A Canadian academic who published research on his colleagues’ use of predatory journals has claimed that his university does not “understand the concept” of academic freedom after he was banned from campus.
Derek Pyne, associate professor of economics at Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia, has been barred from campus since May and was briefly suspended without pay in July after he released a paper revealing that the majority of researchers at the institution’s business school had published in predatory journals. The article, published in the Journal of Scholarly Publishing in April 2017, adds that such publications are positively correlated with receiving internal research awards.
The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) has launched an investigation into the case to determine whether Dr Pyne’s academic freedom was violated. The university has said that it will not participate.
CAUT executive director David Robinson said that Dr Pyne “feels that following his exposé…he was subject to retaliatory measures that culminated in his suspension and subsequent banning from the university”.
Dr Pyne told Times Higher Education that he hopes “public pressure will lead [the university] to second-guess their actions”.
“I received an email from a union steward saying that the HR director indicated that I may be back at work by the end of the month, so I would say that it already appears to have had some positive effect,” he said.
Last year, the controversial “Beall’s list” – a website created by University of Colorado Denver librarian Jeffrey Beall that flagged journals with questionable publishing practices – was shut down. Dr Beall claimed that “intense pressure” from the university forced him to close the site. Researchers said that the closure was a “substantial loss” to the academic community and would “make it easier” for predatory publishers to operate.
Dr Pyne added that he had hoped his research would “bring some changes in the institution” but said that colleagues were still publishing papers in predatory journals. He said that he thought some academics were more encouraged to do so when they realised “everyone else was doing it”.
“I thought it might discourage people, but I think it may have backfired,” he said.
When asked how he would assess the state of academic freedom at Thompson Rivers, he said: “At TRU, I don’t think they understand the concept.
“TRU used to be a college, and we still have a lot of people who have teaching-only jobs – they don’t have research responsibilities. Many of our administrators don’t have research backgrounds…and I think they don’t really understand the concept.”
Christine Bovis-Cnossen, Thompson Rivers’ interim vice-chancellor, said that the institution was “unequivocally committed to the principle of academic freedom for all of our faculty members”.
She added that the university’s faculty association was “fully entitled to grieve the discipline imposed on Dr Pyne” but no such “grievance related to academic freedom has been filed”.