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June 9, 2003


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Stephen Hui 604-291-3597


Prof’s rejection ‘tainted’: report Investigation finds senior SFU officials violated David Noble’s academic freedom, historian to sue university Stephen Hui News Editor Simon Fraser University violated a controversial historian’s academic freedom when it denied his appointment to an endowed chair, says an unreleased report obtained by the Peak. An investigation by the Canadian Association of University Teachers has found that SFU administrators mishandled the appointment process in the case of David Noble, who sought the J.S. Woodsworth chair in the humanities. The results of the investigation are detailed in a report of the CAUT academic freedom and tenure committee dated March 28 and labelled “strictly confidential — not for circulation.” “A relatively straightforward appointment was inappropriately derailed after violations of SFU procedure, violations of Dr. Noble’s academic freedom, and interventions by SFU officials that showed bias or reasonable apprehension of bias,” the report says. SFU’s department of humanities recommended David Noble, a professor of history at York University and a leading critic of the commercialisation of universities, be appointed to the Woodsworth chair in 2001. According to the report, senior officials intervened to block his appointment even before the department made its recommendation; their actions ultimately resulted in its rejection. “We have found bias or reasonable apprehension of bias on the part of officials all the way up to the president of the university,” the report says. On January 23, 2001, SFU president and vice chancellor Michael Stevenson wrote a notorious email message to provost and academic vice president John Waterhouse. “I touched base with [dean of arts] John Pierce this afternoon,” Stevenson wrote. “I would be glad to discuss in detail, but I’d avoid this appointment like the plague.” According to the report, “The process became tainted because each of these parties knew the president’s strongly stated opposition to appointing Dr. Noble before they saw all the evidence and made their own recommendation.” The report recommends that SFU offer Noble a five to ten year appointment to the endowed

chair with tenure. “The fundamental issue raised by this report, to my mind, is how a university’s commercial involvement compromised the integrity of academic process and undermined academic freedom,” Noble said in his formal response to the report. “In my view this issue also concerns the appearance of conflict of interest of individuals, and the appearance of conspiracy to subvert the process and conceal the act.” Stevenson and Waterhouse were unavailable for comment. Pierce’s office did not return a telephone call. “We have been led to believe that Dr. Noble is intending to bring litigation against the university,” said Gregg Macdonald, executive director of the president’s office at SFU, over the telephone. “Should that prove to be the case, we would be ill-advised to be out commenting on a report whose authenticity and authorisation has not been made clear by the CAUT.” Noble said he plans to launch a multimillion dollar lawsuit this month. “This has been going on for almost two and a half years,” said

Stephen Hui / The Peak

Now that the results of an investigation into allegations surrounding the rejection of his appointment have been leaked to the media, David Noble plans to launch a multimillion dollar lawsuit in the next few weeks. Noble, speaking over the telephone. “It’s been kind of a roller coaster, but finally we’re in the stretch.” Clement Apaak, co-ordinator of the Teaching Support Staff Union and a student senator at SFU, said he was not surprised by the report’s findings. “I thought it was unfair what

Simon Fraser University quashed historian David Noble’s appointment to the J.S. Woodsworth chair in the humanities in 2001.

was done to Noble and I think it is within his rights to sue the university,” Apaak said in an interview at the Burnaby Mountain campus. “It’s unfortunate that the university’s going to be losing money because of somebody’s power struggle.” In telephone interviews, CAUT officials expressed surprise and dismay that the report had been leaked to the media. “Our process is that we produce the report, it’s sent in complete confidence to the university and to the individual involved so they can prepare a comment, and then we explore whether or not there’s any possibility of resolving the issues before it’s published,” said James Turk, executive director of the CAUT. “Our intention was to publish it in September.” CAUT president Vic Catano recently travelled to SFU and met with administrators to discuss appointments policies and the Noble complaint. “Those meetings were very productive in trying to resolve some of the issues surrounding this case,” said Catano, who is the chair of the department of psychology at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax. “The process was ongoing and I think the release of this report is premature if it is the accurate, official report.” Drew Parker, president of the SFU Faculty Association, said the union was “not really in-

volved” with the Noble complaint at the present. “There are some procedural matters that are inconsistent in policies — just sort of some gaps,” Parker said over the telephone. “We’ve been working quite constructively with the administration to tighten up the wording in that and make sure that procedures are clear, well understood, and straight forward.”

“It’s been kind of a roller coaster, but finally we’re in the stretch.” David Noble, professor of history, York University One of the 12 referees Noble provided to SFU in support of his candidacy was Noam Chomsky, a distinguished professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Although his academic freedom has not been violated as Noble alleges his own has been, Chomsky “very definitely” sees commercialisation as a threat to academic freedom. “It may sound surprising on the surface, but universities — my own, for example — have been more free and open under Pentagon funding than private funding,” Chomsky said via email. “And there are quite good reasons for that.”

Prof’s rejection 'tainted': report  

The Peak, June 9, 2003

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