Letter to Student Union President re Dougal MacDonald

2 December 2019

Akanksha Bhatnagar

President, University of Alberta Students’ Union

Room 2-900
Students’ Union Building
University of Alberta
8900 – 114 Street NW
Edmonton, AB
T6G 2J7

Dear Akanksha,

We are very concerned about the statement issued by the Students’ Union at the University of Alberta in regard to Dr. Dougal MacDonald, who teaches in the Faculty of Education.

Your condemnation of Dr. MacDonald’s remarks on the Holodomor and demand that he take them back or resign are incompatible with the University’s policies and principles on Freedom of Expression. Just this week the General Faculties Council approved the University’s new statement on Freedom of Expression which reads:

The university is a place of free and open inquiry in all matters, and all members of the university community have the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, view, challenge, profess, and learn. Members of the university community have the right to criticize and question other views expressed on our campuses, but may not obstruct or otherwise interfere with others’ freedom of expression. Debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forward are thought by some, or even most, to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or misguided. It is for individuals, not the institution, to make those judgments for themselves and to act not by seeking to suppress expression, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas they oppose. The university does not attempt to shield members of the university community from ideas or opinions they disagree with or find offensive.

Dr. MacDonald’s remarks are protected by our Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as by the academic freedom to extramural expression that is a necessary right of all academic staff at the University. As the statement notes, in the University the proper response to ideas with which we do not agree is rigorous debate with those ideas, not their suppression.

The learning environment is not, as your statement implies, made “safe” when any individual or group attempts to prevent another’s exercise of freedom of expression. It is fundamentally undermined, as the ability to examine, analyze, and critique all ideas is the lifeblood of the University.


Lise Gotell, Professor, Women’s & Gender Studies

Carolyn Sale, Associate Professor, English & Film Studies

James Muir, Associate Dean Research, Faculty of Law

Julie Rak, Professor & HM Tory Chair, English & Film Studies

Danielle Fuller, Professor, English & Film Studies

Ricardo Acuña, Executive Director, Parkland Institute, Faculty of Arts

Ryan Dunch, Professor and Chair, History and Classics

Kathleen Lowrey, Associate Professor, Anthropology

Christopher Lupke, Chair, East Asian Studies

Phillip Choi, Ph.D., P.Eng., F.C.I.C., F.E.I.C., Professor, Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering 

Natalie Loveless, Associate Professor and Associate Chair, Undergraduate, Department of Art and Design

Andrew Holt, Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry

Jennifer L. Branch-Mueller, Professor, Department of Elementary Education

José da Costa, Professor of Educational Administration and Leadership, Faculty of Education

Laurie Adkin, Professor, Department of Political Science

Craig Heinke, Professor, Department of Physics

Frank Elliott, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Department of Secondary Education

Dennis Sweeney, Associate Professor, History and Classics

Michelle Noga, Associate Professor, Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry

Steven Khan, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Education

Karim Jamal PhD, FCPA, FCA, CA Distinguished Professor, Chair, Department of Accounting, Operations and Information Systems (AOIS), School of Business

David Jay, Visiting Professor, Department of Music

Maciej Bukczynski, Sessional Lecturer, School of Business

Suping Song, Directrice, École de langues du Campus Saint-Jean

Khalid Aziz, Professor, Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry

Corwin Sullivan, Associate Professor, Faculty of Science

David E. Rast, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology

Michelle Meagher, Associate Professor & Chair, Department of Women’s and Gender Studies

Tara Milbrandt, Associate Professor of Sociology, Augustana 

Anne-José Villeneuve, Assistant Professor, Campus Saint-Jean

Stu White, Assistant Chair, Administration, Anthropology & Economics

Olga Petrovskaya, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Nursing

Vijay Daniels, Associate Professor, Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry

Alsu Kuznetsova, Research Associate, Department of Renewable Resources 

João Soares, Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering

Lia Daniels, Professor, Faculty of Education

Peter Kuznetsov, Research Associate, CEE 

Patricia Paradis, Executive Director, Centre for Constitutional Studies/Centre d’études constitutionnelles

Greg Ash, Associate Director, Fund Information and Accounting, Office of Advancement

Cynthia Palmaria, Faculty, Department of Oncology, Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry

Audrey Hodgson-Ward, Elementary Education

Damián Cirelli, Faculty of Science Instructor, Department of Biological Sciences

David Kennedy, Associate Professor, Department of Drama

Additional Signatures:

Bill Beard, Professor, English & Film Studies

Erin Pollock, Associate Lecturer, School of Public Health

Victoria Ruetalo, Associate Professor, Spanish and Latin American Studies 

Makere Stewart-Harawira, Professor, Educational Policy Studies

Jaimie Baron, Associate Professor, English & Film Studies

Janice Williamson, Professor Emerita, Department of English & Film Studies

Geri Lorway, Assistant Lecturer, Elementary Education

Adam Kemezis, Associate Professor, History & Classics

Tony Simmons, Associate Professor, Sociology, Athabasca University

Don Carmichael, Professor Emeritus, Political Science

Joseph M. Kirman, Professor Emeritus, Department of Elementary Education





























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Dougal MacDonald: The Holodomor and Free Speech

Dougal MacDonald, Education, here offers a public statement in regard to the controversy over remarks he made about the Holodomor in a post on Facebook.

The central issue here is freedom of speech. It is both a human right and a Charter right. I have investigated a historical issue for a number of years and I have presented my position on it. As even Wiki says, there is an ongoing debate on the issue. A few quotes from Wiki: “The causes, nature, and extent of the Holodomor remain topics of controversy and active scholarship.” And, “The reasons for the famine are a subject of scholarly and political debate.” Another quotation: “Scholars continue to debate whether the Holodomor was (on one extreme) man-made, intentional, and genocidal and (on the other) nature-made, unintentional, and ethnicity-blind. Whether the Holodomor is a genocide is a significant issue in modern politics.” 

So, my post is simply my contribution to the debate on the issue.  Yes, it may be a minority position and others may disagree with it but it is my right to present it and it is a credible position. Others who have espoused it include George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells, two pretty smart guys who visited the area, as well as the Prime Minister of France Edouard Herriot, who visited the area, the British House of Lords after an onsite investigation by expert John Maynard, English economists Herbert and Beatrice Webb, Pulitzer prize-winning U.S. journalist Walter Duranty, and U.S. journalist Louis Fischer. And so on. All of them were actually around at that time, unlike today, which is 85 years later.

Further research support for my position is the comprehensive 1987 book by Douglas Tottle titled “Fraud, Famine and Fascism”. Also, West Virginia University professor Mark Tauger has published along the same lines, stating, for example, that the causes of any food shortages were natural conditions. Grover Furr, professor of Medieval English literature at Montclair State University, has long researched the issue and has long questioned the “official version”. And so on.

As I mentioned, others may disagree with me and with those whom I refer to here but that is their right. However, what they are now doing is not their right, i.e., to name call, hurl insults, and threaten to get me fired from my job, which, by the way, has absolutely nothing to do with this topic. That is their pathetic attempt to shut down the debate on the issue, not to further the search for historical truth. So why are they doing this and what are they afraid of? That others may take up that search? Finally, may I point out that free and public debate on issues, especially controversial issues, is a healthy aspect of our society and is, in fact, necessary, if we are to make any progress toward building a better future.

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Petition to Replace Tri-Council Canadian Common CV

Dear colleagues,
Please consider signing this petition, mounted by serious colleagues (see below), to replace the Tri-Council CCV with a sensible, conventional format: http://tinyurl.com/EndTheCCV

Andrew Gow

From: Michael Hoffman <michael.hoffman@UTORONTO.CA>
Date: November 4, 2019 at 05:32:26 PST
Subject: CCV open letter: update
Reply-To: Michael Hoffman <michael.hoffman@UTORONTO.CA>


Continue reading

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Do Albertans understand what Kenney’s cuts to the University of Alberta’s budget will mean?

Do Albertans understand just how much damage the Kenney budget cuts announced last week will do to the University of Alberta?

The University has been struggling for several years in the wake of budget cuts first affecting certain Faculties in 2009-2010. (Much of this has been invisible to the public.) In the spring of 2013, matters got considerably worse when the Progressive Conservative government took an axe to postsecondary funding and cut $143 million from Alberta’s postsecondary education system. Those were the deepest cuts to the system since the Great Depression. University of Alberta students marched to the legislature and had their messages rejecting the Progressive Conservative government’s actions formally entered into the legislature’s records.

The Kenney cuts greatly outstrip the 2013 cuts in severity and magnitude.

At the time, I described the 2013 cuts as dealing a blow to an entire generation of postsecondary students in Alberta. It has also been a blow to a generation of faculty here, as the University has been unable to fill empty faculty positions when senior faculty retire.

The University has struggled to right the ship. Its erratic performance in the world’s leading ranking system for universities, that run by the Times Higher Education supplement in the UK, show just what a struggle this has been.

In the years prior to the 2013 cuts, then University of Alberta president Indira Samarasekera had an ambitious campaign for the University, under the slogan “Top 20 by 2020.” Continue reading

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University Staff Who Authorized ‘Beefier Barley’ Climate Change Billboard Should Resign

Last week, just two days before University students intended to join the Global Climate Strike on Friday, September 27th, a billboard appeared in Edmonton bearing the University of Alberta logo along with the following statement: “Climate change will boost Alberta’s barley yield with less water, feeding more cattle.” At the bottom of the billboard appears the tag “Truth Matters”.

The public outcry against this billboard, which has been immense, continues even as I write this. The billboard is a betrayal of the University as a place for the careful production and dissemination of knowledge.

Some are questioning the research study whose results the billboard is advertising, but neither the research methodology nor the validity of the study’s results is the pressing issue here. What should matter to everyone: how is that a two-year-old study was chosen in this moment to represent the University’s research? Who took that decision? And who is it that allowed for the results of this study to be shaped into a one-line statement that encourages the view that climate change is a benevolent phenomenon from which Albertans can expect to reap benefits. How did this happen? Continue reading

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“Lies,” “Misinformation,” and “Brave Research”: The Dangers of Kenney’s “War Room”

Last Friday, in a press conference in which he provided very little by way of actual detail, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney made it clear that he intends to use taxpayer money to the whopping tune of $30 million in various activities including paying “consultants” to target environmental groups and individual activists that he charges with spreading “lies and misinformation” about the oil industry in Alberta. It all remained vague. But in the course of the press briefing the Premier revealed the “war room’s” clear dangers when he spread his own “lies and misinformation” with his claim that the “explicit goal” of the environmental activist Tzeporah Berman is to “shut down” Alberta’s oil industry “right now.” It is true that Berman calls for a swift transition to a sustainable economy based on renewable resources but she herself could not possibly have been clearer, consistently, in key venues in which she has addressed this matter, that she is not calling for a shutting down of Alberta’s oil industry overnight. (Listen, for example, to her speech to the Alberta Teachers’ Association last Fall — a speech she was only able to give after being met with numerous death threats.) Kenney’s “war room” would silence Berman, who is an adjunct professor in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University, because she is urging a cause that is not consistent with his political agenda — a cause that is not, as he would have it, about “landlocking” Alberta’s oil but about saving the planet and humanity (small matters he did not see fit to mention).

At the same time, the Premier touted the work of Vivian Krause, standing on stage behind him, as “brave research.” Ms. Krause’s “research” on the funding of environmental groups in Canada elicits wildly divergent characterizations. The Calgary Herald declares it to be “impeccable,” while The Narwhal notes that most of her claims have been “debunked.” What is clear: the “research” is funded by the oil industry, including CAPP. And while Krause accuses Canadian environmentalists of being foreign-funded, Krause herself, it appears, is or has been funded by at least one foreign group, the D.C.-based Atlas Network.

That a democratic government will use taxpayer money to fund a propaganda campaign defending an industry — an industry that, as Laurie Adkin (Political Science) noted in her remarks on today’s CBC Alberta at Noon program, is fully capable of defending itself, and already does so on an “enormous” scale that no environmental organization can begin to match — should alarm us all. All democratic jurisdictions need to be able to count on their governments to act in their interests, not the interests of an industry, and as much as the Premier would have us believe that the interests of Alberta’s oil industry and the interests of Albertans are one and the same this, too, is untrue. Taxes should never be used to fund propaganda on behalf of corporations. They should not be used now, in our moment of ecological crisis, to defend an industry, that has, whether we like it or not, a relatively short life remaining. We cannot do without the industry yet. We have much work to do to transition to a sustainable economy based on renewable resources. But we will have to do without the oil industry in Alberta sooner rather than later, if we are to meet the challenges of ecological crisis, and we must not allow the defense of an industry that cannot, in the end, survive result in any form of action that is undemocratic. Continue reading

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AASUA Ratification Vote: What is a Pair of Zeroes Worth?

This is a public version of a letter posted to the AASUA Members’ Forum on 7 April 2019. 

Dear Colleagues,

I have already written to you about why we must not ratify the Gender Pay Equity MOA. I now write about why we also need to vote “No” on ratifying the tentative agreement.

