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CAUT Bulletin Archives

January 2011

Len Findlay replies

Those who read my report on Dr. Tha­kur will make up their own minds about whether it is, as Drs. Coates and Mac­Latchy claim, “biased and incomplete.” However, for those who read the Bulletin but have neither the time nor the inclination to explore the Thakur case further, let me clarify a few things.

First, of course the report is “incomplete,” but that incompleteness requires unpacking. Otherwise, it can be invoked as an endlessly incontrovertible alibi by academic administrators for decisions their academic staff deem unfair or improper.

I could have spent a year or more gathering evidence for the report and it would still have been “incomplete.” However, what Coates and MacLatchy appear to mean by “completeness” is not unattainable comprehensiveness, but undesirable partisanship. In other words, a completely uncritical representation of the “information” provided to me by them and some of their colleagues across the two universities and CIGI.

I had an obligation to listen attentively to anyone who wished to talk with me, and this I did. What I did not and could not do, given the conflicting nature of some of the commentary I heard, was accept at face value and reproduce verbatim everything communicated to me in connection with Dr. Thakur’s performance as director of the Balsillie school.

The views of the “three partners” were not shared by others in the three institutions to whom I talked. Accordingly, the claim that I incompletely represented the official line on Dr. Thakur’s dismissal seems reducible to “profound disappointment” at my not accepting one version of events at the expense of other versions.

Moreover, there is symptomatic presumption in Coates and MacLatchy’s specific claim that I did not “fairly and adequately” represent the views of “faculty members associated with the Balsillie School.” How can they claim to know that? Do they presume that they are privy to everything communicated to me by all such faculty, or, rather, do they restrict themselves to everything communicated to me (and shared with them) by faculty whose opinions count because they support the official line?

No one got the kind of representation in the report that these senior administrators seem to expect as their due. But there is still more to be said about incompleteness.

Because of legal necessities and privacy considerations, I did not hear from Coates and MacLatchy on personnel matters. They made plain at the out-set that they could not be completely forthcoming because of such considerations. I had no difficulty with that, though I cannot concur with Coates’ inference therefrom that all CAUT investigations are inherently biased against the employer.

To reason so is to retain for the employer an alibi for everything it does or does not do, and to assert or imply that everyone would agree with the employer’s interpretation of the information withheld: “You would agree with me, if only you knew what I know and cannot tell you.”

To reason so is also to disregard the sorry history of capitulation and injustice on the part of senior university administrators exposed by previous CAUT investigations. And to reason so is to disregard the legal constraints on parties other than the employer.

As for regrettable signs of incompleteness in the record, let me leave you summarily with three. I wish I had heard from more faculty and students. Indeed I asked for an invitation to contact me to be circulated to all faculty involved in any capacity with the Balsillie school.

Also regrettably absent from the re-cord is testimony by people who were supportive of Dr. Thakur, but would talk only on condition that their identities be concealed. I interviewed a number of such people and, as I stressed at the beginning of my report, I was shocked by the levels of intimidation and fear they felt.

Legal gag orders are one thing, and human circumspection is another. But I was not prepared for a chill as profound as I encountered while researching the report.

This brings me to perhaps the most worrying absence of all, the one that makes the universities’ responses to my report seem culpably “biased and incomplete.” The “three partners” have, so far as I can tell, been entirely mum on the matter of intimidation and the unwillingness of reputable people to speak on the record about situations where donors act like owners of the academic ‘enterprise,’ or at least appear or threaten to do so.

Such situations have serious implications for academic freedom, intellectual integrity and institutional autonomy in Canada. Donor comfort should not trump and mute faculty discomfort.

CIGI remains a private, independent think tank, despite the significant public funding it has received, and it can control as zealously or permissively as it wishes the expressive and intellectual freedom of those it recruits. But for two publicly funded universities to fail to register publicly any concern about the levels of intimidation felt by some of their staff, this is for me a “profound disappointment.”

Have notions of team players and brand protection become so entrenched and eagerly policed that dissent and debate, the very lifeblood of inquiry and education, are no longer wanted on the voyage? If this is so, my hopes and best efforts on behalf of the Balsillie school and two universities that host it may well go for naught. If that happens, we will all be the poorer for it.

Len Findlay
University of Saskatchewan

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