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CAUT Bulletin Archives

June 2007

Stonechild Award Upheld at FNUC

A Saskatchewan judge has upheld an arbitration ruling that found the First Nations University of Canada violated the academic freedom of prominent faculty member Blair Stonechild.

“We’re very pleased with the decision and hope the university will now respect the findings of the court and implement the appropriate remedies,” said Dorothy Lane, chair of the University of Regina Faculty Association.

The case originated in May 2005 when the association filed a grievance on Stonechild’s behalf alleging FNUC interfered with his academic freedom when the Assembly of First Nations withdrew an invitation for him to speak at a national symposium on post-secondary education hosted by the university earlier that year.

The arbitration panel found that Morley Watson, as chair of the university’s board of governors, had interfered with Stonechild’s academic freedom by making “inappropriate comments” about him when the issue of his removal from the symposium’s program was raised during an April 12 board meeting.

The university subsequently appealed the arbitration ruling, but in his decision Justice Ross Wimmer agreed Watson had “demonstrated personal irritation or antagonism toward Stonechild” during the board discussion of the symposium.

While the arbitration panel concluded Watson didn’t play a direct role in the cancellation of Stonechild’s speaking engagement at the symposium, it did find Watson failed in his obligation under the collective agreement to refrain from interfering in and to defend the academic freedom of faculty members.

In dismissing the university’s application for a judicial review, Justice Wimmer concluded the arbitration decision met the test of reasonableness and agreed that a breach of the collective agreement occurred.

Allegations of political interference and violations of academic freedom have plagued the university following the firing in 2005 of some senior administrators and the ordering of a forensic audit of FNUC’s books. These concerns led to the Association of University and Colleges of Canada’s decision last fall to investigate the university and recent decision to place the institution on membership probation.

“FNUC is facing many difficulties, but one way forward is for the university to embrace the principles of academic freedom and autonomy and to respect proper procedures and protocol in all dealings with staff and students,” Lane said.