U of O Watch mission, in the words of Foucault...

"One knows … that the university and in a general way, all teaching systems, which appear simply to disseminate knowledge, are made to maintain a certain social class in power; and to exclude the instruments of power of another social class. … It seems to me that the real political task in a society such as ours is to criticise the workings of institutions, which appear to be both neutral and independent; to criticise and attack them in such a manner that the political violence which has always exercised itself obscurely through them will be unmasked, so that one can fight against them." -- Foucault, debating Chomsky, 1971.

U of O Watch mission, in the words of Socrates...

"An education obtained with money is worse than no education at all." -- Socrates

video of president allan rock at work

Friday, May 18, 2012

Hearings into dismissal of Rancourt reveal much

There have now been fifteen days of hearings before labour arbitrator Foisy into the wrongful dismissal case at the University of Ottawa of tenured full professor of physics Denis Rancourt.

The hearing dates have been scattered over the last year and as many more hearing days are foreseen until June 2013. The last four days of hearings were May 14, 15, 16, and 17. The next hearing date is in May 2013.

The University has closed its case after only three witnesses: Two students who complained about the teaching method in an advanced solid state physics course given by Rancourt to twenty three students in the winter 2008 semester and former dean of the Faculty of Science, Andre E. Lalonde.

Most of the week was taken up by the cross examination of Lalonde by counsel for the union Sean McGee, and re-examination of Lalonde by counsel for the university Lynn Harnden. Rancourt started giving his evidence at the end of the week.

The cross examination of Lalonde has revealed what many observers had already inferred about the dismissal:

  1. The November 2008 unannounced lockout of Rancourt and his graduate students and post-doctoral associate from their laboratory and offices was meant to permanently render the laboratory unusable (essential materials were permanently removed).
  2. The "context" of this November 2008 permanent shut-down, as the former dean explained, was that an upper management group including President Allan Rock had already decided that Rancourt was to be fired; in advance of both the dean's December 2008 "recommendation for dismissal to the Board" and the Board's April 2009 "decision to dismiss". (Allan Rock chaired the April 2009 Board meeting that made the "decision".)

At the time of the lockout, the university had advanced the pretext of a simple change in radiation safety protocol, unannounced to radiation license holder and principle investigator Rancourt. The "new safety protocol" was not written in time for a meeting involving Rancourt's union that followed the lockout.

The cross-examination of Lalonde also revealed that science student Maureen Robinson (aka, Nathalie Page; false Facebook and Google-group identity) had been hired by the university in 2007-2008, was given access to the dean's email account to compile emails about Rancourt, and gave regular reports to both the dean and former university legal counsel Michelle Flaherty (now a co-Chair at the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal) that included:

  • Surveillance of Rancourt and students.
  • Gathering information from third-parties on false pretense.
  • Minimizing the "paper trail" of her activities.
  • Reporting on student electoral events.
  • Reporting on the presence or absence of Rancourt and others at campus and off-campus events.
  • Transcribing Rancourt's campus radio show recordings.
  • Obtaining recordings of Rancourt's talks on other campuses.
  • Attempting to obtain class notes and class communications from Rancourt's courses.
  • Using her former contacts at the Fulcrum (student newspaper) to transmit the Fulcrum's information.

These activities were performed with the full knowledge of both Lalonde and Flaherty. Indeed, Robinson routinely joked about what "Nathalie" (her false identity on Facebook and in Google-groups and by email) had been up to and her coming projects.

For example:
"Hi, it's Nathalie. Haha.
(You know, posing as a smiling schoolgirl to get information makes me feel like those police officers who pose as 9-year old girls online in order to catch pedophiles...)"
Several more emails HERE.

Lalonde stated that he had the login name and password to Robinson's fake account (that she had provided only to him) on a 3M sticky note in his office for many months. Robinson wanted him to have it for the periods when she was absent from her work.

Lalonde stated under oath that he discouraged Robinson from performing her surveillance, that she only did this out of "personal interest", and that he accepted receiving the information she provided because of the "climate of fear" that prevailed on campus at the time.

Lalonde explained that science student Marc Kelly had appeared on campus in a white costume and playing "ominous" music ("The institution controls your mind") from a portable sound box, that part of the white costume had been found in Rancourt's laboratory, that he had seen a picture of Kelly in-costume on Rancourt's office door, and that a biology professor had expressed security concerns a-la-Fabrikant to him. Lalonde further explained that if some unauthorized person "anarchist activist" had access to a laboratory with radioactive materials that this had great potential to create "fear in the community". Lalonde also sought advice from a psychiatrist, to advise him regarding Dr. Rancourt's mental state and the risk that he and/or others represented to the University community, regarding these events. For these reasons Lalonde felt that he was justified in using the information gathered by Robinson.

Many of the emails involving Robinson that were disclosed by the university under the requirements of the arbitration had never been disclosed as required by law following an access to information request made by Rancourt in 2008, even under a subsequent appeal with the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, not even their existence in the required table of non-disclosed records. It is difficult to understand how this could have occurred. As a result, the access to information request gave essentially no results.

Background articles and links:

  • Targeting dissident professor Denis Rancourt, HERE.
  • Tribunal hearings page on academicfreedom.ca, HERE.
  • All UofOWatch posts about the dismissal hearings, HERE.
  • Reports on University's covert surveillance practices, HERE.
  • Recent Student's-Eye View reports about the hearings, HERE1, HERE2, HERE3.
  • Globe & Mail letter from concerned parent Julia Debono observing Rancourt's 2006 class, HERE.
[2012-06-22: Correction/clarification: "Lalonde also consulted a psychiatrist regarding these events." was changed to "Lalonde also sought advice from a psychiatrist, to advise him regarding Dr. Rancourt's mental state and the risk that he and/or others represented to the University community, regarding these events."]

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