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Queen's University
 

CAUT re. Wightman(2008)

Report of the Canadian Association of University Teachers Ad Hoc Investigatory Committee Regarding the Termination of Dr. Colin Wightman by Acadia University (2008)

The University has no place in the personal sex life, cyberspace or private affairs of its professoriate. Its right to regulate the workplace does not extend to the home.

Facts

Dr. Wightman was hired in September 2006 by Acadia to fill a tenured position at the rank of Full Professor as well as the directorship of the University's School of Computing.

In April 2007, he engaged in a one-time sexual encounter with a woman who was not associated with Acadia.

In May 2007, he was appointed Acting Dean of Pure and Applied Sciences

In June 2007, he was detained by police responding to accusations of sexual assault made by the woman he had met in April. During his detention, the police seized his home computer, blackberry and memory keys. Upon his release from custody, the Acting Dean informed the University that he was being investigated by the police and requested (and was granted) a leave of absence as well as access to a mental health specialist.

In August 2007, the police informed Wightman that he had been exonerated. He informed the University and requested access to the University laptop and facilities.  They were denied; Acadia had decided to conduct its own investigation into his conduct and had seized the laptop.

In September 2007, Wightman was summoned to the Office of the VP Academic where he was handed a letter of termination. Just cause, as related in the letter, included two breaches: inappropriate use of the University laptop and facilities and aberrant behaviour.

We have discovered from our analysis of your University laptop that you have been using our computer and facilities during working hours to engage in highly inappropriate communications of a sexual nature on chat rooms. Such conduct is a serious violation of the University's policy on computing services

The conduct giving rise to the Police's ongoing investigation is utterly incompatible with the purpose, principles and operating imperatives of Acadia University.

When he attempted to grieve this termination, the arbitrator ruled that directors are not covered by the Collective Agreement, and that Wightman had no recourse to union representation or to the grievance/arbitration process. It was at this point that CAUT formed its own investigatory committee.  The University administration refused to cooperate with the CAUT investigators, who therefore had to rely exclusively on the letter of dismissal, Acadia policies, procedures and practices as well as testimony from two witnesses: Wightman and the former director of Computing Services.

 Issues

  1. Did the University err when it dismissed Wightman for "aberrant behaviour"?
  2. Did the University err when it dismissed Wightman for engaging in chat room banter on his University laptop?
  3. Did the University afford Wightman due process?
  4. Did the University adhere to the tenets of CAUT's policy statement on Tenure?

Decisions

  1. Yes
  2. Yes
  3. No
  4. No

Reasons

  1. CAUT found that there was no nexus between Wightman's conduct and Acadia University. Moreover, the committee could find no existing policy that explicitly stated the purposes, principles and operating principles that Wightman had allegedly violated.
  2. "Acadia [appeared] to accuse Dr. Wightman on the basis of circumstantial evidence and moral disapproval, without providing detail or soliciting explanation". In doing so, it failed to follow its own policy and practices on computer services; it investigated an employee in the absence of any complaint, it offered the respondent no warning, no progressive disciplinary action  and no appeal process.  Finally, according to the former director of computer services, it was very unlikely that the University had recovered any content from Wightman's University laptop; due to limited time and resources, it probably found, at most, a simple log of connections between Acadia server and a chatroom. 
  3. "The University has over-reacted, jumped the protocols of due process and dismissed an employee without the standard burdens or proof it applies in other employment contexts".  The university, in terminating Wightman, followed neither the process for faculty (which calls for a formal meeting with the union and allows for arbitration), nor the process for Directors (which calls for the striking of a review committee to advise the VP Academic when a request is made for a review of performance by the Board).
  4. The CAUT policy states: "The word tenure and its derivatives mean that such an appointment can only be terminated for just and sufficient reasons, which are limited to the areas of financial exigency or of grave misconduct, and which must be provided through procedures that ensure fairness before a properly constituted and independent tribunal". Acadia fired a tenured professor who was honest enough to bring the problem to the attention of the University and who was cleared by the Police, who engaged in a lengthy investigation.  Finally, there appears to be no residual impact on Acadia.

Recommendations

To Acadia:

  • Restore Wightman to his position as tenured faculty member including his directorship
  • Compensate him for lost salary and benefits, including stipend for acting deanship
  • Compensate his legal costs
  • Remove all references to this termination from his official files and employment record

To CAUT:

Consider censure in the event that the University does not implement the four preceding recommendations.

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