Back to top

CAUT Bulletin Archives

April 2001

Simon Fraser University Accused of Hiring Bias

David Noble's appointment to J.S. Woodsworth Chair challenged by Simon Fraser administration.

The Simon Fraser University administration has been accused of attempting to block the appointment of David Noble as the J.S. Woodsworth Chair in the Humanities.

Noble, a professor of history at York University, was chosen by the department of social science at SFU to hold the prestigious chair after an intensive search process. Noble was the unanimous choice of the search committee whose decision received the overwhelming support of the department.

The Woodsworth Chair, one of nine endowed chairs at SFU, was established in honour of J.S. Woodsworth — a clergyman, social reformer, member of parliament, and founder of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF). The holder of the chair is to be an outstanding scholar and a person who engages in outreach to the community on issues of social justice and peace.

Noble's selection followed three days of interviews in January and an extensive check of about a dozen of his references, including such well-known scholars as Noam Chomsky (MIT), Stan Katz (Princeton and president of the American Council of Learned Societies), Seymour Melman (emeritus professor of industrial engineering at Columbia), Sheila Slaughter (professor of higher education at Arizona) as well as public figures such as Ralph Nader and Maude Barlow.

After the recommendation was forwarded to John Pierce, SFU's dean of arts, Noble was contacted by a private consulting firm asking permission to interview four additional people who were not in his academic field, and who had no experience with him as a colleague, but all of whom had been involved in activities or enterprises about which Noble had been publicly critical.

Subsequently, some of Noble's own referees reported receiving telephone calls from this same firm in which they felt pressed for negative views about Noble. The firm asked other questions also, such as whether Noble could be counted upon to represent the university's views in his work as occupant of the chair.

Then, at the end of March, the dean of arts announced he would not support the department's recommendation of Noble. In his letter to John Waterhouse, SFU's vice-president academic and provost, Pierce is reported to have cited only Noble's refusal to cooperate with the external consulting firm hired by the SFU administration.

Noble has asked CAUT to look into the matter immediately, "as it appears to entail an egregious violation of free speech, academic freedom and established academic practice."

CAUT president Tom Booth expressed serious concern. "It appears as if the SFU administration does not like Noble's politics and is trying to kill the appointment," Booth said.

"The procedure being followed raises serious questions about the university administration's commitment to academic freedom. CAUT will be following the situation closely and will do whatever is necessary to protect academic freedom and due process."