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CAUT Bulletin Archives

June 2001

Committee of Inquiry to Investigate Noble Case

CAUT's Academic Freedom & Tenure Committee launching an investigation into rejection of David Noble's appointment at Simon Fraser University.

CAUT's Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee has appointed an independent committee of inquiry to investigate events at Simon Fraser University concerning the decision not to appoint David Noble to the J.S. Woodsworth Chair in Humanities.

The members of the committee of inquiry are Howard Pawley, former premier of Manitoba and retired professor of political science at the University of Windsor, and Gordon Shrimpton, professor of Greek and Roman studies at the University of Victoria. They will begin their work in the next few weeks.

Professor Noble has alleged his academic freedom was violated when the university overturned the recommendation of the department of humanities that he be appointed to the J.S. Woodsworth Chair and directed the department to undertake a new search.

"Committees of inquiry are appointed to conduct objective investigations in cases where there are serious allegations involving violations of academic freedom or other rights," said AF&T committee chair Ian McKenna. "Our committee believes this case meets that criterion."

In a letter to the SFU administration protesting "the cancellation of Dr. Noble's appointment," more than 120 leading American academics argued that Noble "ranks in the global first tier of historians of technology; those of us who work in this field honour him as a groundbreaking scholar whose reputation spans nearly a quarter-century."

Burnaby-Douglas MP Svend Robinson has written SFU president Michael Stevenson to voice his deep concern about the rejection of the recommendation for Noble's appointment.

"Behind the intricate maze of arcane technicalities that purport to justify the decision not to proceed ... lies a more fundamental reality," Robinson wrote.

"The senior administration of SFU do not appear to want Dr. Noble on the SFU campus.

"Dr. Noble's long and distinguished record of exposing and confronting the growing corporatization of our public universities is clearly threatening."

A recent statement from John Waterhouse, vice-president academic at Simon Fraser, refutes claims that the administration's decision was influenced by the conflict between SFU's corporate partnerships and Noble's opposition to this activity.

"It has been suggested that the administration intervened on political grounds to 'block' the department's recommendation," states Waterhouse in an e-mailed memo. "This is a serious charge and is without foundation."

Waterhouse went on to explain that the decision to reject Noble's appointment was justified by serious errors in the department's hiring procedure and the candidate's lack of sufficient references.

Waterhouse's statements have been disputed by Lawrin Armstrong, a history professor and member of the humanities search committee that selected Noble.

"I have remained silent until now in the hope that the university's procedures would result in a satisfactory resolution of the process," states Armstrong. "The central contention of Waterhouse's memo is that the search process is void because the humanities department violated university appointment procedures. This is false. From the beginning of the search last September, the search committee and the department conducted a transparent and scrupulous process in close consultation with the Dean of Arts, John Pierce, and in accordance with the university's hiring policy for endowed chairs as it was interpreted for us by the administration."

Armstrong also disputed the vice-president's claims that equity guidelines were not followed in the hiring process, noting that five of the 20 candidates on the original list were "women or members of visible minorities." He added that the subsequent four-person short list was approved by the dean of arts, "who assured the chair that equity rules had been met."

In late May, SFU's administration announced it had named Lyman Robinson, associate vice-president of legal affairs at the University of Victoria, as an independent reviewer to look into the facts of the case and to prepare a report for president Stevenson.