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THE UNIVERSITY OF LETHBRIDGE: The Incident and Investigation

The “Incident”

In mid-November, 2005, when over two-thirds of the semester had been completed, a professor was unable to complete his course. The Dean’s office forced students to sign an agreement to continue in the course. If students refused to sign, they were prohibited from submitting any further work in the course, they were dropped from the course, they lost half of their tuition fees, and they were given a “W” (withdrawal) on their transcript. Some students protested, feeling that the Dean’s office was using heavy-handed tactics to force compliance and to silence dissent.

The action of the Dean’s office in this case was contrary to the routine practice by which courses were completed when an instructor became ill during the term.

A Further Serious Matter

The student also reported that the Dean’s office claimed to have run the agreement by a lawyer. The Dean’s office maintains it did not make this claim to students; rather, it claims that it told them explicitly that the document had not been run by a third party. If the student is correct in what the Dean’s office told the class and if the Dean’s office did not consult a lawyer, then the Dean’s office misled the students to get their compliance. This would be a most serious violation of the trust that must exist between students and administrators. Students should be able to have the confidence that matters are presented accurately to them by the university. No misrepresentation of facts can be permitted, nor should students be manipulated by any misinformation. Although this is a critical matter, the university has not investigated the claim.

My Involvement

A student from the class mentioned the incident to a new professor in my department, and he suggested that she speak to me since I had been at the institution for many years. When I spoke with the student, she was angry with the conduct of the Dean’s office and stated that the university does whatever it pleases. I assured her that our institution was not that kind of place; we were indeed concerned about students. I asked her if she minded if I brought the matter to the attention of the President. I felt that the matter could be handled quietly and that the President would provide the student with some satisfaction.

The student agreed and I brought the matter to the President’s attention. The President invited the student to meet with him. I thought that would be the end of the matter for me.

The “Investigation”

The President brought in a junior member of the Dean’s office when he met with the student, and he had this person investigate the matter. On receiving the report, the student was even more convinced that the university did whatever it pleased to students. The student gave me a copy of the report. When I read the report, I was embarrassed as a member of the university that my institution would conduct such a flawed investigation. In fact, we would fail a student if they were to submit such work.

I then wrote a detailed letter to the President outlining why the report from the investigation was inadequate. I list some of the flaws below. The full copy of my letter to the President about this matter can be viewed through the following link (Letter: Robinson to Cade).

Some flaws of the “Investigation”

(1) A junior member of the Dean’s office investigated the Dean’s office. This is not just a matter of the Dean’s office investigating itself—it is a matter of a subordinate of the Dean investigating actions of the Dean’s office. The student had a right to be concerned about the potential biased outcome of such an investigation.

(2) The investigator failed to speak to other students in the class, who could have confirmed or challenged the first student’s account. It appears that the investigator merely accepted and passed on the account from the Dean’s office. This is not an investigation. It is merely a repetition of the position of the Dean’s office.

(3) The report reflected logic that was flawed and silly, stating in one case that ““the goal [of the Dean’s office] was to provide [students] with a commitment, from the Faculty, to complete the course appropriately.” What?! Would it not be a document signed by the Dean’s officenot by the students—that would assure students that the course would be completed appropriately? And does the Dean’s office not have a responsibility to ensure that courses are completed appropriately—without students being forced to sign anything? Further, the investigation reported that the Dean said he “was concerned that students' efforts up to the point when Dr. XXXXX* was no longer available to teach were not wasted.” Should students ever be forced to wonder whether their efforts in a course might be wasted because a prof becomes ill? We routinely deal with those kinds of situations many times a year without forcing students to sign anything. Are we really expecting students to be satisfied with this kind of logic from the administration when we demand higher standards of reasoning even from first-year students?

The student was not satisfied. Nor was I.

— Tom Robinson

The University of Lethbridge

*The original professor in that course.


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