Professors sign letter criticizing Queen's University

January 2013

Professors at Queen’s University have written an open letter apologizing to former adjunct history professor Michael Mason over the school’s handling of accusations that he used racist and sexist language while teaching last year.

The letter follows a September report from the Canadian Association of University Teachers alleging Queen’s administrators acted “callously and irresponsibly” and violated Prof. Mason’s academic freedom in the way it addressed complaints from students and teaching assistants about remarks he made inside and outside the classroom.

Queen’s administrators have disputed the CAUT’s findings, and have declined to apologize to Prof. Mason, as the report recommends. In response, several Queen’s professors penned the open letter, released to the media on Monday, that claims the school’s administration “cannot and does not represent Queen’s,” and that is signed by 150 members of the Queen’s community so far.

“Queen’s consists of Queen’s academic staff, Queen’s non-academic staff, Queen’s alumni, and Queen’s students. As Queen’s University, authorizing ourselves as per article 14.6 of the Collective Agreement, WE apologize to you, Professor Mason,” the letter concludes.

Prof. Mason, who has 40 years’ experience teaching at universities, says he was quoting the words of others from historical documents when he used racial epithets and that he did so to illustrate and criticize widespread racism after the Second World War. He also said a remark that he hoped students would become “masters and mistresses” of the course material wasn’t intended to be sexist.

The CAUT report claims Queen’s made procedural mistakes in questioning Prof. Mason about the allegations without advance warning and without advising him of his right to seek advice from the Queen’s University Faculty Association, which has since endorsed CAUT’s conclusions.

Queen’s maintains its response is bound by confidentiality rules, but principal Daniel Woolf said in a statement Monday that CAUT’s findings “are incomplete, inaccurate, and based on a portion of the facts in this case.”

“Academic freedom is of the utmost importance to Queen’s University,” Dr. Woolf said. “However, this is fundamentally not about academic freedom. It is about behaviour in the classroom that was reported to have created a hostile and unsafe learning environment for students.”