Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
The University of Victoria receives hundreds of millions of tax dollars, yet refused to answer a single question about the firing of Susan Crockford.
I recently wrote about Susan Crockford, a world-renowned Canadian zoologist. After serving 15 years as an unpaid Adjunct Professor at the University of Victoria (UVic), her adjunct status has now been revoked. First she was banned from participating in UVic’s Speakers Bureau. Then she was excommunicated from UVic altogether.
In an era in which others bite their tongues and keep their heads down, Crockford courageously disputes the claim that polar bears are at risk from climate change. She has now paid a heavy price.
It’s time to remind ourselves that UVic is a public institution funded by tax dollars. According to its most recent budget document, it spends more than half a billion a year. 52% of its general operating revenue comes directly from provincial and federal government grants. An additional 37% of its revenue comes from student fees – which themselves rely heavily on government grants.
The UVic budget document says a great deal about government funding, but not once does it use the word taxpayer. This institution appears to have forgotten that it owes its very existence to ordinary Canadians. Money is taken away from ordinary people, in the form of taxes, and handed over to UVic to spend.
Publicly funded entities have a special obligation to be transparent. Under British Columbia law, for example, they must publish the salaries of everyone earning above $75,000 a year (see UVic’s annual Financial Information Act report, posted online here).
Crockford was purged even though she didn’t cost UVic one red cent. Compare that to the $188,510 in salary plus $14,583 in expenses Ann Stahl earned last year. While serving as chair of the Anthropology Department, Stahl stopped Crockford from giving free lectures via UVic’s Speakers Bureau.
Compare Crockford’s pricetag to the $145,532 plus $17,272 in expenses April Nowell earned last year. Nowell was chair of the Anthropology Department when it excommunicated Crockford altogether.
We can also compare Crockford’s unpaid position to the $85,851 salary of Paul Marck, the UVic spokesperson I dealt with. He advised me that UVic department heads earning the salaries mentioned above aren’t allowed to speak to journalists working on stories for national newspapers. Everything has to go through Media Relations and Public Affairs, he said, inviting me to e-mail him written questions. That was on September 13th.
I submitted questions the same day. Two dozen of them. Do you know how many Marck answered? Zero. Zip.
I began by asking him to confirm that Crockford had been an adjunct professor for 15 years. He refused to say. After a ridiculous delay of 18 days, a man who’s paid $85,000 annually replied to my long list of questions with a single paragraph. Here’s his October 1st response, in its entirety:
Yes, you are correct that Dr. Susan Crockford held an appointment as a non-remunerated, adjunct assistant professor with the University of Victoria’s Department of Anthropology. Under the constraints of provincial privacy legislation, the university is unable to provide personal information relating to the status or renewal of adjunct appointments. For clarification, those who hold adjunct positions are neither faculty members nor employees of the university. As to your remaining questions, the university does not disclose identifying or personal information about our faculty members, staff or students including information about internal processes. We respect the privacy rights of all members of our campus community.
My first group of questions merely attempted to verify dates and basic information. Double-checking facts with both sides of a story is important, but UVic made that impossible. If my understanding of events was inaccurate, this was UVic’s opportunity to let me know. Instead, it chose to stonewall, refusing to say if the Speakers Bureau had ever given Crockford negative feedback, or if anyone in the Anthropology Department had advised her she was at risk of losing her adjunct status.
My next six questions were emphatically not about identifiable individuals. I asked how many people had been on the committee that revoked Crockford’s adjunct status. How many had voted for her versus against her. How many were zoologists? How many adjuncts had the Anthropology Department severed ties with over the past decade? How many adjuncts had UVic as a whole severed ties with? I also asked about safeguards that would prevent adjuncts from being punished for politically incorrect views.
Answering those questions would have violated the privacy of absolutely no one. It’s hilarious that, when I then asked how many UVic professors had matched Crockford’s achievement by being recently published in a prestigious scientific journal, UVic declined even to answer that. University PR people spend their days boasting about this sort of thing. They normally send journalists press releases begging for celebratory coverage.
My final group of questions concerned Crockford’s banishment from the Speakers Bureau. The first one asked why Stahl had refused to endorse – and had therefore silenced – Crockford. This clearly involved identifiable individuals, but the eight questions that followed did not. Here are four of them, typo and all. I’ve inserted the italics here:
ii. Since 2017, how many other UVic adjunct professors (within and beyond the Anthropology Department) are no longer participating in the Speakers Bureau due to a similar refusal on the part of their department chair?
iii. Since 2017, what percentage of UVic graduate students participating in the Speaker’s Bureau have been similarly required to secure written endorsement from their department chair?
iv. How many of these graduate studetns have been refused? [sic]
ix. What mechanisms exist to vet the content of Speakers Bureau presentations, particularly regarding controversial topics such as climate justice, renewable energy, Israeli-Palestinian relations, restorative justice, and so forth?
That last issue is of particular importance. Either there’s a system to vet presentations or there isn’t. I was seeking basic information, trying hard to understand what’s normal, sincerely trying to sort out what had transpired. UVic felt absolutely no need to explain, to reassure Canadian taxpayers that it had behaved honourably and fairly.
Let me repeat. The University of Victoria was given ample opportunity – 18 bleeping days. Like an untouchable and unaccountable monarch, it chose not to answer a single question.
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