On Campus

Activist UOttawa physicist suspended, faces dismissal

Controversial prof gave all students an A+ after his request for pass/fail class denied

The Chronicle of Higher Education is reporting that a series of clashes between the University of Ottawa and a senior tenured professor who was suspended last month and barred from the campus are now under investigation by the country’s main faculty association.

The suspension apparently stems from a spring 2008 grading dispute in which veteran professor Denis Rancourt gave all students in a class an A+ after he was denied permission to make the course pass/fail.

Rancourt is a noted physicist who has worked at the university for 22 years. According to the Chronicle, he is also an activist blogger, particularly on issues of pedagogical reform and university governance.  He says his advocacy of “greater democracy in the institution,” could be the real reason why the university is trying to push him out.

More details from the Chronicle:

Mr. Rancourt says he met with administration officials on December 10 and was given two letters, one placing him on administrative suspension and the other notifying him that his dean was recommending that the Board of Governors dismiss him. After he met with his union representative, the university police escorted him off campus.

“How can a disagreement about grading possibly justify ordering the university police to remove a tenured professor from campus, banning him from campus, assigning his graduate students to other faculty, firing his postdoctoral research fellow, and asking the Board of Governors to approve his firing?” he wrote in a letter to the board this week.

Andrée Dumulon, director of the university’s communications office, said the university could not comment on the move to fire Mr. Rancourt because Canadian privacy laws prohibit it from giving any details of its relationship with professors and also because of the collective agreement with the faculty.

The Canadian Association of University Teachers, the country’s main faculty association, formed its investigative committee shortly before the university placed Mr. Rancourt on suspension. The panel will also look at whether Mr. Rancourt’s academic freedom was breached or threatened. Over the years, according to the association, Mr. Rancourt has been involved in 18 grievances.

“We created the independent panel because this situation is so complex with claims and counterclaims, there’s no other way to sort through the forest of detail and make some recommendations,” said James Turk, the association’s executive director. Firing a tenured professor in Canada is very rare, he added, because 90 percent of Canadian universities are unionized, with collective agreements that strongly entrench academic freedom.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.