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 Canadian University Professor Fired for Criticising Israel

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PostSubject: Canadian University Professor Fired for Criticising Israel   Fri Apr 24, 2009 4:06 am

Statement By Denis Rancourt Regarding His Dismissal By The University Of Ottawa

I was fired by the University of Ottawa on March 31, 2009. I was fired
under the false pretext of having arbitrarily assigned high grades in
one course in the winter 2008 semester. All relevant documents, media
report links, letters of support, petitions, etc., have been made
public at http://rancourt.academicfreedom.ca/ .

In
order to fire me the university had to dispense with due process. In
the words of the professors' union's lawyer, my dismissal was "both a denial of substantive and procedural rights [...] and a contravention of the basic principles of natural justice."

Until
my firing I was for the whole of my 23 year career, a professor of
physics at the University of Ottawa. I was tenured and had occupied the
highest academic rank of Full Professor since 1997. I am recognized as
an expert in my profession and have taught over 2000 students.



Throughout
my tenure, my overriding goal has been to give my students the highest
quality of education, affording them the best possible means of
learning and understanding a sometimes difficult and daunting subject.
To achieve this I have researched pedagogy, conferred with professional
physics education researchers, and implemented many new teaching
techniques. I have developed several unique and very popular
undergraduate and graduate courses, including the Physics and the
Environment (Physique et environnement) course, the Science in Society
course, and a graduate interdisciplinary course in measurement and
characterization methods in science. The Science in Society elective
course had to be given in the largest auditorium on campus to
accommodate the registered and community participants. The Physics and
the Environment required course was considered one of the most
motivating courses in the Environmental Studies (ES) program: The
executive members of the ES Student Association have referred to me as
a "phenomenal teacher" and to the course as "extremely enriching ...
individualized ... empower[ing]" and as "creat[ing] a positive learning
environment where inspired students gained confidence and courage"
(Letter to the dean of science dated March 15, 2007).



I
have paired this teaching profile with a strong research effort,
receiving throughout my entire career some of the largest research
grants in the Faculty of Science. I have one of the highest scientific
impact factors (h-index) in the entire Faculty, with an h-index of 25.
To put this in perspective, my present scientific impact factor is more
than twice that of the dean of the Faculty of Science, 40% higher than
that of the present chairman of the physics department, 80% higher than
that of the present chairman of chemistry, and more than twice that of
the previous chairman of physics. In 2008, the Natural Sciences and
Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) reviewed my research and
renewed my grant through 2013. Such research success had been expected,
because I started my university career under the prestigious NSERC
University Research Fellow program, following a national competition
among newly sponsored university professors. In 2001, after I obtained
the largest NSERC Strategic Project Grant ever obtained in the Faculty
of Science, to study boreal forest lakes for five years, the university
put out full-page-width advertisements in the Globe and Mail, The Ottawa Citizen, Le Droit, and Silicon Valley North featuring me and my research group and entitled "Can you recognize Canada's university of the 21st century? Denis Rancourt, LSSE group" (LSSE
= Lake Sediment Structure and Evolution). I have supervised more than
80 junior research terms or degrees at all levels from post-doctoral
fellow to graduate students to NSERC undergraduate researchers. I have
been an invited plenary, keynote, or special session speaker at major
conferences nearly 40 times, an exceptional number by Faculty of
Science standards. To put this in perspective, many past and present
science department chairs and deans have never been a plenary or
keynote speaker at an international scientific conference.

No
reasonable person, and in fact so far not a single person or
organization who has examined the background of my dismissal, lends any
credibility to the university's claim that my grading in one course,
one year ago, is the real reason for its recent actions. How can a
disagreement about grading possibly justify ordering the university
police to remove a tenured professor from campus, banning him from
campus, assigning his graduate students to other faculty, firing his
postdoctoral research fellow, and summarily firing him without due
process?

