Offer of job was vetoed at top

October 3, 2003

A search for a new candidate to fill a prestigious chair at a Canadian university is expected to begin in the new year, some three years after a former Massachusetts Institute of Technology academic briefly emerged as the frontrunner to take it.

A report into the abortive hiring process concludes that Simon Fraser University violated David Noble's academic freedom, and that the university's president had intervened inappropriately .

It says Dr Noble, known as a critic of online learning and university commercialisation, should be appointed to the chair, since a new process will have been tainted by the controversy.

It also calls for changes to Simon Fraser's appointments process and for the Canadian Association of University Teachers (Caut) to determine a policy on how to deal with endowed and specially funded chairs.

The report, commissioned by Caut, chronicles how a search committee initially approved Dr Noble, a professor at York University, Toronto, as first choice for the J. S. Woodsworth chair. The department of humanities voted to hire him. But an email sent by Simon Fraser president Michael Stevenson to the vice-president for academic affairs said: "I'd avoid the appointment like the plague."

Dr Noble had criticised Dr Stevenson when he was vice-president of academic affairs at York during a faculty strike in 1997.

The report says: "The president inappropriately involved himself in the appointment process."

It concludes: "How can a department, a dean or a vice-president adequately prepare a recommendation that will ultimately land on the president's desk, when the president has already voiced his opposition to the favoured candidate?"

The university was criticised for conducting an investigation on Dr Noble's "style of interaction".

Simon Fraser called the report "fundamentally flawed".

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