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U of M butts heads with national union

Group probing allegations academic freedom violated

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The University of Manitoba says it can handle alleged problems in the faculty of architecture and department of economics internally -- and the university has told the national professors' union to butt out.

U of M president David Barnard was blunt in telling the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) it has no role or authority on campus.

The two academic units are under separate and relatively rare investigations by the CAUT over allegations of serious violations of academic freedom.

CAUT executive director Jim Turk said from Ottawa such investigations are so rare usually no more than two or three are launched a year in all the public universities across Canada.

"We currently have five committees of inquiry operating -- two of them at the University of Manitoba," Turk said. "Setting up a committee of inquiry is a serious business for us."

But U of M spokesman John Danakas said the university will take care of anything allegedly happening on campus and will resolve it internally.

Barnard said in a letter to Turk CAUT's investigations are inherently flawed because they involve confidential information the union has not shared with the university, cannot compel anyone to be interviewed, and would involve divulging information protected by privacy legislation.

"A process limited in these ways cannot have validity," Barnard told Turk in a letter CAUT released.

"The principles of institutional autonomy, collegial governance and academic freedom are fundamental to the academic community, and I intend to continue to defend them," Barnard declared. "I find the actions announced by CAUT to be intrusive and at odds with these principles."

The economics department situation involves allegations unnamed persons are eliminating the heterodox tradition -- in lay terms, people embracing heterodox tradition do not follow one way of thinking.

"That's a very serious one. There are allegations of serious violations of academic freedom," Turk said.

CAUT learned of allegations about the faculty of architecture late in 2013 and formally notified Barnard it has named a committee of three academic investigators and begun an investigation.

"There have been an ongoing series of concerns" raised by unnamed individuals and by the U of M Faculty Association, Turk said.

They involve alleged interference with research, with the duties and responsibilities of department heads, and restrictions on academic freedom.

"These are serious allegations, and in fairness, merit a serious investigation. They may not be valid," he noted.

Danakas, U of M's director of marketing and communications, said the dean of architecture would not be made available for an interview.

Turk said the investigators would review available documents, meet with as many people as possible, then request meetings with senior administrators, all of which would take several months.

The committee's recommendations would go to affected people for review and discussion, so it could certainly take until the end of 2014, Turk said.

UMFA president Sharon Alward said the union "has had multiple contacts from members in all departments in the faculty of architecture raising serious concerns... many of these members have shared their feelings of stress and apprehension because of the negative atmosphere in the faculty."

The Manitoba Association of Architects was not aware of the issues CAUT has raised.

CAUT's intention is to fix problems, not to publish what it exposes, Turk said.

If the situation gets resolved, CAUT may be asked not to publish anything, but generally about half of such investigations lead to published reports.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 26, 2014 A1

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