A labour arbitration board has decided to exclude journalists and members of the public from hearings into Mount Allison Psychology Professor Rima Azar’s seven month suspension without pay.
“The Board met, considered the matter, and decided that the proceedings would be closed to the public and press,” said William Kaplan, the chief of the arbitration panel in an e-mail to Warktimes, campus/community radio station CHMA, and The Argosy, Mt. A’s student newspaper.
When asked why the arbitrators decided to hold the hearings behind closed doors, Kaplan replied: “There is nothing further that I can say.”
He was responding to a joint request to cover the hearings, which are scheduled to begin on April 5th, from all three local media outlets.
“We believe the issues in this case go well beyond a narrowly focused labour dispute,” the local journalists wrote in an e-mail addressed to Kaplan.
“On the one hand, there are issues of free speech, academic freedom and the right to engage in wide-ranging political debate, while on the other, there are issues related to diversity, human rights and inclusion,” the journalists added.
“These issues are of interest and concern to students and other members of the Mount Allison community as well as members of the general public. In addition, Mount Allison University is a public institution that receives public funds and so, should be open to public scrutiny.”
Background to Azar suspension
In February 2021, Mount Allison announced it was conducting an internal review after students circulated highlights from Rima Azar’s personal blog including posts that denied the existence of systemic racism or systemic discrimination in Canada, accused the group Black Lives Matter of peddling communist propaganda and questioned concerns about climate change.
CHMA reported that the Mt. A. Black Students’ Union issued a statement calling for Azar’s removal from her university teaching job.
“Her behaviour does not foster [an] inclusive nor fair learning environment and some students have already expressed that they will avoid taking classes with Dr. Azar. No student should fear discrimination by a professor,” the statement said.
The campus radio station also talked to Zoë Wright, a fifth-year student who identifies as a Two-Spirit Indigenous person, someone who carries both feminine and masculine spirits.
Wright complained that Azar refused a request to be addressed in the classroom using gender-neutral pronouns.
“I went up after one of the lectures to just introduce myself,” Wright told CHMA. “I mentioned that I was Two-Spirit, and I would prefer her using they/them pronouns when addressing me,” Wright added.
“Her response, straight to my face was, ‘No, I don’t believe in other identities.’”
(Azar herself denies that the exchange took place.)
University issues suspension
In an e-mail to students, faculty and staff on May 4, 2021, the university indicated that its decision to suspend Azar without pay until December 1st, was based on a report from an unidentified, independent investigator whom it said, “reviewed complaints from students alleging discriminatory conduct, stemming from blog posts and student interactions,” but gave no further details.
“Students, faculty, and staff deserve to have a safe place to learn and work, and should not have to avoid any class, activity or person because of their race, gender identity or gender expression,” the e-mail added.
It also said the university supported the investigator’s recommendation that Azar undergo “equity, diversity and inclusion training” and that Mt. A. had offered to pay for it.
It later emerged that in addition to her seven-month suspension, Azar had been banned from the campus until December 1st.
Arbitrators hearing the case
The three arbitrators who will be hearing Azar’s challenge to her seven-month suspension were appointed under the terms of the collective agreement between the university and the Mount Allison Faculty Association (MAFA).
Chief Arbitrator William Kaplan is a prominent Toronto lawyer, labour arbitrator and author. He’s best known for two books about the Airbus Affair. His 1998 book, Presumed Guilty: Brian Mulroney, the Airbus Affair, and the Government of Canada argued that Mulroney had been the victim of unjust persecution by the RCMP, the federal government and prominent journalists. In 2004, Kaplan published a sequel, A Secret Trial: Brian Mulroney, Stevie Cameron, and the Public Trust after he had revealed in the Globe and Mail that the former prime minister had accepted $300,000 in cash payments from German/Canadian Karlheinz Schreiber, the businessman who had been instrumental in the deal to sell Airbus jets to Air Canada while Mulroney was in office. Kaplan’s most recent book is Why Dissent Matters. To view his website, click here.
Arbitrator Robin Vose is the MAFA-appointed representative on the panel. He served as President of the Canadian Association of University Teachers from 2016-2019 and now teaches history at St. Thomas University in Fredericton. According to information on the STU website, Dr. Vose has lectured widely on subjects such as academic freedom and university governance.
