A Canadian professor has been reprimanded for publicly questioning the publications records of his institution's president.
David Mullan, associate professor of history and religious studies at the University College of Cape Breton, in Nova Scotia, wrote to his local newspaper after it referred to "numerous articles and books" published by college president Jacquelyn Scott.
Unable to find any books by Dr Scott in key catalogues, Professor Mullan was refused a list of the president's publications because he had given no reason for his request. He questioned whether the two publications subsequently cited by senior management qualified as books and refused to write a private letter of apology.
In July, he received a disciplinary letter that described his criticism of Dr Scott as improper and contrary to his employment duties and responsibilities.
Professor Mullan, who is on study leave in Edinburgh, said the action violated academic freedom because the college's collective agreement guaranteed freedom from institutional censorship and freedom to criticise the institution. He has been trying to have the reprimand removed.
He insisted: "The text of my letter (to the newspaper) does not criticise President Scott. It criticises the department within the university that produced this inaccurate article and also criticises the Cape Breton Post for publishing without checking the veracity of its alleged facts."
But Dr Scott said Professor Mullan should have come to her first. Her books did not show in a catalogue search because they were contracted by non-academic publishers, she said. Her CV, made available to The THES , includes not only the books in question but titles of refereed articles, chapters and panel presentations to scholarly bodies. "Academic freedom exists to prevent people from being persecuted on political, religious and moral grounds. That does not give me free rein to libel somebody," Dr Scott said.
After three unsuccessful grievance meetings, the case will go to arbitration once Professor Mullan returns from Edinburgh. "I think it is bizarre and surreal. We are talking about the veracity of a sentence in a local newspaper, but the president has chosen to turn this into a show trial," he said.
Peter MacIntyre, Cape Breton's faculty association grievance officer for the case, said of Dr Scott: "If she publicly wants to claim certain accolades, then she becomes subject to public scrutiny."
The Canadian Association of University Teachers executive director, Jim Turk, wondered why Dr Scott did not simply hand over her CV in the first place. "Most of us who are academics are dying for people to know what we have written."