One of Ivany’s first tests as President of Acadia will be what to do about the Wightman affair.
For those unfamiliar with the case here’s some background.
In documents supporting an unjust dismissal suit filed in Kentville Supreme Court last year, Mr. Wightman said the university fired him two weeks after he was cleared of a sexual assault allegation.
In the court documents, he said he had a consensual “one-time fantasy sex encounter,” with a young woman in April 2007 and that the exchange involved “elements of bondage.” The woman had no connection to the university.
Mr. Wightman said he gave the university a copy of an August letter from the RCMP saying that no charges were being laid, but in early September, he was fired.
He alleges in the court documents that Acadia incorrectly took the position that he was not protected under the collective agreement as a tenured professor; acted in bad faith by alleging that he had used his university computer to engage in sexual conversations in chat rooms without providing details; and labelled his sexual activity as “aberrant behaviour” that was “incompatible with the purpose, principles and operative imperatives” of Acadia.
None of the allegations has been proven in court.
Acadia may be censured for its actions by the Canadian Association of University Teachers which wants the University to reinstate Mr. Wightman and compensate him.
The intentions of a censure include suggesting other professors think twice about accepting a job offer from a university and that they not attend meetings there, but that is not binding on anyone, CAUT executive director James Turk said Wednesday.
Once imposed, a censure would be removed only after Acadia has complied with recommendations made by the association.
There are a couple of things that puzzle us about this case. First of all the administration, in taking this action against Mr. Wightman, displays a double standard or dual personality obvious to anyone familiar with campus activity. What is aberrant sexual behaviour at a University which promotes “positive spaces” for its students and faculty?
Acadia Pride is an ASU organization aimed at providing an outlet for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Two-Spirited and Questioning Persons. The group provides support for students, staff, and faculty dealing with issues regarding sexuality as well as for their friends and family.
Would Mr Wightman get a pass if he were gay? Secondly, while we could understand the University’s distaste at Mr. Wightman’s extracurricular activity, once it was determined that no charges were being laid, one wonders why due process and tenure didn’t protect his position.
Mr. Turk said the university “didn’t purport to go through proper procedures, or any procedures, in the firing of a tenured professor.”
He said Acadia rejected the association’s request to resolve the matter and said that the university plans to stand its ground. He said he’s hopeful that will change with the arrival April 1 of new university president Ray Ivany.
Mr. Wightman named former Acadia President Dr. Gail Dinter-Gotlieb, current Vice-President Academic Dr. Tom Herman and Acadia’s Board of Governors in his statement of claim and in an article by The Atheneum said:
“ The summary dismissal with no specific allegations, no review, no opportunity to respond, and no appeal is so grossly inconsistent with everything that I believe a university should stand for as a cornerstone of a just and civil society,” said Dr. Wightman. … Dr. Wightman maintains that his sexual behaviour was legal and consensual, that the encounter was organized through the use of his personal computer and was thus not in violation of Acadia’s computing policy which prohibits behaviour of this nature. …
“To say that’s just cause is to say that we can’t employ anyone who’s ever been accused of doing something. That’s clearly an unsupportable position,” said Dr. Wightman.
AUFA is naturally concerned for the precedent it sets.
AUFA President Erin Patterson urged that the university take “immediate and appropriate actions to avert these serious sanctions that CAUT is about to impose.”
… a failure to properly resolve this matter has the potential to seriously damage labour relations at Acadia that have only recently shown signs of improving following last fall’s faculty strike, the second in five years at Acadia. …
“With partial information it does appear that Dr. Wightman was terminated without demonstrated just cause and certainly without due process. But without knowing the administration’s side of the story, which they’ve refused to share with us, we really can’t say for sure,” said Patterson. …
“It raises a very large concern for any members of the university community if we have to worry that our private conduct does not meet the standards of administrators.”
Which brings us back to point number one. What is abberrant behavior for a professor- or for that matter a student? Acadia Pride is an ASU group but don’t tell us there aren’t gay faculty at Acadia, known to the University. Will they be subject to the same scrutiny of their private affairs? What about smoking marijauna? Unheard of? Or is it a matter of just staying out of the press?
Patterson added that CAUT censureship has the potential to be devastating for the overall quality of education that Acadia can offer. With censureship, academics could be instructed to not attend conferences at Acadia and to not accept the university’s offers of employment.
“It could be extremely damaging.”
We expect this matter is on the top of Mr. Ivany’s to do list, and how he handles the issue may be an indication of his judgement and management skills.
Quote of the day:
The nicest thing about standards is that there are so many of them to choose from.
Andres S. Tannenbaum