The university's pretext for firing me is particularly
ironic given its Vision 2010 strategic plan, which states that the
university will "Support and recognize initiatives designed to
implement a range of new and diversified strategies for learning and
evaluation."


The lack of due process in the university's
recent actions is also alarming and is a threat to the principle of
tenure. The dean simply asserted that my grading was not part of my
teaching method and thereby circumvented a formal evaluation of my
teaching without my ever being heard by a committee of my peers, as
foreseen by the due process rules in place.



In recent
years, I have become an advocate of various reforms, all with the
purpose of making the University of Ottawa a stronger and better
institution. I have expressed concerns about university policy on such
issues as the Student Code of Conduct and Deaf-community access to
campus events. I have also been an outspoken advocate and practitioner
of greater democracy in the institution in:
- the choice of pedagogical method
- the development of the syllabus
- the choice of community service offerings
- the right to challenge established practice
- the selection of course content

and I have communicated my views on a variety of broad societal issues, including:
- environmental concerns
- professional ethics
- the Palestine-Israel conflict
- the influences of lobby groups and the media in our representative democracy

The
university's response to the concerns that I have raised has been to
attempt to silence me through a series of disciplinary actions based on
various false pretexts. All of these actions have either been
dismissed, abandoned by the university, rejected by an arbitrator, or
are heading to arbitration for likely rejection. The latest pretext
used by the university, the grading issue, will not be upheld, for
obvious reasons already determined by a previous arbitration award. The
June 2008 decision of arbitrator Michel G. Picher established that all
the pedagogical initiatives that I implemented in 2005, including
non-conventional grading as an integral part of the teaching method,
were under the purview of a professor's academic freedom [Endnote-1].

It
appears that among the real reasons for the university's attempts to
discipline me since September 2005 and for its recent most harsh
actions against me under President Allan Rock's mandate might be the
administration's opposition to my political views about the
Palestine-Israel conflict, which, starting in 2005, I have expressed in
articles, on radio, in my blog postings, at public venues, and in my
classes. In September 2005 the dean cancelled my Physics and the
Environment course following a complaint (regarding an email comment
about Zionism), channelled through the university's Canadian Studies
Institute director Pierre Anctil to the VP-Academic. A complaint
against an invited speaker in the course, Professor Michel Chossudovsky
- who spoke about Middle East geopolitics, from the Jewish Student
Association then gave rise to a sustained but failed attempt to
discipline me. In 2006 I invited two Canadian-Palestinian speakers to
address the class in my Science in Society course. This was followed by
a damning January-2007 editorial in The Ottawa Citizen and I was
subsequently removed from teaching all the first-year courses that I
had developed. The Ottawa Citizen is a CanWest newspaper and its
director is a member of the university's Board of Governors [Endnote-2].
CanWest Global Communications Corporation is a staunch advocate and
supporter of Israeli policy. In 2007 I criticized the university's
official position on the academic boycott of Israel on my
UofOWatch.blogspot.com blog. The repression against me intensified when
new university president Allan Rock, a staunch supporter of Israeli
policy [Endnote-3], arrived on the scene in July
2008. I was disciplined for the UofOWatch blog with an unpaid
suspension in September 2008, by a decision of the Executive Committee
of the Board of Governors (EBOG). The latter suspension was followed by
many more severe actions against me (see below) and is being used by
the university as an argument in my dismissal.

The university
became markedly more aggressive in its attacks against me after the
arrival of Allan Rock in July 2008. Whereas, previous disciplines that
started in 2005 were limited to letters of reprimand and of allegation
(all withdrawn or overturned), the arrival of former federal politician
and proven supporter of Israeli policy Allan Rock coincided with:
- my removal from all teaching
- a one-day suspension without pay for my blog critical of the university,
- an unannounced lockout from my laboratory actuated under false pretext,
- dismantling of my laboratory,
- my removal from my graduate students,
- reprisals and intimidations against my graduate students,
- university-imposed unilateral deregistration of my undergraduate research student,
- an unannounced firing of my research associate of 12 years,
- my suspension from all my duties,
- my physical barring from campus, including from my weekly campus radio show,
- a lockout from my office,
- my police arrest under a false claim of trespassing while hosting my regular weekly Cinema Academica event,
- public university statements defaming me, and
- my dismissal - allegedly for having assigned twenty three A+s in a combined fourth-year and graduate physics course.

