.

Rancourt had called for Des Rosiers' resignation from CCLA, based on eight professional decisions of Des Rosiers while she was an executive officer at the University of Ottawa, alleged to be contrary to protecting civil liberties. [4]

References

  1. Jeff Schmidt’s letter to all CCLA members
  2. Nathalie Des Rosiers’ response to Schmidt
  3. Janet Keeping’s response to Schmidt
  4. Denis Rancourt’s call for Des Rosiers’s resignation from the CCLA



Subj: For The Hon. Edward Broadbent - CCLA matter
Date: 4/18/2010 9:27:27 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: jeffschmidt@alumni.uci.edu
To: mail@ccla.org

Civil liberties organization director helped to silence university professor

To: The Hon. Edward Broadbent

Dear Edward,

Your name appears on a highly unusual letter from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association justifying the University of Ottawa's firing of a dissident physics professor.[1] It seems odd that a civil liberties organization would take that position -- and do so without conducting any investigation -- until one learns that the organization's director is working for the university (at $182,500.08 per year, 2009 salary) and played a direct role in the firing as the university's vice president for governance.[2][3]

As a physicist and educator, I followed professor Denis Rancourt's innovative teaching with great interest. He pioneered new ways of addressing the well-known problem that students commonly emerge from physics courses without grasping the concepts, no matter what grades they received. One of Rancourt's courses was so popular that it had to be held in the largest auditorium on campus. But his promotion of student activism and his outspoken criticism of undemocratic university practices drew the ire of administrators, who subjected him to an escalating series of repressive measures, such as taking away his large classes, and ultimately fired him.[4][5][6]

The university's pretext for firing Rancourt was that he gave all high grades in a small class for advanced physics students, and that the students didn't deserve those grades, something that Rancourt disputes. At every major university, there are professors who routinely give all high grades in such classes and are never even questioned about it, but Rancourt was fired for doing it one time in a 23-year teaching career. Freedom-of-expression advocates across North America see the grading issue as a pretext for getting rid of a dissident professor. Every independent party that has studied the case -- except for your organization -- has found the grading to be a false pretext.[6] Your organization, however, all-too-conveniently chose to accept the university's position as fact. Thus, CCLA refused to investigate Rancourt's firing and the role of CCLA director Nathalie Des Rosiers, because, in the words of CCLA board of directors chair John McCamus, "a university disciplining a professor for giving A+ grades to all of his students regardless of the merits of their work is not a matter that necessarily raises either academic freedom or civil liberties issues."[1]

I don't think that I will be the only one to see CCLA's position, as expressed in the letter on which your name appears, to be a poorly disguised excuse to avoid investigating the role of CCLA director Des Rosiers in the firing of Rancourt. I have seen an exchange of correspondence between Des Rosiers and Rancourt related to his firing that establishes that CCLA director Des Rosiers played a direct role, including in banning Rancourt from campus, from his campus radio show, from his cinema discussion series, and from working with his research graduate students. I have also seen documents and media reports that show CCLA director Des Rosiers, as the university's vice-president for governance last year, refusing to investigate a broad, three-year-long university campaign of covert surveillance targeting Rancourt, which the university revealed on 29 September 2009 in response to a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act request.[3][7]

Simply put, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association is willing to stab a dissident in the back to protect its director. I am going to publicize that unethical behavior, along with the names of any CCLA supporters who decline the opportunity to distance themselves from it. You may distance yourself from it simply by publicly asking your organization to replace its convenient summary judgment with due process, such as an independent investigation in which Des Rosiers recuses herself.

For me to believe that you take this matter seriously, I would need to hear from you, Edward, directly, not through an intermediary. Please, within two weeks, at least indicate if you will be responding. Your considered response can be posted on the various websites where I will be reporting this story.

Best wishes,

Jeff Schmidt
Author of Disciplined Minds: A Critical Look at Salaried Professionals and the Soul-battering System That Shapes Their Lives

cc: American Civil Liberties Union

References:

  1. Letter from Canadian Civil Liberties Association to Denis Rancourt, 25 February 2010
  2. Request from Denis Rancourt to all CCLA members, 11 November 2009
  3. Media report about Nathalie Des Rosiers posted by Canadians for Accountability, 27 February 2010
  4. Letter of protest from members of College and University Workers United, 28 February 2010
  5. Statement by Denis Rancourt about his dismissal (viewed more than 10,000 times on this web site alone)
  6. Academic Freedom website about Denis Rancourt's case
  7. Denis Rancourt's reports, and media links, about the University of Ottawa's 2006-2008 covert surveillance campaign

Jeff Schmidt lives in Washington, DC, and can be reached at jeffschmidt@alumni.uci.edu.

Jeff Schmidt's stories are republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.

 


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This story was published on May 11, 2010.
 

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