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CAUT Bulletin Archives

March 2007

CAUT Fund Awards $50K to Aid Laurentian Defence

Laurentian professor Michael Persinger has come under sustained attack from the university administration.
Laurentian professor Michael Persinger has come under sustained attack from the university administration.
The CAUT Academic Freedom Fund has awarded $50,000 to Laurentian University Faculty Association to support its ongoing defence of the academic freedom of psychology professor Michael Persinger.

“Professor Persinger, who has taught at Laurentian for the past 30 years and written more than 150 professional papers, has come under a sustained attack from the university administration,” said CAUT executive director James Turk.

He said threats to Persinger’s research program date back several years, but events have intensified in the last 18 months.

“It is hard to believe the university’s actions against Persinger and his students. We’re grateful the faculty association has been vigilant in defending his rights,” Turk said.

The most recent problems began in late 2005 when Persinger and his research team discovered the university administration had — without prior notification — locked them out of the animal care facility, of which Persinger and his team were by far the largest users. In 2004–2005, Persinger had 26 approved protocols for his research in the field of cognitive neuroscience.

“The lockout was justified by a new and inexperienced animal care committee because of the rejection of several research protocols submitted by Persinger — protocols that had been conditionally approved only months earlier — and because Persinger was perceived as having challenged the authority of the veterinarian,” said LUFA’s chief steward Mercedes Steedman.

“It has formed part of a larger pattern of punitive actions, including gross procedural violations in the research protocol approval process, barring Persinger from graduate supervision, refusing to admit students wishing to study with him and most recently, refusing to allow a television network to do a campus profile of him and his research.”

After the lockout, Persinger revised the protocols and he and his research team were readmitted to the animal care facility when the committee signed off some protocols and referred others for additional peer review.

But three months later the committee voted to remove Persinger and his team from the facility, putting a hold on all protocols and forcing him to institute an appeal process, which the university delayed for many months.

Last March, the university publicly announced the lockout was because Persinger and his team violated guidelines of the Canadian Council on Animal Care. The university administration then issued a memorandum to the animal care committee members and select department chairs instructing them not to respond to any requests for information about Persinger. The gag order was accompanied by a threat that speaking out would be considered a serious breach of their duties and obligations to the university.

The university then changed the appeal process for rejected research protocols, while Persinger, who had filed his appeal months earlier under the old policy, was left without a response.

The faculty association later learned the biology department had refused admission to graduate students wanting to study with Persinger and that the university introduced a requirement that Persinger’s undergraduate students submit their senior thesis research protocols to the university’s research ethics board, while all other undergraduate students, including others in the same program, needed only departmental approval.

In November, Discovery Channel contacted Persinger to profile his work on magnetic waves and their ability to affect human perception. The university initially refused to allow the shoot and only relented after LUFA and CAUT intervened.

On Feb. 17, TVOntario announced that Persinger had won its annual “best lecturer competition” and that Laurentian University would be awarded a $10,000 scholarship in recognition of Persinger’s winning lecture.

The latest action came this month when university officials notified Persinger that in the absence of approved research protocols his 900 research animals — to which he’s had no access for more than
a year — had to be removed from university property. At the same time, the university is refusing to process any new protocols because LUFA is grieving the mistreatment of Persinger.

“The first date for LUFA’s arbitration of this case is in May 2007,” Steedman said. “We can’t put a set timetable on it, but it will likely extend into early 2008.”