The March 31st
university decision to dismiss me was itself tainted with
Israel-aligned political influence. The decision was made by the
Executive Committee of the Board of Governors (EBOG) with members Allan
Rock and Ruth Freiman present. I expressed my concern as follows, in my
March 31st supplementary brief that the university refused to receive:

----------------------start of quote from supplementary brief--------------------

"ETHICAL CONDUCT OF EBOG

From the "Code of Ethical Conduct and Responisbilities of Members of the BOG of the University of Ottawa":

2(b)
"undue influence: a Member has a private or personal interest
sufficient to impair, influence, or appear to influence, the objective
exercise of his or her official duties as a Member of the BOG."


5
Note: Members are required to declare and disclose potential conflicts
of interest. "A Member who has declared a conflict of interest shall
absent himself or herself during a discussion and vote in connection
with the conflict . . . ."


9 Responsibilities of Members:
(c) "be independent and impartial"
(d) "not be influenced by self-interest, outside pressure, political considerations or fear of criticism."
(e)
"not allow past or existing financial, business, professional, family
or social relationships or responsibilities to influence his or her
conduct or judgement"


Ruth Freiman is the wife of A.J.
Freiman, grandson of A.J. Freiman, the founding leader of the Zionist
Organization of Canada. Ms Freiman and her family have had a
long-standing close relationship with the pro-Israel community in
Ottawa and Canada. Ms. Freiman is herself a member of the Board of
Directors of the Hillel Academy, whose "core values" include
"appreciating the centrality of the State of Israel to Jewish identity"
and whose programmes are intended to instil a "connection to Israel."

My
criticism of Israel has been and remains an issue in disciplinary
proceedings before the EBOG [...]. According to the "Code" Ms. Freiman
has been obliged to declare her personal and family relationships to
pro-Israel organizations, which she has not done (see minutes of the
September 11, 2008, EBOG meeting, ...). Moreover, given these
relationships, she has been obliged to recuse herself from proceedings
against me. Whether or not her relationships have or will influence her
actions, they certainly constitute "undue influence" insofar as they
"appear to influence" her conduct, and her continued participation in
these proceedings is thus expressly prohibited by the "Code."

[...]

In
addition, A.J. Freiman was instrumental in setting up the University of
Ottawa's Centre for Canadian Jewish Studies with Pierre Anctil and
Seymour Mayne; Pierre Anctil played a role in my discipline case and
past arbitration related to the dean's cancellation of a 2005 course
[...]"

----------------------end of quote from supplementary brief--------------------

The
facts indicate that my dismissal has little to do with grading in one
course and is blatantly political. Such repression violates the most
fundamental principles underlying academia -- academic freedom,
professional independence and responsibility, and due process -- and is
a threat to the integrity of all universities.

It also appears
that the university's true objective, and a direct consequence of its
actions, in first suspending me and then firing me for motives based in
bad faith, is to end not only my employment, but also my career,
thereby causing me considerable personal losses in addition to
dissolution of my research group.

I call on all students,
academics, workers, and concerned citizens to protest the University of
Ottawa's political firing of me. Letters and petitions are being posted
at http://rancourt.academicfreedom.ca/ . These public protests will have an impact in the campaign to reinstate me.

Please sign the on-line petition at:
http://rancourt.academicfreedom.ca/petitions/online-petition.html
Denis Rancourt

[My
support committee, the Committee for the Defense of Education, can be
contacted at: claude.cde@gmail.com . The Chair of the committee is
psychology professor Claude Lamontagne.]

Background Information: media links, over one hundred letters of support, petitions, talks and events, etc., are at:
http://rancourt.academicfreedom.ca/

The on-line petition is at:
http://rancourt.academicfreedom.ca/petitions/online-petition.html

Interview from Rabble.ca:
http://www.rabble.ca/news/dismissing-critical-pedagogy-denis-rancourt-vs-university-ottawa
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PostSubject: Re: Canadian University Professor Fired for Criticising Israel   Fri Apr 24, 2009 4:07 am

[Endnote-1]:
Regarding academic freedom in Canada, consider the benchmark Statement
of Institutional Purpose (University of Toronto): "Within the unique
university context, the most crucial of all human rights are the rights
of freedom of speech, academic freedom and freedom of research. And we
affirm that these rights are meaningless unless they entail the right
to raise deeply disturbing questions and provocative challenges to the
cherished beliefs of society at large and of the university itself. It
is this human right to radical, critical teaching and research with
which the University has a duty above all to be concerned; for there is
no one else, no other institution and no other office, in our modern
liberal democracy, which is the custodian of this most precious and
vulnerable right of the liberated human spirit."

[Endnote-2]:
The March 31, 2008, issue of La Rotonde reported that The Ottawa
Citizen and the University of Ottawa had entered into a contract
agreement whereby the university named a campus space the "Ottawa
Citizen Terrace" (inaugurated in May 2006) in exchange for 1 million
dollars in free advertising over five years and "editorial support." A
second negative editorial against me was published in The Ottawa
Citizen on April 7, 2009, after my dismissal.

[Endnote-3]:
Allan Rock's ardent support for Israeli policy is evidenced both in his
political career and in his actions on campus as president at the
University of Ottawa: In 2004, under Martin's Liberal government and as
Canada's Ambassador to the UN, Allan Rock changed Canada's longstanding
foreign policy on Israel from abstaining on human rights resolutions
for Palestine to being one of the few countries in the World that vote
with the US and Israel against UN human rights resolutions for
Palestine. In July 2008 the media reported that Allan Rock participated
in a trip to Israel "partly financed by the Canadian Council for Israel
and Jewish Advocacy (CIJA)", along with five other Canadian university
presidents. The media reported that Mr. Rock's visit "yielded immediate
results" as "the University of Ottawa agreed to launch an exchange
program in law." After a few months in office, President Allan Rock
announced his plan in October 2008 for the University of Ottawa. This
plan included what he calls putting "Canada's University in the service
of the World". In explaining it to students on October 24, 2008, he
talked about exchange programs. When one student asked if Palestinian
students would be allowed to participate in the exchange programs with
Israel, Mr. Rock stated that he could not answer that. In the fall of
2008, the University of Ottawa chapter of the independent student-run
Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) took a principled stand
in line with its mission statement and refused to sponsor a Hillel
event due to that organization's stated unqualified support for Israeli
policy. Allan Rock responded by pressuring the student union (SFUO)
president to write a letter condemning OPIRG. A letter from the SFUO
president delineated the administrative relationships between the SFUO
and OPIRG and this letter was made public by Allan Rock on his
president's "Rock Talk" blog. Allan Rock also publicly stated that he
would look for an "administrative" mechanism to deny OPIRG student-levy
funding (which has been approved by a student referendum). In 2009 the
Rock administration banned a student poster announcing Israeli
Apartheid Week - a move widely criticized in some media such as the CBC
and in the student media. This type of interventions by a president of
the University of Ottawa in the affairs of student groups and
associations was unprecedented. It is consistent with the increased
political influences in recent years from pro-Israel-policy groups on
Canadian campuses - documented in the media, such as in this February
18, 2009, CBC-Ottawa radio report: http://cbc.ca/ottawa/media/audio/allinaday/20090220carleton.ram .

http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/21178
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