In May, the Canadian Association of University Teachers will seek a motion of censure against King’s University College in London, Ontario. CAUT claims that King’s administration violated Ken Luckhardt’s academic freedom by banning him from King’s. King’s University College Faculty Association (KUCFA) will oppose this motion because censuring King’s will undermine the academic freedom of King’s faculty.
Mr. Luckhardt, a former part-time instructor at King’s, wrote two defamatory letters to the dean, provost and principal of King’s that falsely impugned the motives, qualifications, and professional conduct of two female faculty members at King’s. His purpose was explicit – to prevent them from being promoted and to prevent them from participating in academic decision-making. Particularly disturbing was Mr. Luckardt’s use of highly gendered language and sexist aspersions. One of the women attacked by Mr. Luckhardt chose to exercise her right to a harassment-free workplace by launching a formal complaint. An independent external investigator found that Mr. Luckhardt had violated King’s policy on harassment. CAUT asked KUCFA to grieve this finding, but KUCFA declined because the grievance committee did not believe there were grounds for a grievance. The former KUCFA chair was informed by a CAUT staff member that she would “regret” the decision not to grieve.
Following its warning, CAUT struck an ad hoc committee of two men to investigate the case, which culminated in the release of the Haxell-Katz report (PDF). Despite being endorsed unanimously by CAUT’s academic freedom committee, the report contained serious factual errors. The KUCFA executive responded by investigating the claims of the Haxell-Katz report and documenting the errors in a report available at the King’s website. In response to CAUT’s unusual claim that Mr. Luckhardt’s letters are not harassing, the KUCFA women’s caucus provided its own report, also available at the King’s website, that thoroughly refutes CAUT’s claim and argues that harassment policies are an essential part of the policy framework protecting academic freedom. They conclude that CAUT’s position is deeply disappointing for its failure “to consider academic freedom in a thoughtful and nuanced manner such that academic freedom and freedom from harassment are not cast as oppositional principles.” Both of these responses to CAUT were unanimously endorsed at a general meeting of the KUCFA membership.
One possible explanation for the errors in the CAUT report is the admission by the authors of the CAUT report that those they interviewed had differences of opinion over “the interpretations of these events.” What the Haxell-Katz report to CAUT does not reveal is that the three women they interviewed (the two women who were harassed and the former KUCFA chair) provided a very different accounting of the events. Perhaps the authors believed that the women they spoke with could not properly interpret what had happened to them.
In our view, CAUT fails to understand how harassment prevents faculty from participating in academic decisions and, as a result, does not consider how anti-harassment procedures reinforce academic freedom. Sometimes the effect of harassment is hidden because many faculty members become exhausted in trying to assert their right to participate meaningfully in their workplace. In the Luckhardt case, the woman who did not choose to launch a grievance instead chose to seek reassignment to another department. Even as a tenured faculty member, she felt unable to fully participate in course and program design and hiring decisions without attracting unfair attacks on her judgment and character. The faculty member who did launch the complaint has had to contend with unusual demands on her energy and time, in large part because of the persistent efforts by CAUT to undermine her very reasonable request for a workplace free from harassment.
Perversely, CAUT’s censure will have little impact on administration at King’s but will harm the reputation and academic freedom of the very faculty CAUT purports to defend. Through informal networks, our members have been told that King’s faculty will be less likely to receive research grants if we are censured. Further, several of our members have received word that collaborative projects with researchers at other institutions may be in jeopardy. This raises a disturbing question: who will protect our academic freedom from the threat posed by CAUT’s plan to censure King’s?
Peter Ibbott is chair of the King’s University College Faculty Association (KUCFA). Kristin Lozanski is chair of the KUCFA women’s caucus and Graham Broad is KUCFA secretary.