  1. The tentative agreement does not contain gains that make up for agreeing to take a 0% ATB for two years.
  2. The tentative agreement contains several very significant noxious elements.
  3. To ratify the agreement as is would be to weaken us as we go into successive rounds of negotiation across the decade.

This ratification vote comes down to the question of how much members believe they deserve in return for agreeing to take a zero across-the-board ATB settlement for two years (2018-19 and 2019-20). A zero ATB has, of course, a differential impact across the membership. Full professors will feel the zeroes the least; our precarious members will feel them the most. The question is what is fair across the Association’s seven constituency groups.

With this agreement — our first “common” collective agreement under the new labour relations regime — we set the foundation for bargaining over the next decade. It is our responsibility as the academic staff at the University of Alberta to ensure that this agreement is one that establishes a healthy foundation for the future of the academic staff and the institution.

The tentative agreement before us is, as it stands, simply not good enough to justify our agreeing to zero ATB for 2018-19 and 2019-2020. Nor is it a good foundation for bargaining over the next decade. Here’s why.

I.     The tentative agreement lacks essential things.

Academic Freedom. Faculty members made clear during the bargaining consultation process of spring 2018 that one of their highest priorities for this round of negotiations was to strengthen our academic freedom protections to the level of most other academic staff associations in Canada. The employer has refused to grant academic freedom language that includes explicit right of intramural critique. The Lead Negotiator reports that the employer did not wish to extend such powers of critique to APOs. In the academic freedom language before us, however, APOs are explicitly excluded from all of the provisions of the article, yet the employer still refuses to allow for explicit language of intramural rights. That right of critique is an essential component of academic freedom and the foundation of collegial governance. It is unacceptable that the following clause is NOT part of the tentative agreement:

Academic freedom ensures that members have the right to freedom of expression, including the right to criticize the administration of the institution or the Association.

Management Rights. The tentative agreement contains a new provision, in Article 4, “Management Rights.” The purpose of a “Management Rights” clause is to constrain the employer’s actions to that which is “fair, reasonable, equitable, and non-arbitrary.” It is also to ensure that the employer cannot make changes to the working conditions of its staff outside the collective agreement. The agreement before us has the first provision and not the second. Article 4.4 requires merely “consultation” with the Association should the employer wish to introduce or change any policy or procedure that affects the working conditions of academic staff. This is insufficient. The agreement must require the Association’s agreement to any such change before it can be implemented.

II.    The tentative agreement lacks significant gains that might merit two years of Zero ATB. 

As part of the Bargaining Planning process, the Association identified major gains that it would seek at the table to offset the predicted request from the employer for a 0% ATB. Bargaining is an iterative process, and it was always generally understood that the team could only gain so much. The problem is that the tentative agreement before us contains virtually none of the significant gains for which elaborate proposals were prepared. Key items we sought and did not get were:

Conversion & Complement. The single most important thing we might have gained for our pair of zeroes is a conversion process for the appointment of long-serving members of the Academic Teaching Staff to academic faculty positions. At the same time, we need to protect the faculty complement against attrition. The team went to the table with a set of sophisticated proposals to achieve these two things in tandem. These are exactly the kind of gains that might have made two years of zero on the ATB front acceptable to our members as they simultaneously involve essential fairness to members of the Academic Teaching Staff while securing something crucial to the flourishing of the University, a robust faculty complement. This is precisely the kind of gain the employer, with its eye on both the short- and long-term health of the institution, should have wanted to grant.

Workload. The team also went to the table with innovative “workload” provisions that would have given the academic staff, within their respective groups and units, control over key workload issues. The tentative agreement contains only the bare minimum that the employer should have granted on this front. To get an idea of what a good workload clause looks like, check out those at Queen’s or Western. The one approved for our team was even better.

Key Supports. The team also went to the table with a cluster of requests for various kinds of support for the work of the academic staff. These varied across constituency group. For faculty, the most important of these were sabbatical provisions. The tentative agreement should have presented us with new language in which sabbatical is an earned entitlement, and, consistent with our comparator institutions, the rate of pay for the first sabbatical should have been 100%, and subsequent sabbaticals, 90%. This is the kind of gain of longstanding consequence that two years of zero ATB should have purchased, with the employer’s happy acquiescence, since such provisions are standard and important support for the academic mission. We also sought “assisted” leave for other groups. As you can see from the table in clause 8.01, we gained nothing on that front. Key supports also could have come in the form of the improvements to the benefits plan, most urgently the extension of benefits beyond the faculty. We gained nothing on this front.

