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CAUT Bulletin Archives

April 1998

Administration Puts Own Spin to Law Case Loss

The Committee of Concerned Faculty (CCF) at Memorial University is concerned to try to ensure that fairness and due process are followed since the board of regents was obliged to rescind the attempted dismissal of dean of science Alan Law last July. With this in mind CCF is responding to a series of statements issued by Mr. Peter Morris, division of university relations, Memorial University, because of their biased and inaccurate content.

The central element (article 1) of the settlement dated Jan. 13, 1998 between Alan Law and Memorial University of Newfoundland, Jaap Tuinman, the board of regents and the executive committee of the board is that the board rescinded the decision of its executive committee to dismiss Dr. Law from his position. He was therefore reinstated as of July 15, 1997, and placed on administrative leave until the settlement date. Memorial's Jan. 22 Gazette article by David Sorensen avoids all mention of the rescission.

In article 8 of the settlement, Dr. Law agrees to submit his resignation from the position of dean effective Jan. 13, 1998. This was a voluntary resignation. The alternative was that in the absence of a settlement, and assuming a favorable ruling by the court, which Dr. Law was confident of obtaining, he would have been reinstated as dean for an indefinite period pending the proper hearing denied him in the first instance. Dr. Law, however, was convinced that it was in the best interests of the faculty of science that he resign, and he did so. For Peter Morris to say that Dr. Law's written statement "suggests, incorrectly, that his resignation was voluntary and doesn't mention that it was part of the settlement" (article 8 of "the final settlement") does not reflect the fact that, as a result of the settlement, Dr. Law was not dismissed from his position.

Mr. Morris said that "the settlement did not deal with nor change the reasons for the initial dismissal of the dean...." The first part is true. However, there was never any intention that the Jan. 12 hearing, or the settlement which made it unnecessary, would deal with them. The settlement was generated by the Originating Application for an Order of Certiorari to quash the decision of the board of regents' executive committee. The hearing would have dealt solely with the question of whether or not a breach of natural justice, in particular procedural unfairness, had occurred. At no time during this hearing would the court have dealt with the substantive merits of the case. These would have been addressed in a subsequent court action sought to consider a claim of breach of contract and wrongful dismissal.

Peter Morris also asserts "the reasons that confidence (in Dr. Law) was lost were expressed in court affidavits that would have been heard had the case not been settled out of court. Thus, these reasons continue to be confidential, but no less real." This is not correct. The five reasons advanced by the vice-president (academic) in support of the recommendation to the board that the dean be dismissed are not confidential. The affidavits filed with the Newfoundland Supreme Court are public documents. The reasons were also given orally to an assembly of science department heads in July by Dr. Tuinman, and were subsequently made known to members of the faculty at an open meeting. Furthermore, the reasons referred to are no more than unsubstantiated statements made by one man, MUN's Vice-President (Academic) Tuinman, to justify his recommendation that Dr. Law be dismissed. They have never been subjected to examination or rebuttal, and have not been proven to be true.

A statement attributed to Peter Morris in an Evening Telegram story says that "the university is glad of the opportunity now to push ahead and get on with the job of moving our faculty of science along into a leadership role here in the university, in the province and the country." The implication is that under Alan Law's deanship the performance of the faculty was inadequate. Many would dispute this.

But what is most galling is the reference to "the university." Peter Morris may have believed that he was speaking for the university, but he was not. The university consists of its students, staff, and faculty -- some of whom also hold administrative positions, and the board. Neither faculty, staff nor indeed students were consulted about the performance of Alan Law. The vice-president (academic), the president and the board of regents are not "the university."

A Jan. 14 press release, reiterated in the Jan. 22 Gazette, states that Dr. Law was offered a similar financial settlement in July 1997. But that offer would have had him appointed to a vaguely defined "university staff position" without tenure until Aug. 31, 1999. Furthermore that "offer" was actually an ultimatum. The Jan. 13 settlement (article 3) allows Alan Law to remain as a member of faculty on leave with pay until 30 June 2000. The July 1997 offer had no assurance of early retirement and pension entitlement. The settlement (articles 6 & 7) does.

For further information please contact the Committee of Concerned Faculty at Memorial University; Tel: (709) 737-8765 (day); Fax: (709) 739-4328; e-mail: