20 January, 2017
Dr. Michael Mahon President & Vice Chancellor University of Lethbridge;
We the undersigned write to express our dismay over how your concerns about some of Dr. Anthony Hall’s YouTube posts and social media comments have been handled by you and your administration. Further, and more concretely, we write to express our conviction that the University of Lethbridge is obliged to pay Dr. Anthony Hall back pay (and benefits and University Pension Contributions) for every day that he was suspended without pay since October 4, 2016 and to urge you to ensure that the University acts on this obligation immediately.
On October 13, 2016, you informed the University community that you had suspended Dr. Anthony Hall “from duties and privileges without pay.” In that letter, you stated that the reason for suspending him without pay was “focused on [Dr. Hall’s] YouTube based videos and comments in social media that have been characterized as being anti-Semitic, supportive of holocaust denial and engagement in conspiracy theories,” adding that “we have a concern that Dr. Hall has contravened section 3 of the Alberta Human Rights Act, and that he has created an environment that is discriminatory for students and his faculty colleagues whose personal backgrounds, research topics or beliefs are at odds with Dr. Hall’s stated views.”
Your October 4, 2016 letter to Dr. Hall states that the suspension without pay would apply “pending the University’s review of this situation” and adds that “[t]he suspension is being implemented as a precautionary, not disciplinary, measure and will remain in effect until the University has concluded its review of this matter.”
However, we do not understand how Dr. Hall could legitimately be suspended without pay. We accept that you and the Board of Governors had concerns about Dr. Hall’s YouTube videos and wished to conduct an investigation into them. But suspending Dr. Hall without pay at the outset of an investigation put the cart before the horse, punishing him before the investigation has taken place. In the meanwhile, we accept that suspension could be justified if the concerns raised were grave enough. But due process would require that the obviously punitive measure of suspension without pay be imposed only once an investigation, reaching the conclusion that Dr. Hall had indeed violated the terms of his employment, had been completed. And any such investigation would have to include adequate opportunity for Dr. Hall to respond to the accusations against him.
We also have concerns about the nature of the ongoing investigation. In your recent January 17, 2017 letter to the University of Lethbridge community, you state “[a]t the time of the suspension, the University began an external assessment of Dr. Hall’s social media and other activities to determine if a complaint to the Alberta Human Rights Commission would be warranted and justifiable.”
First, it is unclear to us whether this external assessment is the same as the University’s own “review of this matter.” Second, we are also puzzled by your account of the findings of the external assessment concluded on or before December 15th. You write, “[f]rom the findings of that assessment, the Board moved to proceed with a complaint to the Alberta Human Rights Commission against Dr. Hall for publishing statements, alone and in collaboration with others that could be considered hateful, contemptuous and discriminatory. During the duration of this adjudication, Dr. Hall will remain suspended. However, given our understanding of the potential length of time that this process could take, we do believe that continuing to withhold Dr. Hall’s pay would be punitive and therefore inappropriate.”
You go on to say that you and the Board have decided “to proceed with a complaint to the Alberta Human Rights Commission against Dr. Hall for publishing statements, alone and in collaboration with others that could be considered hateful, contemptuous and discriminatory”. Further, you stated on October 13 that “[t]his action is not focused on Dr. Hall’s published scholarship,” but that “[i]t is focused on his YouTube based videos and comments in social media that have been characterized as being anti-Semitic, supportive of holocaust denial and engagement in conspiracy theories.” Does this mean that the complaint to the Alberta Human Rights Commission concerns Dr. Hall’s YouTube videos and his social media ‘publications’?
Third, whichever publications you have in mind, we are concerned by the vagueness of the language here. What, exactly, does it mean to say that these publications “could be considered hateful, contemptuous and discriminatory”? If any publication that might be described in this way could be used as grounds for suspension without pay, we are very worried. Many kinds of statements and views can be considered hateful and/or contemptuous and/or discriminatory. If, for example, Prof. M put a video on YouTube in which Prof. M calls Toronto Maple Leaf fans ‘idiots,’ has s/he “publish[ed] statements … that could be considered hateful, contemptuous and discriminatory”? In general it seems that any rude and insulting statements could be considered hateful, contemptuous and discriminatory. But in our view, and, we hope, in yours, not all such statements would warrant suspension, let alone suspension without pay.
