June 30: Professor's academic freedom violated — & other letters to the editor

RE: Professor’s academic freedom violated, report finds

RE: Professor’s academic freedom violated, report finds

Years ago, I read a report in Postmedia (in the Ottawa Citizen; nothing in the Whig-Standard) about Dr. Shirkhanzadeh’s allegations of academic misconduct against a now retired and deceased individual. 

When I contacted Dr. Shirkhanzadeh and a colleague to find out more, I received copies of four different articles by this individual and his “collaborators”. 

Except for the primary investigator, the four articles had different co-authors, different titles, different abstracts, all of which would lead a person to think that these were four different publications. 

This would also impress referees on a scientific committee reviewing grant applications, if all they did was count publications rather than reading the actual papers. And who has time for that? 

But the bodies of the papers, the introductions, the methods, the results (including the figures) and the discussions, were identical. As I phrased it to the Post Media reporter — and this comment was published — even Helen Keller would have decided that these were duplicate publications. 

The Provost’s comments reflect a commitment to procedural minutiae rather than something crucial to the purpose of a university. The Queen’s website on academic integrity quotes Sophocles: “Rather fail with honour than succeed by fraud”.

In my career at Queen’s, I occasionally uncovered cheating by students and assigned the appropriate penalties. After the failure of the University to discipline this now deceased academic, I wondered why any student would accept a penalty for any transgression when flagrant improprieties committed by that professor went unpunished — but the whistleblower was harassed.

After the death of the individual who Dr. Shirkhanzadeh claimed had published duplicate papers (and much worse), the Queen’s flag flew at half mast. 

The flag should’ve been at half-mast to mourn the death of the university’s commitment to academic integrity.   

Steve Iscoe, retired professor of biomedical and molecular sciences 

 

RE: Professor’s academic freedom violated, report finds

Jacob Rosen’s report on “Professor’s Academic Freedom Violated” should be nominated for a journalism prize. But Rosen’s report was too narrowly focused on Queen’s threats against one professor. 

The injustice and damage are much, much wider. Blocking exposure of research misconduct is protecting research misconduct, and that is promoting research misconduct. I am a retired professor, with my MA and PhD degrees awarded by Queen’s in the 1980s. 

My degrees, and all degrees awarded by Queen’s, are degraded and devalued if Queen’s is known to protect and promote research misconduct. The reputations of all Queen’s professors become tainted, especially in the medical science fields where research integrity has the highest priority. Modern society is built on science, and corrupted science can kill.

To read that Queen’s is dismissing CAUT’s report on academic freedom reminded me of apartheid regimes dismissing UN reports on racism, or torture regimes dismissing Amnesty International reports on human rights: they always say “no jurisdiction”. Of course, CAUT has jurisdiction on issues of academic freedom. 

CAUT can be objective; whereas, Queen’s and QUFA both have conflicts-of-interest. Queen’s should thank Dr. Shirkhanzadeh and thank CAUT. Queen’s should take prompt actions to correct this particular case and should create procedures that prevent and punish research misconduct and that safeguard those who expose research misconduct.

These events and Queen’s may reflect societal trends for high officials to disregard science and to disregard their duties and responsibilities. We see this in the news almost daily, concerning environment, census data, sexual harassment, expense accounts, etc. 

Any Queen’s administrators or trustees who disregard research integrity and standards of science should resign and move to institutions that do not care about research and science. Queen’s house needs cleaning. Who will do it? 

Floyd Rudmin, retired professor of psychology, 
University of Tromso, Norway

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.