July 21, 2008
Dr. David Atkinson
President and CEO
Kwantlen Polytechnic University
Office of the President
Dear President Atkinson:
Re: Professor Russel Ogden
I am writing as president of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship (SAFS). We are a national organization of scholars and interested others whose main goals are the protection of academic freedom and the merit principle in higher education. You can learn more about us and our activities at our website: www.safs.ca.
We are writing to express our concern regarding your administration’s decision to halt the research of Professor Ogden on the topic of assisted suicide. We readily accept that we are not in a position to comment on the substantive ethical and legal issues involved, because we were not privy to the relevant discussions and have not seen all the pertinent information and documents. We stress that our concern, at this time, is solely with whether your administration’s final decision was reached in an appropriate manner, consistent with Kwantlen’s own procedures, and from an informed evaluation of all the material. Based on what we have learned, our initial assessment is that the process by which your administration reached the decision to stop his research may have been flawed and that his academic freedom to conduct research appears to have been violated.
From stories in the media and from communications with Professor Ogden, our understanding is that: a) the research was approved by a duly constituted research ethics board (REB) of the university, b) that the REB sought a legal opinion before making its final decision, c) that subsequent to the university’s signed permission for the research to proceed, your administration independently sought legal advice that led to the edict to Professor Ogden to stop his research and “… not to engage in any illegal activity, including attending at an assisted death or participating in the planning of such an event.”, d) that Professor Ogden denies that he is involved either in illegal activities or that his research, in any way, participated in plans for such events, e) that Professor Ogden contends that there were serious omissions in what documents the university’s lawyers were shown concerning his research, including the original research protocol, and f) Professor Ogden alleges, in his letter of February 21, 2008 to then President Leslie (Skip) Triplett, that the administration either did not follow its own policies or applied them inconsistently.
Because an essential role of a university is to discover new knowledge, it is a serious matter to stop research. Accordingly the university has a responsibility to clearly and fully explain its decision, not only to the individual researcher involved but also to the wider academic community.
Thus we respectfully ask you to respond to our letter and elaborate the rationale for your decision to end the research of Professor Ogden, and to answer his charges that the process that led to your decision was flawed. We will post your unedited response along with our letter to you on our website.
Thank you very much for your cooperation.
cc: Professor R. Ogden