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CAUT Bulletin Archives

April 1998

They Fought the Law & the Law Won

In mid-July 1997, Dr. Alan Law was abruptly removed from his position as dean of science at Memorial University by the executive committee of Memorial's board of regents.

MUN's Vice-President (Academic), Dr. Jaap Tuinman, issued a memo to the faculty of science indicating that "the senior administration had lost confidence in Dr. Law's ability to provide the faculty of science with the leadership required." Court documents subsequently showed that three weeks earlier Tuinman had abruptly presented Law with a demand that he resign, on the basis of a number of unsubstantiated assertions of less-than-acceptable administrative performance.

Law had been appointed dean under a 5-year contract, which had more than two years remaining. He therefore set in motion two legal actions against the university and its officers, one to quash his removal from his administrative post, and the other seeking compensation. Because his inappropriate dismissal as dean has the consequence of bringing Law into the MUNFA bargaining unit, the association was able to provide substantial assistance with his legal costs.

The faculty of science was fully supportive of its former dean. A 'Committee of Concerned Faculty' emerged, and worked to bring Law's case to the attention of the media (see "Memorial University of Newfoundland -- Administration Puts Own Spin to Law Case Loss").

In November, MUN's board of regents formally acknowledged and concurred with its executive's decision to remove Law. Shortly thereafter, however, the university's position shifted perceptibly. In early December the board met for several hours in emergency session. Its counsel then requested a delay in court proceedings until early January, to attempt a satisfactory out-of-court settlement.

A settlement was reached on 13 Jan. 1998. Under its terms Law was reinstated as Dean of Science effective 15 July 1997, the date of his improper removal. He agreed to resign that position, effective the date of settlement, and indicated to the media that he considered this resignation in the best interests of his faculty, and also best for himself and his wife, who had been through an extraordinarily unpleasant seven months. By the terms of the settlement Law is now on leave with full pay plus administrative stipend until mid-2000, when he will be able to take early retirement. These financial terms are considerably more favourable than those originally presented to Law as a 'final offer' in July; the settlement totals approximately $261,000.

Throughout this affair, senior university officials have left public comment to Mr. Peter Morris, an associate director of university relations, who is responsible for issues management and strategic communications planning. Morris has omitted from news releases the key piece of information that Law was reinstated. In addition, Morris has repeatedly sought to imply that there are genuine rea-sons for Law's removal, which are not being addressed because the whole matter was not heard in open court. In fact, all of the reasons provided to Law for the administration's actions are a matter of public record, having been filed in court affidavits. Presumably, if Memorial's senior administration were sufficiently confident of these allegations, they could have chosen to proceed in court, as Law was prepared to do.

The university administration has now attempted to lay the whole issue to rest, with limited success. MUN's President Arthur May has publicly taken the position that it is "common for people in executive positions ... to offer their resignations in return for appropriate consideration" and has repeated the allegation that "substantive issues which led to the loss of confidence (in Law) were never discussed in public. But they didn't go away. ..." In essence, May continues to take the position that the appropriate response to unsubstantiated assertions of unsatisfactory administrative performance, not perceived by one's colleagues, is acquiescent silence, bought with a settlement that may be taken to indicate agreement.

May has also made the astonishing claim that the settlement is "cost neutral."

On Feb. 13, 1998 it was announced that Dr. Jaap Tuinman will be leaving his position at MUN -- and the university milieu generally -- to head the BC Open Learning Agency. Local media reported that "Tuinman considers his new job at the Open Learning Agency a natural career progression that has nothing to do with last year's controversy over the dismissal of Alan Law as dean of science."

On March 14 Dr. Arthur May announced that he plans to step down from his post. The president of Memorial has held the job for the last eight years. His current contract expires in August 1999.

Background material on the issue of Dr. Alan Law's removal as dean of science at Memorial University of Newfoundland supplied by Memorial University of Newfoundland Faculty Association.