Salaries Anomalies Process. This is totally missing. The tentative agreement before us would allow for a massive increase in the SAF (Salary Adjustment Fund) without creating an anomalies fund, matched $ for $ with the SAF, to deal on an ongoing basis with salary inequities. The employer should not have the discretion to compensate some members as it wishes even as it refuses a cost-of-living ATB for all, and offers no adequate remedy for resolving, on an ongoing basis, gender and other pay inequities.

Employment Equity. Finally — and by no means least amongst this set of concerns — is the absence of any article on employment equity. This is an inexcusable omission in 2019.

We have members who would have liked to be bargaining for other big things, such as changes to FEC. In this round, however, the team could negotiate only for priorities approved by AASUA Council. (The membership has not yet given Council a clear consensus on what it desires of FEC changes.) The point is that the less we get in this round, even for two zeroes on the ATB front, the harder it is to build towards other gains in the next round.

III.    The tentative agreement contains things it should not.

Finally, I need to note that the tentative agreement before us contains several noxious elements. The most urgent of these are:

Contracting Out. In the LOU (“Letter of Understanding”) on page 69, the tentative agreement gives the employer the right to contract out services that would result in the loss of jobs to our members. This LOU flies in the face of the instructions to the team, which required “Job Security” issues to be amongst the highest of priorities at the table. Many of our members are on precarious appointments. The tentative agreement should contain provisions that strengthen the job security of our members. Not only have we not gained the job security provisions across groups that the team was mandated to achieve, we have before us a provision that allows the employer to contract out in ways that could lead to job losses for our members. 

Non-Disciplinary Suspension (7.18 and related MOU). It is Orwellian to refer to any suspension of a member as “non-disciplinary.” By definition, any suspension is disciplinary and should entitle the member to all the rights in the “Discipline” article. The employer should not be able to suspend any member of the academic staff without the member’s access to processes of appeal. All suspensions must be grievable.

USRIs. The evidence of gender discrimination in student evaluations of instruction is decisive, and the evidence on discrimination by race increasing. The tentative agreement before us should contain language prohibiting the use of USRIs in employment decisions. This is exactly the kind of concession the employer should have been eager to grant: here it had the chance to do the morally right thing at no cost to itself.

Post-Tenure Review Process. The tentative agreement before us leaves in place a post-tenure review process (familiarly referred to as the “0D” process). We are almost unique among Canadian universities in having post-tenure review — the University of Calgary joins us in this illustrious regard. No agreement in the country should contain a provision that is a fundamental offense against tenure. Here the employer had an opportunity to agree to eradicate, at no cost to itself, something that the agreement should never have contained.

I must note that none of the three lists above is exhaustive. I have simply sought to identify the most urgent problems and the key gains missing from the tentative agreement before us. No one is arguing that the employer should have been willing to grant us all the major gains we sought. But the employer should have been willing, for two years of no ATB increase, to agree to a package that featured things essential to any good agreement; no provision that is demonstrably discriminatory; and at least language on other non-monetary items up to the norm in other academic staff agreements across the country.

We have heard from the team that they could not gain anything more because every time they declared to the employer’s representatives at the bargaining table that they had to be able to “return to the membership with more” they were met with “blank faces.” Now, with a tentative agreement before us, is the moment for the membership to show that the team was telling the truth every time they made such a declaration. Now is the moment for us to return the team to the table in a position of strength by sending as clear a signal as possible that we require more in return for accepting two zeroes on the ATB front.

When the ratification vote opens at 9 am on Tuesday, I’ll be voting “No” in the hope that we may return the team to the table to get us a better deal. I hope you will join me in doing so.

As I have said repeatedly from the outset of this process, our only real strength at the table is the force of the membership behind the team. At this moment, the membership has the opportunity to supply that strength with the simple act of refusing to ratify this agreement and sending the team back to the table to get us a better deal — a deal that gets us at least a few of the things showcased above. We need a decent agreement now, to set us up for success in future rounds, starting with the very next. We need, in short, an agreement that allows members both now and in the future confidently to declare that for a pair of zeroes on the ATB front in 2019, we got a few things that truly mattered — things of long-standing consequence for the academic staff, and things of real importance to the health of the University.

Some have argued that perfection is the enemy of the good. That’s true. But the agreement is not good, and in many respects it is very bad. The only chance our team has to get a better agreement is a resounding vote from the membership that we will not ratify this one.

Yours for a more democratic, more effective, member-run Association,





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