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Collection « Les sciences sociales contemporaines »

The Academic Corporation, Justice, Freedom, and the University (1987)

Une édition électronique réalisée à partir du livre de MM. Allen Fenichel & David Mandel, The Academic Corporation, Justice, Freedom, and the University. Introduction by Professor J. C. Weldon. Montréal-New York : Black Rose Books, 162 pp., 1987, 190 pp. Une édition numérique réalisée par Marcelle Bergeron, bénévole, professeure retraitée de l'École polyvalente Dominique-Racine de Chicoutimi. [Autorisation accordée par l'auteur le 1er novembre 2006 de diffuser le texte de cette conférence dans Les Classiques des sciences sociales.]


This book is dedicated to the memory of Jack Weldon, who died in February 1987 at the age of sixty-four. 

On November 24, 1978, the McGill Senate, with only one dissenting voice, censured Professors J. C. Weldon and A. Asimakopulos, both distinguished McGill professors of long standing and members of the Royal Society of Canada. The events leading up to this decision began with a letter dated January 16, 1978, to the then dean of arts, Robert Vogel, from an associate professor in the Economics Department requesting that normal procedure be bypassed in the decision on his promotion to full professor: he asked that his case be considered not by the Economics Department's promotion committee but by a university committee. He claimed that Professors Weldon and Asimakopulos were prejudiced against him. 

A recent report by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT Bulletin, May 1987) found that in his efforts on behalf of “Professor X”, Dean Vogel misted the Senate in asking it to set in motion the establishment of a Statutory Selection Committee for promotion to full professor without a department recommendation on this matter. It also established that the Senate Committee on Disclosure of Information, which was asked to investigate the circulation of documents by Weldon and Asimakopulos (an attempt on their part to show that the Senate had been misled), acted precipitously, ignored due process, and knowingly exceeded its mandate when it condemned them. The findings of this committee provided the basis for the Senate's censure of the two professors. The Senate, in turn, compounded the committee's error by also acting precipitously and without regard for due process. Further, it was found to be an inappropriate body to make such judgements. The CAUT Report accused the university administration, particularly Principal Bell, and the Senate, of recklessly damaging the reputation of two outstanding academics. 

The McGill administration was also found to be responsible for blocking a resolution of the grievance. CAUT concluded that not only are the existing grievance procedures at McGill seriously flawed, but that the administration, and specifically Principal Johnston, who succeeded Bell, have refused either to provide the necessary leadership to repair the flaws or to make available reasonable alternative procedures. 

Despite this report, Weldon and Asimakopulos remain condemned at McGill. Despite the nine years spent in pursuit of justice, justice has eluded them. In all those years, not one member of the Senate that censured them has come forward to admit error, or even to pose suitable questions. The vast majority of the faculty have ignored the issue. Even sympathetic colleagues often seem unable to comprehend why Jack would give so much of himself to what appears to them a relatively insignificant matter.

Yet in the final version of his curriculum vitae, Jack described this struggle as the most important contribution of his academic career. He explains in his introduction to this book: 

There is only one "Dreyfus" case, it seems to me, one only, played over and over again to audiences of every variety and size, and picturing victories and defeats that are never final and never complete. For civilized people, attendance at the play is mandatory and soon demands participation upon the stage from the audience itself. 

For Jack Weldon, these were not empty words. He lived by that philosophy. Even when, as in his own grievance, the cost was high and the results uncertain, he could not ignore injustice. The tragedy of cases like those of Weldon-Asimakopulos and Mandel lies not in any excess on the part of the offended, but rather in the failure of their colleagues, despite their claimed professional commitment to the pursuit of truth, to seek out that truth and uphold it in the face of corrupt authority. 

If one were to apply Jack's criterion in judging the fate of these grievances, one would have to conclude that our universities count few civilized people among their staffs today. In these cases, CAUT, which purports to represent all of Canada's university teachers, has behaved little better than members of the "McGill community". (It required nine years and untold efforts to obtain the Weldon-Asimakopulos report, which itself is not a formal censure of McGill.) For if injustice can exist in the Canadian academic setting, this is not – as it is in some societies – because of the overwhelming pressures of a "totalitarian" state. Rather, it is because of the timidity of academics, timidity nourished by corporatist narrowness and egotism. 

Jack Weldon showed those of us who were fortunate enough to work and struggle alongside him the difference even one civilized person, one man of principle and courage, can make.

Retour au texte de l'auteur: Jean-Marc Fontan, sociologue, UQAM Dernière mise à jour de cette page le jeudi 21 juin 2007 8:32
Par Jean-Marie Tremblay, sociologue
professeur au Cégep de Chicoutimi.

Saguenay - Lac-Saint-Jean, Québec
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