Note to readers: The following statement was issued by the Mount Allison Students’ Union (MASU) in response to a request for comment from The New Wark Times on the secrecy surrounding the settlement of the case involving Mt. A. Psychology Professor Rima Azar. Azar, supported by her union — the Mount Allison Faculty Association (MAFA) — challenged her seven-month suspension without pay last year after students complained, among other things, about posts on her personal blog. For more background on the case, click here. The terms of the settlement reached in April between Azar, MAFA and the university are being kept confidential and although her suspension came as a result of student complaints, the students themselves have no way of knowing if the final outcome reflects their concerns. The arbitration proceedings that led to the settlement were held behind closed doors in spite of a joint request from Warktimes, CHMA-FM and The Argosy, Mt. A’s student newspaper, for open hearings.
As the MASU, our role within the politics of the university, students and the local community is always to play an advocating role for students. The same held true for this situation and will hold true for all forthcoming ones as well.
However, the MASU recognizes that there are major complexities within this issue which require detailed investigation of all the evidence present in a factual and unbiased manner. In such situations, careers, reputations, and relationships can get caught in the crossfire easily if those responsible are not cautious.
While we understand the decisions being made, the MASU hopes that the happenings and conclusions of this case can be heeded as a learning opportunity to set better precedent for the handling of such issues in the future; we hope that public discourse around such issues in the future is done in a fruitful manner and avoids volatility and hostility, rather encouraging critical discourse and discussion between all involved, especially students.
We echo Brad Walters’ sentiment stating that the handling of this case could have been improved on all sides. However, we also feel that academic freedom as a concept is not as simple as it may seem. Educational institutes are organizations with hierarchies, both in power and status, across students, faculty, and administration. Creating an educational environment in which students feel comfortable, free, and respected is part of what academic freedom entails.
Academic freedom is not synonymous with free speech and requires much greater consideration of the ends at which it is aimed and the context in which it is situated. Academic freedom is not inherently absolute and untethered, but situated with its end-based goal of creating a non-toxic learning environment.
However, logic, as always, is silent on the particulars. The specifics of what does and does not constitute a breach of academic freedom is an incredibly complex question and should be evaluated within our specific local/intellectual context through civil discourse – something the MASU hopes occurs at any such future proceedings.
In recognition of this, while we are disheartened that the decision and proceedings will not be made public, we trust and hope that those responsible for the proceedings are conducting them in a fair and clinical manner and that the conclusion reached will be as close to a just outcome as possible.