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This blog is written by Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Posts appear Monday & Wednesday.

The UVic, Susan Crockford Story Continues

Refuse to talk to the reporter. Afterward, accuse her of ‘multiple factual inaccuracies.’ Isn’t academia grand?

Read Part 1 here and Part 2 is here.

A Canadian zoologist named Susan Crockford gets fired as an Adjunct Professor – a position she’s held for 15 years. A reporter working on a story for a national newspaper contacts the University of Victoria (UVic) about this matter.

A spokesperson says all inquiries must go through Media Relations. He invites the reporter to submit written questions. Then stalls for 18 days. Then refuses to answer even one of those questions.

The article gets published in the newspaper. Calling it “shocking,” the Society of Academic Freedom and Scholarship sends a letter to UVic. Ordinary people won’t “look to a university for information on the problems of the day,” says the Society, “if they believe that researchers at that university must conform to an official line.”

The Society urges UVic to clarify that professors who participate in its Speakers Bureau don’t need to “conform to a UVic orthodoxy in order to represent the university as scholars.”

Catherine Krull, UVic’s Dean of Social Sciences, replies via letter to the Society. She says she’s

pleased to take this opportunity to set the record straight. There are multiple factual inaccuracies in the Oct. 16 National Post opinion piece which prompted your email. The University of Victoria has submitted a letter to the editor outlining these mistakes. [bold added by me]

How’s that for a perverse media strategy? Refuse to talk to a reporter, decline to answer the most basic questions, then accuse the reporter afterward of mistakes and multiple factual inaccuracies.

I attempted to interview Krull on September 13. I sent her e-mail, which included my phone number. I told her I looked forward to speaking with her. But neither Krull (who the UVic website tells us is currently on leave as Dean) or Rosaline Canessa (who the website describes as the Acting Dean) responded. Neither of these women had the courtesy to tell me I should be talking to the Media Relations department, instead. They ignored me. Pretended I didn’t exist.

Now, however, Krull has a story to tell. Her argument consists of four bullet points (read the whole thing here). She says UVic’s Anthropology Department has criteria for academic appointments, and that those criteria “are fairly and consistently applied.” She presents no evidence. We’re supposed to take her word for it.

Krull further declares that unsuccessful applicants “are provided with reasons on request.” Had Crockford only asked why she’d been excommunicated, all would have been explained. How’s that for victim blaming? It’s the lowly Adjunct’s fault. Why would we expect UVic to behave decently as a matter of course? Anyone who still believes workplaces are kinder and gentler when women are in charge needs to pay close attention to this case study.

Krull’s next bullet point suggests Crockford’s loss of an academic affiliation isn’t so bad. In her words, “Dr. Crockford’s work can carry on without this appointment.”

Remember, Crockford has lost full access to research libraries. Like the rest of us non-academics, she’ll now hit paywalls demanding that she pay hard cash per article consulted. Remember, this accomplished scholar believes she no longer qualifies for research grants.

But Dean Krull who, between salary and expenses, cost UVic $293,000 last year, says it’s no big deal (see page 54 here). Crockford wasn’t being paid anyway. And Crockford’s company, she assures us, will still be allowed to continue paying UVic for the privilege of using its animal bones lab.

Which brings us to bullet point three. It begins this way:

The information in the National Post piece regarding the UVic Speakers Bureau is also incorrect.

Also incorrect. Right. Krull has merely provided UVic’s perspective on events. That perspective should have been included in my original article – and would have been if UVic hadn’t spent 18 days stonewalling me. She has not demonstrated that anything I wrote was incorrect.

Bullet point three continues:

Supervisory approval of membership in the Bureau for all adjunct faculty has been in place since 2017 and for graduate students for more than 20 years.

Finally, a straight answer! I had explicitly asked what mechanisms existed to vet Speakers Bureau presentations. Rather than saying so back in September, Dean Krull now declares that, for the past 20 years, graduate students have needed the approval of their department head. She declares that, since 2017, all adjunct faculty have needed permission to participate.

Remember, Crockford had already been giving lectures through the Speakers Bureau for the better part of a decade. UVic says it started treating Adjuncts like grad students in 2017. That was the year Crockford was silenced by the chair of the Anthropology Department.

In the words of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship, “A university must not monitor members of its community to see whether they have the correct views.” But that’s exactly what UVic does when it gives department chairs the power to ban Adjuncts from the Speakers Bureau.

Similarly, I received no answer when I asked: “Since 2017, how many other 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?

Had the answer to that very important question been one or more, the story would have changed dramatically. It would have looked far less as though Crockford had been targeted. UVic’s refusal, to this day, to address this question invites us to think this has all been an elaborate charade.

Bullet point three ends with this statement:

The requirement for adjunct faculty is clearly spelled out on the online application form.

Here, I did make a mistake. I looked at multiple versions of that online form while researching my story. Only now, having been provided with the above information, do I see that a subtle change occurred sometime between March and June of 2017.

The only way that change becomes evident, though, is if you click on a dropdown menu, and select either option #5 or options #10 through #13 on the list.

Only then does a tiny box appear, next to this sentence: “I have recieved [sic] approval from my Chair/Director/Unit head for the presentation(s) described below.”

This is UVic’s idea of spelling out something clearly. In the middle of filling out an online form, a popup suddenly tells you you need a signed letter. And please do note: if you’re a non-academic member of UVic’s staff (the head of the Speakers Bureau, for example), a retiree, a librarian, or an “other,” you aren’t required to jump through these ‘get permission from above’ hoops.

Finally, we come to Dean Krull’s last bullet point, and the end of her letter:

There is no evidence to suggest that Dr. Crockford’s adjunct appointment was not renewed for “telling school kids politically incorrect facts about polar bears.” The University of Victoria, in both word an deed, supports academic freedom and free debate on academic issues.

Some things boil down to a matter of opinion. In my view, the available evidence strongly points toward Crockford having been purged. Universities usually celebrate professors who get published in Science. They don’t jettison them at the first opportunity.

UVic says it believes in academic freedom. But that’s not how it behaves. When seasoned experts suddenly get treated like the greenest of graduate students, something very strange is going on.

My article contained one mistake. Singular. That mistake could have been avoided had UVic behaved responsibly. The fact that Dean Krull’s letter talks about multiple factual inaccuracies is a clue regarding the reliability of her other statements.

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LINKS:

I have been remiss in not providing links to Crockford’s own account of these events before now. Please see:

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This entry was posted on October 30, 2019 by in education, ethical & philosophical, media and tagged , .
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