Queen's criticized

University violated academic freedom, report says

Photo: 

The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) recently released their report on Queen’s investigation into a former professor’s conduct.

Michael Mason has sparked criticism in the 82-page report released by the CAUT on Thursday. The report alleges that the University’s investigation into the professor emeritus of history, violated his academic freedom and “acted callously and irresponsibly in how it handled complaints with respect to his teaching.”

As part of the report, CAUT recommends that Queen’s history department establish a yearly bursary of $4,000 in Mason’s name and deliver a formal apology to him. The University’s administration was also encouraged to develop appropriate policies and mechanisms to respond to student complaints.

“When there’s an allegation of a violation of academic freedom, we will set up a committee of inquiry to investigate the matter, to determine whether or not there was anything inappropriately done,” CAUT Executive Director James Turk said.

CAUT is the “national voice for academic staff,” according to their website and represents 68,000 academic staff across Canada.

In Oct. 2011, Mason was accused of making sexist and racist comments in his HIST 283 lecture.

Students complained to the department about Mason’s use of the term “towelhead,” “rag head,” “japs,” and “little yellow bastard” while teaching about post-imperialist subject matter.

The University formally expressed its concern in a letter addressed to Mason from James Carson, chair of the department of history, after receiving complaints from students, the report stated.

Since then, Mason has been on an indefinite leave of absence from his teaching position at Queen’s.

According to the report, Mason was not advised in writing about the allegation two days prior to discussing it with University administrators according to Article 20.3.4 of the Collective Agreement.

The agreement is held between Queen’s University and the Queen’s University Faculty Association (QUFA) and outlines rules pertaining to harassment, disability, privacy and employment equity for Faculty Association members .

Mason was also not advised of his right to seek advice or respond to the allegations altogether as outlined in the Collective Agreement, the report added.

Turk said the administration refused to meet with CAUT to discuss the report. 

“If we can get the matter remedied, we often don’t even publish the report,” he said. “We’re just disappointed that they’ve chosen to refuse to meet to discuss that.”

Turk said he found the University’s unwillingness to discuss the recommendations unusual.

“I can’t imagine that in a similar situation at most universities it would have been handled this way,” he said, adding that Woolf has been sent a copy of the report.

“The next step is widespread dissemination of this and secondly we’re hoping that even if the admin at Queen’s isn’t prepared to talk to us, they will be prepared to talk to QUFA to find new policies and new approaches to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

Queen’s Provost Alan Harrison said the University doesn’t have an opinion of the report.

“The author of the report, CAUT, has no jurisdiction in this matter,” he said. “The jurisdiction is held by the QUFA ...[they] have representation rights for the academic staff and that’s who we deal with for matters like this.”

He added that he would speak with members from QUFA if the investigation is to be re-opened.

“My unwillingness to offer any comments in respect to this report does not imply that I’m unwilling to speak to someone who has jurisdiction in this matter,” he said. 

“The individual about whom this report was written took a leave of absence and as a consequence of that no further action was taken.”

Mason couldn’t be reached for comment.

— With files from Katherine Fernandez-Blance

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.