Professor fired over outside interest

October 27, 1994

University of Toronto academic Herbert Richardson, the founder of a scholastic publishing service and a distance university based in Wales, has been fired from his teaching position.

An academic tribunal found him guilty of gross misconduct and St Michael's College, the University of Toronto affiliate where he was tenured for 25 years, sacked him last month.

Professor Richardson, a 62-year-old Presbyterian minister who taught religious studies, has been under investigation by St Michael's since 1991, when he lost his temper in class, frightened students and fired a teaching assistant.

The allegations which would eventually lead to his firing were, however, conflict of interest and the abuse of a four-month paid medical leave in 1993.

At one point, the college hired a private investigator to solidify its case against Professor Richardson. Once the university believed there were grounds for dismissal, it moved quickly effectively to bar him from teaching; in July 1993, it refused to recognise his courses for credit.

According to university rules, faculty members may not engage in outside activities which prevent them from fulfilling their academic responsibilities.

The tribunal, which looked at activities related to the university, based at Lampeter, and the press, did not define the minimum number of hours full-time professors need to devote to university work.

Instead, the tribunal said: "It seemed self-evident to us that a professor who devotes approximately four months every year to outside activities, from which he derives substantial financial gain, cannot claim to be fulfilling the obligations of the holder of a full-time university appointment."

Professor Richardson comes under strong attack in certain sections of the tribunal's decision.

Regarding the circumstances of his medical leave, the tribunal found him a "dishonest and untrustworthy employee".

While found not guilty of gross misconduct in relation to his teaching performance, the tribunal found Professor Richardson's behaviour in this area lent weight to the dismissal decision.

The formal dismissal is the first of a tenured professor to occur at the University of Toronto, or any of its affiliate colleges, in 25 years.

Richard Alway, St Michael's president, said the case may serve as a landmark for future Canadian tenure cases because "the decision tries extremely hard to set the record straight as to what tenure does and doesn't involve".

Marshall Swadron, Professor Richardson's lawyer, sees ramifications of another sort which could affect any professor involved in outside activities.

Mr Swadron, who may apply for a judicial review in the hope of getting his client reinstated, does not agree with some of the arguments made by the tribunal.

He says the four months for outside activities was arrived at by adding together bits of telephone conversations and other things deemed to be "related activity. Nothing in the rules say that professors must keep minute records of such things by the minute," he protested.

Canadian university administrators are said to be getting tougher with cases of troublesome professors. Some suggest this follows the fall-out from the shock case of former Concordia president Valery Fabrikant, who shot four academics dead in 1992.

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