Queen’s suspends professor for a month after insubordination investigation

University District

Shirkhanzadeh suspended for the third time by University administration, warned that further discipline may result in dismissal

An excerpt from the suspension letter recieved by Shirkhanzadeh from Queen's administration.
Credit: 
Supplied by Morteza Shirkhanzadeh

On June 29, Queen’s administration sent a letter to engineering Professor Morteza Shirkhanzadeh, asking him not to attend work or perform duties for a month. It’s the third time in a year he’s been suspended without pay.

On the morning of July 2, Shirkhanzadeh read the news via email from the newly-appointed Deputy Provost, Teri Shearer.

Also included on the correspondence were Dan McKeown, associate Vice-Principal (faculty relations) and Leslie Jermyn from the Queen’s University Faculty Association (QUFA).

“I am writing in confidence regarding the investigation into allegations of insubordination against you that I initiated,” Shearer wrote.  The letter was shared with The Journal by Shirkhanzadeh.

Shirkhanzadeh has been involved in an 11-year case involving Queen’s, surrounding allegations he has made regarding fabricated data, research misconduct and plagiarism in papers published by Queen’s professors.

See our timeline of events in the Shirkhanzadeh case. 

After years of dissatisfaction with the University’s handling of his allegations, Shirkhanzadeh started publishing his allegations on a personal website.

After refusing requests from  administration to take  some of his posts down, the University opened a workplace harassment investigation against Shirkhanzadeh in 2014.

The two parties came to a settlement in 2014, in which Shirkhanzadeh agreed to drop the grievance he filed against the University concerning his claim they violated his academic freedom, and the University agreed not to pursue disciplinary action.

However, the settlement was declared null and void when the Canadian Association of University Teachers published a report on the academic freedom violations, breaking a provision in the settlement.

Last July, Shirkhanzadeh was suspended, without pay, for one day and again a month later for three days.

The newest suspension comes from a separate investigation initiated by the University against him, for alleged insubordination against university officials.

Requests had been made of him to meet with the dean of his faculty, Shirkhanzadeh told The Journal, after receiving his University Survey of Student Assessment of Teaching (USAT) scores.

In a letter to associate vice-principal McKeown, dated April 4, Shirkhanzadeh had argued that the scores were based on unreliable data, and asking him to meet was not justified.

He wrote in the letter that the dean had passed along his USAT scores to higher administration “without considering the fact that the response rate for the first two questions was only 16%”.

He added that this value was far below the minimum response rate of 65 per cent considered representative by the Senate Committee on Academic Development (SCAD) guidelines.

Among several other cited reasons, Shirkhanzadeh wrote that when he asked the dean for the faculty policy she had cited, he never received a copy.

On June 26, he wrote a letter to Engineering Dean Kimberly Woodhouse, stating his wish to “make it clear that I cannot and never will obey an order to prepare a “Teaching Improvement Plan” and present that plan in a meeting.”

To do so, he wrote, would be responding to an assessment practice that “is so obviously non-transparent and in gross violation of the Collective Agreement and SCAD guidelines.”

In the suspension letter that he received days later, Deputy Provost Shearer wrote that the insubordination investigation had been closed. After consulting with their investigator, she wrote that “a disciplinary measure will be imposed because there is cause.”

The University cited two “acts of insubordination” as the cause.

Shearer cites the Collective Agreement, stating that the intent of the disciplinary action is  corrective. The appropriateness rested on the cause, and any relevant prior imposition of discipline.

Due to his prior disciplines, Shirkhanzadeh’s suspension would be from July 1 to July 31, without pay. Shearer asked that he “not attend work or perform duties” at this time.

As well, Shirkhanzadeh’s email would be suspended for the period.

“If your performance or behaviour should attract the imposition of further disciplinary measures, you are at risk of dismissal,” she wrote in the letter.

As of July 3, Shirkhanzadeh told The Journal that QUFA will be filing grievances in response to the new disciplinary measures.

Shirkhanzadeh also awaits the results of an external investigation through the Secretariat on Responsible Conduct of Research, to determine whether Queen’s is at fault for institutional non-compliance.

According to Executive Director Susan Zimmerman in May, the final report was set to be complete by the end of July.

 Read Shirkhanzadeh's full suspension letter below.

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