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.

Sincerely,

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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15 Responses to Letter to Student Union President re Dougal MacDonald

  1. kmdyson says:

    I fully support Professor Macdonald’s right to free speech

  2. Anne Savage says:

    Well-answered. Thank you.

  3. Lannie says:

    Well done. I stand for Professor’s statement. Hunger was not only in Ukraine that time. People starved everywhere, even in Poland not only in USSR. Thank you for supporting the professor and reminding to some local Ukrainians that there is freedom of speech in this country.

  4. janice williamson says:

    I support this letter.
    Janice Williamson, Professor Emerita, Department of English & Film Studies

  5. Tony Simmons says:

    I fully support Professor Dougal Macdonald’s right to free speech and critical inquiry, and condemn the false and vindictive attacks that have made on his reputation and integrity.
    Tony Simmons, Associate Prof. Sociology, Athabasca University

  6. Don Carmichael says:

    I support this letter
    Don Carmichael, Professor Emeritus, Political Science

  7. Joyanne says:

    I’m interested in knowing what the reaction would have been from the university had the professor made the same comments about the Holocaust.

    • Dani Q says:

      Probably the same.

      His comments were not hate speech or anything that requires punishment. His comments were merely his opinion about a historical event.

      If a professor had pseudo-scientific believes, would they be required to resign?

      Despite not agreeing with his views, what he said had no malicious intent and I believe he should not be punished.

  8. Judith Garber says:

    Power rests with all educators, even those who are Marxist-Leninist contract instructors. Ms. Bhatnagar speaks truth to power.

  9. H. James Hoover says:

    Freedom comes with responsibility. Academic freedom of inquiry comes with a serious responsibility to act with scholarly integrity. After years of training we earn the privilege of educating students and contributing to knowledge. We maintain that privilege by holding to higher standards of discourse than the bar patrons on Whyte Ave. Although as citizens we have the right to say virtually anything that pops into our heads, as academics we are obligated to justify everything we say by rigorous attention to proper scholarship.

    Scholars are supposed to expose false reasoning, not espouse it. I can ask scholarly questions like “Why do some think the earth is flat?”, “What would the consequences of a flat earth be? (c.f. Pratchett’s Discworld), “What is the nature and quality of the evidence for the earth being not flat?”, or even “How would we go about convincing people that the earth is flat?”.

    But I cannot claim to be a scholar while stating, in the presence of massive evidence to the contrary, that “The earth is actually a flat disc. The spherical earth is a conspiracy of the capitalist matriarchy.” This is not a question of academic freedom, it is a question of academic competence. Students certainly have the right to question whether a flat-earther is competent to teach at an institution with the motto “Quaecumque Vera”.

    H. James Hoover, Professor Emeritus, Computing Science

    • Lana Y BABIJ says:

      To Professor Hoover: Kudos – one of the best responses re freedom of expression and responsibility on the part of academics I have ever seen. May I quote you?

    • Judy Garber says:

      Thank you, Jim. You’ve certainly identified a large part of the issue.

  10. Mark Dickens says:

    Why not have a public debate here on campus where the two sides bring the evidence for their relative positions? If Dr. MacDonald’s position has any merit, such a debate should make it clear and we can hopefully get beyond rhetoric like “former Nazi collaborators and their spawn have long led the phony (sic) Holodomor campaign.”

  11. Pingback: The case of defamation of University of Alberta Lecturer Dougal MacDonald | Tony Seed's Weblog

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