January 3, 2011
Dr. David Barnard
President and Vice-Chancellor
University of Manitoba
Dear President Barnard:
Re: Professor Gabor Lukacs
I am the president of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship (www.safs.ca), a national organization dedicated to protecting academic freedom and the merit principle in decisions affecting faculty and students. I am writing to express our concern about the seeming abridgement of academic freedom of one of your professors, Gabor Lukacs.
Our information about this case comes from several sources: a) media, for example, Macleans (October 29, 2010), National Post (November 29, 2010), b) joint statement by Deans Doering and Whitmore (November 17, 2010), c) a letter to you from a group of 86 mathematicians from around the world, and d) other information sent to us by individuals. Clearly the case is complex and has extended over a considerable amount of time. Our information may not be complete. Accordingly we invite you to correct our understanding of the record, if need be.
Without going in to all the detail, it seems that the incident began when Professor Lukacs protested the awarding of a PhD to a student in his department who twice did not pass one of the comprehensive exams and did not complete all of his graduate courses. The student is said to suffer from extreme exam anxiety. Despite a recommendation to allow him to write the comprehensive exam a third time, under conditions that should reduce the anxiety, Dean Doering waived the requirement to pass this comprehensive exam, and also upgraded an undergraduate course the student had taken to the status of a graduate course, thus allowing the student to receive his PhD, largely on the strength of the quality of the dissertation itself. There appears to be controversy over whether the Dean had the authority to make this decision, whether the Mathematics department was consulted, and whether the university's rules concerning dealing with a student with a disability had been followed, and whether Professor Lukacs� protests and appeals of the awarding of the degree had been handled with fairness, due diligence, and compliance with the university's policies.
We understand that Professor Lukacs was reprimanded for violating the student�s confidentiality by writing to his colleagues in the department outlining his concern. Arguably members of the Mathematics department are entitled to know of any unusual actions taken to grant one of their students a PhD, and very likely that the student in question was already known to them. Be that as it may, Professor Lukacs did not further reveal the name of the student until, having exhausted the appeal process within the university and believing the case was not heard properly, filed a motion against the university in court. I believe the case will be heard at the end of January, 2011. Our understanding is that in filing an application to the courts confidential information relevant to the matter may be disclosed without violating privacy. For this last action, the university suspended Professor Lukacs for three months without pay, essentially to the end of this year. During this time, the university has prevented Professor Lukacs from entering his office, even to prepare for a course he will be teaching, beginning January 5, 2011. Aside from anything else, it is questionable that it is in the students� best interests that their professor is hampered in his preparation for their course.
Whatever one may think about Professor Lukacs� judgment, persistence, protests, and court filing, his academic freedom grants him the right to criticize the university, its policies, and administrative decisions. An unpaid three month suspension strikes us an unnecessary and unreasonable. The suspension seems to have been applied only to punish Professor Gabor for protesting, and not because of any further alleged violation of privacy, because the courts allow this disclosure.
We believe that this incident is a lose-lose situation for all parties concerned. The reputations of both the university and Professor Lukacs have been harmed. We urge you and your administration to seek a resolution to your treatment of Professor Lukacs. We recommend that you rescind his suspension, compensate him for the loss of three months' salary, and strike a committee of outside academics to review the entire case. Its mandate should include the following: a) to evaluate the internal processes regarding the awarding of degrees when challenged, b) the implications of a disability judgment on the academic quality of graduate student performance, c) the rights and obligations of faculty members to protect high standards in the awarding of graduate degrees, and d) the clarification of who is responsible under what conditions for rendering these decisions.
Finally, the university not only has to protect the quality and standards of its academic programs and degrees it must also protect the academic freedom of its faculty. It is apparent in this case, from what we have been able to learn, that neither of these objectives has been appropriately achieved.
We look forward to your response to our concerns. We will post our letter to you on our website, and we will also post your response to us, without any editing.
Thank you for your attention.
Clive Seligman, President.