Fourth, in contrast to the treatment Dr. Hall has been subjected to, University of Lethbridge Professor Nicholas Hanson was charged with sexual assault by the Lethbridge Police Service on May 12, 2016, and on May 13, 2016, you informed the University community that Professor Hanson’s “suspension is with pay pending the outcomes of the LPS investigation.” The suspension with pay of Professor Hanson seems appropriate given that Professor Hanson was charged and that it would take some time before that matter was fully investigated and properly resolved. But while due process was running its course, Professor Hanson has been rightly paid his full salary. In comparison, Dr. Hall’s suspension without pay seems entirely inappropriate and unjustified: you initiated an investigation into complaints about Dr. Hall’s YouTube and social media statements, but while that investigation was underway, Dr. Hall’s salary was withheld. While you and the University investigated Dr. Hall, he is surely presumptively innocent of wrong- doing, and so should have continued to receive his full salary and benefits unless and until the investigation had been concluded and it was clearly established that Dr. Hall violated his terms of employment.
Another fifth question arises from your statement in your December 19, 2016 letter to Dr. Hall, that “[t]he suspension is an administrative, not disciplinary, measure.” In our view suspending someone without pay is clearly and undeniably a punitive act. Your letter of January 17, 2017 muddies the water still further. You state that “given our understanding of the potential length of time that this process could take, we do believe that continuing to withhold Dr. Hall’s pay would be punitive and therefore inappropriate.” How could continuing to withhold Dr. Hall’s pay be punitive if withholding his pay for 2 months is not? Of course we agree that continuing to withhold Dr. Hall’s pay would be punitive– what we do not and cannot understand is how withholding Dr. Hall’s pay and benefits for the first months of his suspension could fail to be punitive.
Sixth and finally, on December 5, 2016, CAUT informed you that its delegates had unanimously passed the following resolution:
That CAUT condemn the actions of the University of Lethbridge administration in suspending Professor Tony Hall without due process, and that CAUT take all necessary measures to pressure the administration to immediately resolve the matter.
The CAUT letter adds:
In suspending Professor Hall without pay and without any formal findings of misconduct against him, your Administration has violated all principles of due process and natural justice. By refusing to recognize the grievance filed by the University of Lethbridge Faculty Association or their right to pursue the matter to arbitration, you are denying both Professor Hall and the association of their legal rights.
We agree with CAUT that Dr. Hall’s suspension was without due process: in your October 13, 2016 letter you note that “Section 22(3) [of the Post Secondary Learning Act of the Province of Alberta] states that, “Subject to any existing agreement, a president may, in the president’s discretion, suspend from duty and privileges any member of the academic staff at the university and shall forthwith report the president’s action and the reasons for it (a) to the board, and (b) to the executive committee of the general faculties council.” It seems clear to us that “subject to an existing agreement” implies that an existing agreement, such as the University of Lethbridge Faculty Handbook, takes precedence, and that any application of Section 22(3) of the PSLA must ensure that Faculty Handbook procedures governing investigations, discipline, academic freedom, discrimination, are applied first, and applied correctly. So in our view, your suspension of Dr. Hall clearly violated this condition on the application of Section 22(3) by ignoring the Handbook agreement, including the disciplinary procedures of Handbook Article 25.
Your apparent disregard for the Faculty Handbook, together with the Board of Governors’ decision to support your action against Dr. Hall, worries us deeply. As a consequence of these events, we have come to question whether academic freedom and due process apply at the University of Lethbridge. If the President, with the Board’s support, can suspend any faculty member without pay while merely awaiting the results of an investigation into a possible contravention of section 3 of the Alberta Human Rights Act together with concerns that the faculty member may have created an environment that is discriminatory for students and his faculty colleagues “whose personal backgrounds, research topics or beliefs are at odds with the faculty member’s views,” then, with regret, we would have to conclude that the CAUT has very good reason to censure the University of Lethbridge, thereby removing our University from the category of respectable Canadian Universities at which due process and academic freedom are respected. We hope that you will ensure that Dr. Hall is immediately compensated for the salary and benefits that are owed to him due to his suspension without pay, and make clear to the University community, and to the wider world, that you respect due process and the provisions of the Faculty Handbook.
We ask you to present our concerns, as expressed in this letter, to the Board, as provided under Article 11.03.3.
29 U of L professors all named in the original