Whistle-blower Morteza Shirkhanzadeh fired

Drafted report by the Secretariat on Responsible Conduct of Research received prior to termination

The notice of impending discipline sent from Deputy Provost Shearer to Shirkhanzadeh on Sept. 6.
Credit: 
Supplied by Morteza Shirkhanzadeh

After 27 years of teaching, an 11-year case and hundreds of letters exchanged with Queen’s administration, Professor Morteza Shirkhanzadeh received his final letter from the University administration on Monday announcing his termination.

For Shirkhanzadeh, who was the subject of a heated case involving allegations of research misconduct, academic freedom and institutional non-compliance, the firing had been coming for a long time.

When asked for comment regarding the termination, Queen’s Communications wrote via email that “Queen’s is party to a collective agreement with the Queen’s University Faculty Association, the union that represents faculty members. This is a confidential personnel matter undertaken in accordance with the collective agreement.”

Leading up to Monday’s termination, Shirkhanzadeh had faced several suspensions without pay over the course of the last year. On Sept. 6, he was warned of the impending discipline by means of a letter from Deputy Provost Teri Shearer.

The letter addressed an insubordination investigation that was launched after Shirkhanzadeh declined a meeting with his unit head, Kevin Deluzio in August.

After being informed of the investigation, Shearer recapped in her letter, Shirkhanzadeh was invited to attend a meeting with the University’s legal counsel Andrew Zabrovsky to respond to allegations of insubordination by not attending the meeting with Deluzio. Alternately, he was able to submit a written response.

“You informed me by email on August 22, 2016 that you would not meet with Mr. Zabrovsky, nor would you provide a written statement,” Shearer stated in her email.

The Sept. 6 letter also contained an advisory on the impending discipline, with another potential time to meet and discuss it on Sept. 8.

Dan McKeown of Faculty Relations was to be present at the potential meeting, if Shirkhanzadeh accepted that option, and there was an option to bring a representation from QUFA. In lieu of attendance, Shirkhanzadeh responded to Shearer’s email on Sept 9.

“The head wrote to me on August 2 wanting an immediate discussion of the teaching improvement plan the very next day, August 3. His assumption that I was back at work was wrong: I was in the UK at that time,” Shirkhanzadeh wrote.

According to him, the head had previously dropped his need for a teaching plan in March, but abruptly requested one again on August 2.

A meeting about the teaching plan was then scheduled for August 8 — the same day that Shirkhanzadeh was set to return from the UK.

“He wanted to discuss the teaching improvement plan on Monday without allowing me to have time to consult with [The Centre for Teaching and Learning]. This was very unreasonable,” Shirkhanzadeh wrote to Shearer.

As well, his response addressed concerns about the content of the meeting, including USAT scores he found to be unreliable, and the perceived retaliatory nature of the meeting itself.

“It was clear that my service contributions were not recognized by the head and the dean for the purpose of workload assignment and I was being punished because of my activities related to research integrity,” Shirkhanzadeh said in his response.

On Sept. 16, Shirkhanzadeh advised The Journal that Monday would likely be the end of his career at Queen’s. Consistent with his expectation, Monday yielded a termination for the Engineering professor.

The night before Shirkhanzadeh’s termination, he found a stack of papers in his mailbox. The papers were the first draft of a report from the Secretariat on Responsible Conduct of Research (SRCR) – which provides support and advisement for the three federal granting agencies in Canada on maintaining researcher’s conduct in the academic world.

“I wrote a couple of times to SRCR in July and August and informed them that I had not received the report yet. They never replied,” Shirkhanzdeh wrote in an email to The Journal.The report, compiled for the SRCR by external investigators Martin Letendre and Larry Kostiuk, was charged with determining whether Queen’s properly investigated Shirkhanzadeh’s original allegations of research misconduct.

It was dated August 18 — exactly one month prior. According to information provided to The Journal by Shirkhanzadeh, the main findings of the drafted report were that:

  1. "The institution did not meet the Tri-agency Framework's requirements when investigating the Complainant's allegations."
  2. "The institution's breaches of the Tri-agency framework had a significant impact on the investigation process."

The secretariat was contacted by The Journal subsequent to Shirkhanzadeh sharing the report’s contents. “Unfortunately, the Secretariat cannot comment on active files,” their Media Relations team wrote via email in response.

Updated Sept. 22: SRCR later emailed The Journal to clarify, that Dr. Shirkhanzadeh wrote to the SRCR on June 22, 2016, inquiring into the status of the draft report, with the SRCR responding on June 28, 2016, that the investigation was still in progress and that he could expect to receive a copy of the draft report around the end of July.

On Aug. 19, 2016, the Secretariat sent a copy of the confidential draft report to Dr. Shirkhanzadeh, inviting him to provide his comments on it by Sept. 30, 2016. The Secretariat also informed Dr. Shirkhanzadeh that his comments on the draft report would be forwarded to the external investigators for their consideration in preparing their final report.

— With files from Victoria Gibson

 

Read the full story. 

“It’s lonely.”

After eleven years, these were the first two words that Morteza Shirkhanzadeh chose to describe the complex academic and legal case that has handled serious allegations of research misconduct, violated academic freedom, workplace harassment and institutional non-compliance, and which has enveloped the past decade for the Queen’s professor.

Corrections

September 22, 2016

The report that Shikhanzadeh received from SRCR was only a draft report, as the investigators are awaiting the comments of both the institution and Dr. Shirkhanzadeh before finalizing it.

The Journal regrets the error.

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