Arbitrator Lauri Reesor is the Mt. A-appointed representative. She is a partner in the Toronto law firm Hicks Morley and specializes in subjects such as human rights, pay equity and labour arbitration. Her biography on the law firm’s website describes her as a “leading human rights lawyer in Canada.” To read more about her, click here.
For coverage of free speech concerns raised by the Azar suspension, click here.
Perhaps there is some embarrassment on both sides, but is that a reason not to have a public hearing? Just asking.
Oddly enough I have been re-reading George Orwell over the last little while. In the middle of 1984 right now. Makes one think. Unperson anyone?
As a member of the 2SLGBTQA community and too as a staunch advocate for our communities, Rima is accepting and a friend and supporter to us all.
Ha! Speak for yourself Christian. I guess you haven’t spoken with her 2SLGBTQA students….
THE ONE WORD ONE MEANING FALLACY
” A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, so spoke the bard. Basically, when all is said and done Gertrude Stein suggests, “A rose is a rose is a rose.”
The seven-month suspension of Rima Azar involving the age old question of the “law of identity” is a question that requires public scrutiny and there for not be closed to the press who are the guardians of democracy.
The labour arbitration board is SMART to exclude journalist whose stock and trade are words; but not WISE. Mount Allison is not only a corporate body with a business mentality, but also an institution dedicated to broadening the mind. Therefore, one should question the hearings themselves being conducted by a labour arbitration board a corporate construct of course sorts for labour disputes which is in binary opposition to matters of the mind. One can only hope that they are aware of the celebrated Mrs. Malaprop. If not the results of the hearing will be a product of muddled thinking or of not enough thinking. Pronouns at the best of times can be very confusing since the noun (ONE WORD ONE MEANING FALLACY) to which a pronoun refers is merely implied, not stated. What the board must sort out is the confusing relation that the pronoun-pronoun’s were readily discernable beyond a reasonable doubt so that the antecedent was obvious to Professor Rima Azar But with no journalist present any report released and it’s conclusion submitted by the board will not be verifiable. So, unless the so called independent investigator is a linguist like Noam Chomsky this will have to go to the supreme court to sort out the numerous gender identities that are listed in the Canadian Bill of Rights which may not have been vetted in the supreme court. Last count in the Canadian Bill of rights Bill C-16 l 30 identities with up to 58 that New York has in it’s similar Legislation.
To conclude I will quote John Locke,
“vague and insignificant norms of speech, and abuse of language, have so long passed for mysteries of sciences, and hard or misapplied words with little or no meaning, have by prescription, such aright to be mistaken for deep learning and height of speculation, that it will not be easy tp persuade either those who speak or those who hear them, the they are but the covers of ignorance and hindrances of true knowledge.
so it seems that Universities which are dependent on public funds have become ‘crash test dummies’ for corporatism rather then institutions of enlightenment. The outcome of this hearing is extremely important because the results will perhaps confirm that democracy is dying and being replaced by Corporatism ,thereby rendering a great university as just another institution of John Ralston Saul’s , The Unconscious Civilization.
Thanks for sharing the update info Bruce… my guess is that Rima will be vindicated… my hope:
more people find their voice to speak out against the so-called fragile people who demand our submission to their demands that they must be supported.. real life doesn’t work that way –
Rima Azar is a great example of the culture on campus to ‘shut people up’ who you find are not going along with the ‘narrative’ which is unfortunate because universities are supposed to be places where ALL IDEAS AND CONCEPTS are up for discussion and challenge… especially Liberal Arts Boutique universities… if this university fails to uphold Rima’s rights to exist and work on their campus as a woman with a mind and a unique voice; in my opinion they have little value to society at this point. Should the arbitration panel find that her seven-month suspension without pay was unjust, it will be a time to heal, learn and move on for all the young people who think its perfectly OK to destroy the lives of others in this town who don’t share their views – your tolerance of Rima and others like her is your passport to a better life of peace, acceptance, love, understanding and a deeper exploration of what it means to be a human being … abide, keep the conversations going, be prepared to be an uncomfortable adult, be forced to think deeper, survive… words shouldn’t hurt you. Be real.
[That’s my advice as an outsider to all the campus culture vultures.]