Open Letter to Dr. R. Birgeneau, President University of Toronto, from the Board of Directors, Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship.
October 2, 2000
Dear Mr. President:
The Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship (SAFS) is a national organization whose goals are safeguarding freedom in teaching, research, and scholarship and maintaining standards of excellence in academic decisions about students and faculty.
This letter is prompted by recent media reports, newspaper articles, letters, and news releases concerning the settlement of the long-standing dispute between the University of Toronto and Dr. Kin-Yip Chun. According to the University's press releases, Dr. Chun has received an academic appointment in the Department of Physics with the title Research Scientist and Associate/Adjunct Professor (non-tenure stream). Under the terms of the appointment, Dr. Chun's research will be reviewed in four years, at which time he will be reappointed without term if he has published four papers of unspecified length and quality.
While we appreciate the university's desire to conclude this affair amicably, and while we sympathize with Dr. Chun, whom the University acknowledges having exploited during his earlier employment as a Research Scientist, we are concerned about the manner in which this academic appointment has been made and its implications for Canadian universities generally.
Specifically, we are concerned that the position to which Dr. Chun was appointed was not advertised, that no short list of suitable candidates was interviewed, that the appointment was not made by an Appointments Committee consisting of members of the Department of Physics, and that reappointment without term has been made conditional on the fulfilment of conditions other than those generally applied in reaching reappointment/tenure decisions. Had Dr. Chun been denied reappointment as a Research Scientist, or had he been denied appointment to any of the four tenure-stream faculty positions for which he applied, either because of racism or owing to some irregularity of procedure, it would be entirely fitting and proper to award him the position which he, as deserving of appointment or reappointment, was unjustly denied.
In point of fact, however, the University affirms that the Yip Report "had correctly concluded that Dr. Chun was not the victim of racism by the University of Toronto" (Press Release of 15 September 2000). Since there is no evidence that Dr. Chun was the victim of any other unfair hiring or reappointment practice or decision, the fact that normal academic procedures for hiring and reappointment have not been followed in this case represents an unacceptable breach of the merit principle.
We therefore respectfully request that you allay the concerns occasioned by the Chun settlement by affirming your University's commitment to established academic practice in reaching decisions concerning appointment/reappointment of academic staff, including (1) advertisement of all academic positions and a search for the best available candidate; (2) establishment of a short-list and conduct of interviews by members of a departmental Appointments Committee; (3) fair and impartial ranking of the short-listed candidates based on achievement and promise in teaching, research, and university service, without recourse to extra-academic considerations or ad hoc modification of conditions of reappointment with or without term.
The Board of Directors, Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship