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In my opinion

CAUT’s proposed censure of King’s College: the view of King’s faculty

CAUT’s censure will harm the reputation and academic freedom of the very faculty CAUT purports to defend.


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.

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  1. Rob Platts / February 26, 2014 at 14:41

    Ibbott, Lozanski, and Broad did well to bring this situation to light. To my, admittedly peripheral, eye the behaviour and response of CAUT is typical of an organization blindly defending the behavior of some of it’s members above the interests of other members (second class?) If the evidence presented in to be believed (it seems quite credible to me) CAUT might want to take a good hard look at itself to ensure it is not contributing to this kind of academic bullying. I applaud the continued work of the three authors and hope we can all disallow the practice of concealing prejudice and harrassment within the hallowed house of academic freedom.

  2. Paul Allen / February 26, 2014 at 15:27

    This is not the first time that CAUT has made a mockery of itself in public. Nor, I dare say, will it be the last. Their ideological agenda is explicit and, among other things, highly tendentious. Our 2011 petition exposed them, their false definition of academic freedom and biased application of it (see below). What it will take for a change in CAUT is clear: a withdrawl of faculty associations (and their money) from CAUT.

    Who will lead the way on that front?

  3. Mark Mercer / February 26, 2014 at 16:33

    A professor criticizes two colleagues in a letter to the dean, and that constitutes harassing those two professors? Incredible! And our authors then tell us that disciplining the professor is not a violation of his academic freedom, and doesn’t threaten the academic freedom of others at King’s University College? Crazy! Look, we do not enjoy academic freedom if we are not free to discuss and to criticize the ideas and practices of our colleagues. If writing letters to deans criticizing colleagues counts as violating the King’s policy on harassment, then that policy is dangerous and should be repealled. If professors are criticised or feel they have been defamed, they are free to respond to the criticisms with arguments and criticisms of their own. There is a warning here for us at other universities: Stand firmly against any harassment or safe environment policy that could be used to stiffle the free expression of ideas and criticism. Good to the CUAT for taking this case and standing up for academic freedom.

  4. Kara Wickens / February 26, 2014 at 16:46

    As a recent graduate of King’s University College, I am extremely proud of King’s faculty members, who, in their dealings with Ken Luckhardt, and their opposition to CAUT’s motion, have shown that they demand and will stand up for social justice in their workplace, the broader school community, and the academic environment as a whole.

    Like everyone, Mr. Luckhardt is not free to engage in harassment and defamation without appropriate and reasonable consequences. CAUT’s unwillingness to admit that the King’s community acted appropriately in this case reflects badly on CAUT. CAUT would like us to believe that in their treatment of Ken Luckhardt, King’s sought to repress and silence, and ultimately punish Luckhardt for his criticisms of the program in which he taught. King’s did no such thing.

    Instead they responded to Luckhardt’s letters, which contained defamatory and anti-woman sentiments, and personal attacks on two former colleagues, by asking him to request permission before he entered campus. They even offered to meet with him in person to discuss his concerns, and I’m sure that offer still stands.

    The plight of part-time faculty members is an issue on Canadian campuses, but it is not a relevant issue in this case. In this case, in fact, CAUT shows that the real issue facing part-time instructors is that they are represented by a union whose leadership would rather advance the vendetta, and massage the ego of a personal friend, than actively stand up for the rights, freedoms, professional interests, and values of part time instructors, who would never engage in such hurtful, and even hateful, vitriol against their colleagues.

    I am proud to have graduated a university that stands together and declares that what Ken Luckhardt did, and how CAUT is responding, is unprofessional, unacceptable, and inconsistent with the principles of social justice that King’s upholds. The most important of these, in this case, is the principle that all people should be treated with dignity and respect. The King’s community has done this. In his letters regarding his colleagues, Ken Luckhardt did not. Therefore, CAUT’s proposed censure of King’s is not only unfounded, it’s nothing short of appalling.

  5. Judith Fletcher / February 27, 2014 at 07:28

    Based on an official investigation, the administration of King’s College made an entirely reasonable response in order to protect its female faculty from further harassment. CAUT’s intervention reveals the systemic sexism of an organization that pays considerable lip service to the issue of academic bullying, but blocks legitimate and authoritative attempts to quell an endemic problem. The censure, if it indeed goes through, will ultimately diminish CAUT’s reputation more than anyone else’s. The association’s credible efforts to address harassment and bullying will be greatly diminished by this censure. CAUT’s recommendation that Ken Luckhardt should be allowed to revise his critique to omit the hostile and gender specific denunciation of female faculty is a weak and ineffective solution. The deed has been done, and cannot be undone. It was Luckhardt’s free choice to embed his critique in a misogynistic diatribe, and it is a choice he will have to live with.