Back to top

CAUT Bulletin Archives

September 2001

SFU Concludes Inquiry into Noble Case

Simon Fraser University investigator Lyman Robinson submitted his report on the David Noble appointment to the J.S. Woodsworth chair in humanities to SFU president Michael Stevenson in late July.

Robinson's principal recommendation was that the appointment process should continue. He also concluded that there has not been any compromise of academic freedom.

The appointment process was stalled earlier this year after the intervention by Simon Fraser's dean of arts, John Pierce. Pierce proposed the search be terminated and a new search be initiated in the fall of 2001. His intervention came right after the department of humanities had been asked by the university appointments committee (UAC) to provide additional information so it could complete its recommendation to the president of the university.

President Stevenson announced that he accepted Robinson's recommendation to allow the department and the UAC to complete their work. He added also that he was committed to accepting the UAC's recommendation regarding Noble's appointment.

Robinson, a lawyer and retired associate vice president of legal affairs at the University of Victoria, was appointed on May 29, 2001 by the president of Simon Fraser University to conduct an inquiry into the search process and procedures that were utilized with regard to the recommendation of Noble to hold the J.S. Woodsworth chair.

Noble had been recommended by the humanities department for the endowed chair. Robinson's appointment came after numerous complaints at SFU that the department's recommendation was derailed by the dean of arts, and after CAUT's Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee appointed Howard Pawley and Gordon Shrimpton to conduct an independent inquiry into the case.

In his report, Robinson concluded Noble's academic freedom was not violated because Noble did not have an employment relationship with SFU. "Academic freedom is part of the employment contract between a professor and the employing university," Robinson wrote. "At the present time, Dr. Noble is not an employee of Simon Fraser University. Therefore, the university cannot have compromised the academic freedom of Dr. Noble."

After Robinson tabled his report, the Globe and Mail released an e-mail from Stevenson, obtained from the university through a freedom of information request, that showed Stevenson had opposed Noble's appointment at a critical stage in the process.

On Jan. 23, 2001, Stevenson, who has steadfastly denied he took any steps to block Noble's appointment, wrote SFU vice-president John Waterhouse on learning of Noble's possible appointment, "I touched base with John Pierce this afternoon. I would be glad to discuss in detail, but I'd avoid this appointment like the plague."

In a message to the SFU community, Stevenson indicated he had discussed the controversial e-mail with Robinson and that "Robinson found nothing in the e-mail or my comments during our discussion to qualify his conclusion that the process governing Dr. Noble's proposed appointment to the J.S. Woodsworth chair worked properly, with all parties acting in good faith and in conformity with the relevant university policies."