November 28, 2000
Dear Provost Owram:
I am writing to you as President of the Society for Academic Freedom. Our society is committed to the preservation of academic freedom and the merit principle in decisions about faculty and students. A description of our organization is provided on our website: www.safs.niagara.com. It is our policy to solicit clarifying information from all parties whenever we are informed of a possible abuse of academic freedom. It is in that spirit I am writing to you.
One of your faculty members, Professor Louis Pagliaro, has sent us a number of documents regarding charges the University of Alberta has made against him. The documents include correspondence between yourself and Professor Pagliaro, Professor Dixon, Professor Smith, and Mr. Beresh, newspaper reports of comments Professor Pagliaro has made, a copy of Article 16 of the current Faculty Agreement, a copy of Section 96 of the Policy and Procedure Manual adopted by the General Faculties Council, Professor Pagliaro's vita, and Professor Dixon's report of his initial investigation into the charges.
As I understand it, Professor Smith, Vice-President (Research), made two complaints against Professor Pagliaro. The first charged that Professor Pagliaro did not have ethics approval for research he was conducting, and the second charged that Professor Pagliaro failed to meet "stringent standards of honesty and scholarly and scientific practice in the collection, recording, and analysis of data...in the dissemination of information, findings, and discoveries."
Your appointed investigator, Professor Dixon, recommended to you that both charges be dismissed. You agreed to drop the first, but asked Professor Dixon to continue the investigation into the second.
My evaluation of the material that I have in hand tends to support Professor Dixon's conclusions. As Professor Pagliaro's statements to the media were not based on current research, but were instead based on his experience as a drug researcher for many years and his informal contacts, he does not appear to be guilty of violating ethical guidelines regarding the conduct of research or of the reporting of research. It seems that he was merely offering his expert opinion on drug use in the schools. Of course, we take no stand on the validity of Professor Pagliaro's claims; that is an issue for those with expertise in the matter to decide.
It is understandable that those who disagree with Professor Pagliaro's opinions on the extent of drug use in the schools would want to dispute his conclusions or to engage him in debate. It is less clear why the University of Alberta took formal steps to charge him with research misconduct, and to request that he stop talking to the media. It may appear to some that the actions of the University of Alberta are attempts to intimidate, censor, or otherwise abridge Professor Pagliaro's academic freedom.
We recognize, of course, that we have received information on this issue from only Professor Pagliaro. There may be other information that would alter the interpretation of Professor Pagliaro's case. Whenever feasible, but particularly when all the facts are not known, it is our practice to contact the parties directly involved before commenting publicly on the academic freedom aspects of a case of this nature. Accordingly, we invite you to give us your side of the case.
We are particularly interested in your answers to three questions:
- Why the University of Alberta felt justified in trying to silence Professor Pagliaro, i.e., keeping him from talking to the media?
- Why the university felt it needed to charge Professor Pagliaro with research conduct violations for giving his expert opinion?
- Why the recommendation from Professor Dixon to dismiss the second charge against Professor Pagliaro relating to stringent standards of reporting research was not accepted?
Thank you for your attention in this matter, and we look forward to receiving your prompt reply.