University of Regina CS Lecturer Received "Letter of Expectation" (and More) for Criticizing School's DIE Policies

January 2022

This article is one I was reluctant to write, but felt it necessary. I was planning to write an article for SAFS about universities employing so-called “Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion” (EDI) policies, or DIE. It is my professional opinion as an educator that the “I” in DIE is incongruent with an appropriate application of inclusion in universities. Frequently, DIE’s manifestation of the “I” is exclusionary, i.e., exclusionary scholarships, exclusionary/restricted hiring. That I should need to write this article illustrates how poor a state some Canadian universities are in, and one may consider this article a plea to other academics and the general public that something is going very wrong in our universities and related institutions, very wrong. Put simply, I criticized the DIE policy of the university I presently teach for, the University of Regina. As a result, I’m being treated in an unwelcome manner at Regina. I am encountering the very kind of partiality I was criticizing. This is disappointing as I believe there is work to be done to improve the school’s standards, which I have undertaken in my role as Lecturer for the Department of Computer Science.

At the time of writing this article, some documents quoted here are not publicly available. All those available will include the tag [website], if archived on the SAFS website.

On September 21, 2021, the University of Regina announced new scholarships and revealed a so-called “Progress Pride” flag on campus [website]. I publicly criticized on the website LinkedIn the announcement of new funds for activist scholarships (paraphrasing and quoting):

  1. “The Button Family EDI Award supports an undergraduate student who has demonstrated financial need and community involvement in social justice initiatives.”

  2. “The Button Family EDI Graduate Research Award supports a graduate student whose research focuses on social responsibility, anti-racism, inclusion, or reconciliation.”

Notice neither of these awards are about excellence and both are baked in social justice, DIE, and its related political activist cohorts; all of these subjects and activities are things of great debate in Canadian society, so when they are presented like this it seems partial (partiality is the main issue). Seeing the announcement, my first, natural and common-sense reaction as somebody who has some understanding of these issues was: “Yikes”. Weeks later my comment attracted attention. In response, I defended the principle of impartiality and expressed concerns I had about the university’s decision.

I criticized the university’s lack of impartiality and its bold endorsement of certain political ideologies as scholarships. The fact that promoting impartiality and defending the individual dignity and fairness of others at a university, both important principles, could bring me troubles from administrators, including logically incoherent and bigoted writings from at least one representative of the University of Regina [website] and then a Letter of Expectation from the Dean of Science [website], concerns me. Nowhere in my comments did I write anything hateful or harassing. In fact, I defended the acceptance of people’s individual dignity and their ability to be respected as an individual against those who wished to conflate people’s identities with certain political philosophies and those who wish to throw bigoted language around carelessly and inhumanely, like showering a pizza with mozarella. I will always defend the following view, as an educator:

“I do not care if somebody is missing a leg, an arm, or an eye, I do not care how you look or how you feel, you are welcome in my class! Everybody is welcome in my classroom.”

To this date, not a single student of mine, not a single colleague of mine, has reached out to me with concerns about my comments/criticisms. The only feedback I received, which I handled in a civil and reasonable manner (given my training, especially), was on the LinkedIn post. Every bit of criticism that occurred happened within the LinkedIn thread.

In events described below, concerns about my comments morphed into potential concerns about my classroom, which is strange in this case as I record all my university lectures and make all of my lectures publicly available, for the purposes of accessibility and transparency. No incident in my classroom was ever pointed out to me.

Here is a summary, with little commentary, on what happened next:

  • October 14, 2021: As a “Calendar” item, I received an invitation (without any e-mail or any context) to a Zoom meeting with the Dean of Science, Dr. Douglas Farenick, with the subject “Respectful University,” for 4:00 PM. I presumed it was an error as no communications had occurred about it.

  • October 15, 2021 - October 27, 2021: I received the first e-mail from Dean Farenick, on October 15. He had wanted to meet with me at 3 PM that day, for which I was not available. In e-mail communications I had asked him what the topic of the meeting was, and Dean Farenick wrote: “The conversation stems from your commentary on the University’s announcement of the Progress Pride Flag.” I was criticizing my university, I never specifically commented about the “Progress Pride Flag”; my critiques were about principles. I presumed, based on my professional experience at other schools and places outside of academia, that the Dean would assure the students that my classroom is a welcoming place and that if there were concerns, they could be directed toward me to discuss them and partake in academic discourse. The final communication that day led to the Dean stating:

    “I believe that I have made it clear that I am requesting to speak to you in person via Zoom about a matter that has been brought to my attention by the undergraduate student body and concerns their impression, based solely on your social media post, that your classroom is not one where members of the LGBTQ2IA+ community are welcome.”

    Over the next weeks, Dean Farenick refused to resolve the matter simply over e-mail. This was even after I rebuked his claims (and presented him several ways to check) and presented several times a simple conflict resolution, such as repeatedly asking Dean Farenick to assure the student that everyone is welcome in my class. Instead of assuring me things were fine, Dean Farenick ignored my worries and needs as a faculty member to prepare for my students by entertaining these false concerns. Over those weeks, I wrote some of the most frustrating and heart wrenching e-mails I have ever written to the Dean, who in my opinion was exasperating the situation by not resolving any conflicts and neglecting my concerns. I pleaded with him to let me do my work. We did eventually meet, after he threatened to charge me with insubordination, on October 28, 2021, at 4 PM. The first time I contacted my union, URFA, was on October 27, 2021.

  • October 28, 2021: I met with Dean Farenick, along with a Member Services Officer for URFA, Colin Tether, over Zoom. At the meeting, Dean Farenick alleged a student of mine was concerned, despite presenting no evidence. In the meeting the Dean stated he had not yet reached out to the student, despite my requests to help the student. The result of the meeting was the Letter of Expectation, which summarized most of what Dean Farenick had stated. I stated nothing during the meeting. I was given a date to complete a “Respect in the Workplace” online module. I completed this online module on November 15, but did not send Dr. Farenick the record of this.

  • October 30, 2021: I filed my first request for a grievance with URFA, directed to Colin Tether. I requested the withdrawal of the letter, as my comments were not inconsistent with fairness, respect or any other academic value. In my grievance I described my concerns about discrepancies in the letter and concerns involving academic freedom.

  • November 12, 2021: I sent a reminder e-mail to Colin Tether of URFA, along with some more details from the collective agreement and the policies protecting me, including policies cited by Dean Farenick.

  • November 16, 2021: I received an e-mail from URFA Member Services Officer, Landon Schaffer. Schaffer claimed URFA has no grounds to pursue the grievance. At this time I was not provided any process for appeal.

  • November 24, 2021: I again, requested a grievance, to withdraw the letter and have the matter dropped, to Dr. Britt Hall, URFA President. Along with carefully citing policies of the collective agreement, and all relevant procedures, I also mentioned that I had not been given any details for appeal in my grievance request. Later that day I was informed by the URFA President that she will not intervene.

  • November 25, 2021: Schaffer notified me who to contact to appeal. I asked URFA’s Executive Director, Dr. Heather Ritenburg, for the approved policy on grievances and grievance appeals. I also asked what procedure was followed for my grievance initially filed on October 30 and for a timeline. My requests were ignored.

  • November 30, 2021: Dr. Ritenburg declined my appeal, claiming that a violation of one’s academic freedom has to be constituted by disciplinary action, and stated: “If you have concerns about how URFA has represented you on this matter, your option is to contact the Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety.”

  • December 23, 2021: I sent Dean Farenick a formal request to withdraw the Letter of Expectation and drop this situation completely [website]. Later that morning, Dean Farenick refused to withdraw the letter, and issued his own formal response [website].

Before I close, a few remarks:

  1. I recommend reading my request to Dean Farenick to withdraw the Letter of Expectation and the whole situation from December 23, 2021. There I pointed out several of my concerns about Dean Farenick’s Letter of Expectation.

  2. I would highly advise reading Dean Farenick’s response from December 23, 2021. I consider much of it concerning from the perspective of academic freedom and basic procedure.

  3. URFA’s contention with my grievance seems to be that what the Dean did was not disciplinary, despite Article 22 of the collective agreement stating: “University shall take disciplinary action as the situation warrants. This shall involve, but not be restricted to, verbal warnings, verbal reprimands, written warnings, written reprimands, partial or full suspension of duties, and dismissal. Any disciplinary action undertaken by the University is subject to the grievance procedures as outlined in Article 21 and, in the case of dismissal for cause, the procedures outlined in Article 19.3.”

To close, I wish to quote my request to the Dean of Science on December 23, 2021:

“I believe it is important that universities defend academic freedom and their faculty. If incidents of this nature can happen to someone such as myself, whom values excellence, standards, and inclusivity in my classes, no one is safe from overzealous and unfounded concerns or claims about one’s teaching being entertained by administrators, that as a result only cause undeserved anxiety and stress from administrators (not those making the claims).”