EXAMINING ADMINISTRATIVE PRACTICE IN PUBLIC INSTITUTIONS

 

Letter from Robinson

to the Board Chair and Vice-Chair:



March 29th, 2006



Mr. Terry Royer, Chair
Mr. Guy McNabb, Vice Chair
Board of Governors
The University of Lethbridge


Dear Mr. Royer and Mr. McNabb:


This letter is in response to issues raised at our meeting on March 23, 2006. Although a number of matters were discussed, the concern that most directly became the subject of focus was my conduct as a Board member. Having never been a proponent of or a participant in a “shoot the messenger” mentality, you will understand my hesitation to acquiesce to such a process in the present instance, where I happen to be the messenger.


In regard to the meeting, it should be pointed out that, although I informed you I would be accompanied by another faculty member, I came alone—at your request. I did this against the advice of the Faculty Association, telling them I would accommodate your request because I wished to show good faith in having the matter settled. In that it was my conduct that was the primary issue of contention at our meeting, there was no reason for me to meet with you unaccompanied. Nothing about the business of the Board was discussed that required this exclusion, except my conduct as a Board member. Since it was my conduct that was under review, surely the right and practice of having an accompanying faculty member could have been accommodated and perhaps should have been encouraged.


As you will recall, I reminded you many times during our meeting of what I thought the significant issues were. I also indicated my concern that the focus was being shifted from the serious issues to a side issue of my conduct as a Board member. Although I am quite happy to have my conduct over the last few months (or over the entire period of my employment at the University of Lethbridge) fully examined, I am not happy that primary matters are not being treated as serious, or the conduct of those involved in such matters is not the subject of equally rigorous investigation.


I list my matters of continuing concern below. On some, we agree; on others, we have, I think, considerably different perspectives.


(1) My conduct as a Board member appeared to be your primary concern. I indicated at our meeting that we may need to study what the duties and rights of faculty members are who serve as Board members. We may well have a clash of basic principles: board duties vs. academic freedom (both of which come, I am sure, with rights and responsibilities). I pointed out the rights and duties of faculty members, and I quote here the relevant material from the agreement between the Board and the Faculty Association.


    11.01.3 The Board and the Association recognize Members’ rights and duties associated with academic freedom, in particular, freedom to form ideas, discuss ideas, publish ideas, and teach ideas which challenge opinions regarding academic, administrative and all other matters. (2004 Handbook)

I believe that I have acted within these parameters. Further, it is important to recognize that Dr. Cade did not raise any objections about my conduct as a Board member in bringing the matter to him in the first place; indeed, quite the opposite, as the correspondence that I left with you at our meeting will clearly indicate.


(2) I do commend you for recognizing that the issue of original concern (students forced to sign a document in order to continue in a class) was problematic. I do not think, however, that we need to establish a more formal policy on the matter. For nearly forty years, the University of Lethbridge has been able to handle—without forced contracts on students—situations were a professor could not complete a course because of illness, and other universities have been able to do the same for hundreds of years. Clearly, the University of Lethbridge is not lacking sound procedure or practice in this matter. It is the one incident where past procedure was not followed that needs review and correction. You have enough information about the situation, both from the student who initially expressed concern and from Dr. XXXXXX’s description of the situation, to be concerned that such a hostile and explosive situation was created.


(3) The investigation that the President’s office did regarding the initial incident is defective at a number of points. (a) It was done by a subordinate within the Dean’s office, creating a situation where it would appear to an external observer that the Dean’s office investigated itself. (b) The investigation does not seem to have interviewed students from the course, other than for the one student who initially expressed concerns—a strange omission for any serious investigation. (c) The report simply repeats the Dean’s office’s justification of its actions. I have pointed out in detail the considerable flaws and omissions in arguments and explanations put forward in that report. If such is the nature of our investigations involving concerns of students, I cannot see how students are well served or protected. Thus my detailed critique and my continuing concern, since the matter that provoked this continuing discussion appears to remain unexamined in a thorough and neutral way.


(4) The identification of the student who initially raised concerns is problematic, a matter that I have pointed out in previous communication. While I agree with you that in this case, the student may be better protected from disadvantage by the revelation of her identity (though there is no guarantee), we surely must agree that we have an obligation in law not to reveal the identity of students in such matters, and we must make every effort to ensure that such identification never happens again. Our university procedures repeatedly and clearly express our need to guard the identity of students (as does the law), and we recognize the general danger to students when there is failure to do this, as happened in this case.


(5) Perhaps the most serious matter now is how my criticism of administration actions has been twisted into personal allegations. This strikes at the heart of academic freedom. You were particularly concerned with one statement that I had made in earlier correspondence, in which I had made that issue the focus. You will recall that I said that the only change I would make in the statement under question is that I would boldface the type. Of course, I will not do that here, but I will quote the statement since it does get at the heart of the matter. The statement is made in an e-mail to Dr. Cade.


    Given how the initial incident was handled by the Dean's office and given how members of the administration (yourself included) have chosen to spin my criticism of the actions of the administration into ‘personal allegations,’ I have no grounds upon which to think that the same will not be done with concerns that this student has expressed. I am advising the student to take whatever action is necessary to insure that the expression of concern and disagreement with the actions of administration is not thrown back at her as ‘personal allegations,’ as it has been done in my case. This is the climate that the administration's response to this matter has fostered, and I will take whatever steps necessary to insure that dissent by students or professors can be made against administrative procedures without litigious threats from the administration.


Given the continuing developments, in which my conduct is now the matter of keen concern and investigation, there is, in my view, mounting evidence that prevents me from withdrawing or modifying the statement in question.


Although you have asked me to communicate with you by phone rather than by writing, on reflection I believe that it is better to set my concerns in writing. Whatever the dangers of such a practice for me, I think my consistent policy in regard to putting matters such as these in writing assures that I will deal with only issues that I think are of substance and that I will do so in as concrete, cautious, and accurate a manner as possible.


Finally, since it now seems to be my conduct as a Board member that is the focus of attention, I am copying this letter to ULFA so as to inform them of your concerns. As ULFA’s nominee to the Board, ULFA has a rightful interest in my conduct as a Board member.


|Sincerely,


[original signed]


Tom Robinson


c. ULFA




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