Killer professor gagged

June 7, 1996

A scholarly journal that had planned to publish an article by the man who murdered four professors at a Canadian university has cancelled the piece after one of the victims' widows intervened.

Charles Steele, the editor of The International Journal of Solids and Structures, a mechanical engineering magazine, said a plea by Sara Saber-Freedman gave him his most compelling reason for not publishing a pending article by Valery Fabrikant.

In August 1992, Professor Fabrikant went on a rampage at Concordia University in Montreal, killing fellow professors Jan Aaron Saber, Michael Hogben, Matthew Douglass and Phoivos Ziogas, as well as wounding a secretary. Mr Fabrikant was convicted one year later for the crimes and is serving a life sentence with no eligibility for parole for 25 years.

Mr Fabrikant's first article, published in January, was submitted last year to the engineering journal from his cell at Donnacona Penitentiary, outside Montreal. Mr Steele said Mrs Saber-Freedman's argument, that the incarcerated mechanical engineer would use his publications to further his parole eligibility, convinced him to not publish the second article.

But Mrs Saber-Freedman was not the only one trying to prevent Professor Fabrikant's work from being published. Frederick Lowy, Concordia's rector and Donat J. Taddeo, its dean of engineering and computer science, tried to convince Mr Steele not to accept further material from the engineer, saying families and colleagues, who had suffered enough, "take exception to this unwarranted recognition".

"Just as he has forfeited the right to be a free member of the community, he should forfeit the privilege of disseminating his scientific views, whatever their merits," they wrote last month.

The decision taken by the rector and dean to intervene in the case leaves some academics uncomfortable. The issue of muzzling scientific research, regardless of the societal status of an author, goes against basic civil liberties.

"Nobody here is against free scientific inquiry," said Mr Lowy, at a university senate meeting, "but it does not occur in a vacuum".

Concordia professor John Drysdale is still deeply affected by the loss of his friend Michael Hogben. But even he would like to have heard some debate before the administrators sent the letter.

"I'm torn," said Professor Drysdale. "On one hand it's reprehensible for Fabrikant to continue to publish, especially if it means an advancement or aggrandisement or if it gives any kind of advantage to his parole. On the other hand, to deny anyone the possibility of publication goes against a deeply embedded belief held by the academic community."

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.