The Williamson affair: Is freedom in danger at the University of Alberta?

July 2 1966

The Williamson affair: Is freedom in danger at the University of Alberta?

July 2 1966

The Williamson affair: Is freedom in danger at the University of Alberta?


In The Thorn In Socred's Flesh (Reviews), R. A. Fenn, of the University of Toronto, reported on the ease of Professor Colwyn Williamson and his failure to obtain tenure at the University of Alberta. The report contained many errors, and was grossly false in the impression it left — i.e., that academic freedom is endangered at the University of Alberta by a frightened faculty succumbing to government pressure. In the interest of accuracy, may we present a brief history of the affair, and of the conclusions reached by the Association of the Academic Staff of the University of Alberta. Fdmonton. Under present procedures at the university an assistant professor is normally considered for tenure in his fourth year on campus. A committee of five or six faculty members, including his dean and the head of his department, evaluate his scholarly work, his teaching and his other contributions to the university. Professor Williamson was considered under similar procedures last December: the recommendation of the committee was that tenure should not be granted. Because one of the major factors in the decision was a charge that he was a disruptive influence in the Department of Philosophy, the Staff Association of the University asked for and obtained a review of his case with further evidence introduced. The committee's recommendation was still negative. Further action by the Staff Association led to an offer by the University of Alberta of a further, terminal, year’s appointment. This offer, open until June 1. 1966, has not at time of writing been accepted or rejected by Professor Williamson. In all the exhaustive investigations carried out by the Staff Association, the one clear-cut conclusion that emerged was that there had been no political pressure exerted on the Tenure Committee, nor had any political considerations entered into their decision. Personality clashes and personal animosities within the department were present before the original recommendation, and they have been aggravated since; they cannot be separated from the ease. But the suggestion that Premier Manning, members of the Social Credit Party, or anyone outside the university community had anything to do with the decision reached is absurd. We completely reject the suggestion that any of the faculty concerned . . . were influenced in any way by Professor Williamson’s outside political activities. or by the government's response to these activities. Professor Mardiros did not announce the denial of tenure: denial of tenure is not academic jargon tor firing: no senior professor resigned giving this affair as the reason: nor did a senior professor withdraw his application for a position; Professor Mardiros did not go on television: no “old-line Social Crediters” can he found among the academic administration of the University (in fact, it's hard to find a Social Créditer of any age or rank on the faculty). On the positive side, any comparison of universities across Canada would reveal that there is more faculty self-government and democracy in the University of Alberta than anywhere else in Canada.


Mr. Fenn replies: “The charges following the first Tenure Committee meeting in December concerned Professor Williamson's competence. Moreover, it seems that circumstances surrounding this meeting were decidedly irregular; Professor Williamson was given no indication of the gravity of the situation, and a person without tenure sat on the committee. The Staff Association investigated the matter, and demanded that the decision be reconsidered by a reconstituted committee, with (he recommendation that Mardiros either absent himself from the committee or not vote. A second meeting was held with exactly the same personnel voting and with (he Academic Vice-President as an observer. The same decision was arrived at. but this time the major reason given for dismissal shifted from incompetence to being ‘a disruptive influence in the Philosophy Department.’ This charge Williamson readily admits; indeed. he feels it to be one of the major contributions he has made to the modernization of his department — he feels that he had a majority of the department on his side for the changes in organization he had suggested. Professor Daniel’s remarks about the one year’s (terminal) extension of contract seem to be misleading as he states them; at a certain stage in the negotiations surrounding this offer. Williamson was asked to sign a statement saying that all the charges made against him were made ‘in good faith.’ This he refused to do. Í am pleased that Prof. Daniel has made it clear that there was no direct political pressure exerted. TJowever. the fact remains that the environment in which the decision was made is extremely hostile. With reference to ‘firing’: in this case, ‘denial of tenure' was also associated with ‘termination of contract.’ Speaking as an academic, this means being fired. As 1 see it, the structure of academic selfgovernment does not guarantee the proper working of academic self-government. This could only be demonstrated when a ‘thorn in the flesh’ of a government, a university administration, or an academic department, has the freedom to think, teach and question. T believe that Williamson’s intellectual distinction has earned him the right to this freedom.”

T The other day I was approached by F. F. Daniel, president of the faculty association here, and asked to co-operate with him in “dealing with” (as he put it) your article. I pointed out to Dr. Daniel that the article makes absolutely no reference to him or to the faculty association. It is my conviction — and the conviction of many of my colleagues — that the faculty association here, under Daniel’s leadership, has objectively become the ally of the university administration in its attempt to get rid of a political troublemaker. Daniel’s present eagerness to protect the university establishment against the criticisms to be found in your article is convincing evidence for this view. What Alberta needs most of all. if it is to emerge from the Alice in Wonderland of Social Credit, are troublemakers. The current witchhunt against me will almost certainly he successful; but I would hope that the kind of publicity given to the case by



Maclean’s will make it more difficult for the experiences to be repeated — and I hope that other potential troublemakers will not be intimidated: at any rate, the fight against Social Credit must continue.


My resignation is in, has been in since March 2. Only unconditional reinstatement of the men dismissed could change my position. 1 maintain the men dismissed were treated unethically, unprofessionally, unprocedurally by senior administration members. Much worse, they were failed shamefully by most of their own colleagues, especially many executive members of their own faculty association, the AASUAE. As a committed Canadian, an academic, I feel deep gloom about what I can only call an unjust, hatchet job on vitality, controversy, criticism done yet one more time in this province, in this nation, where only mediocrity is sure to grow and thrive. — R. n. MATHEWS, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR. ENGLISH, UNIVERSITY OF ALBERTA

* Professor Williamson is valuable to our university and to our community. He stung us into life. But he did not suit the Establishment of his department, nor of this university, nor of this province. The first initiated his firing, the second finally approved of it, and the third was pleased enough. I shall suppose. None of them, I believe, gave the man the respect he was entitled to. nor considered sufficiently seriously what damage their action might do to the vital principle of honorable dissent in the free intellectual and political life. But these Establishments 1 have criticized are us. We let them be and do. They reflect us.

I do not much like the face I see. Williamson is right in his insistence that we have a damaged democracy here. Williamson contends that the Establishment here does not have to assert itself directly to have its way. Let me offer support for this contention. I am an editor of EDGE, a magazine that has been critical of the Socreds and that has been publicly attacked by several Socred cabinet ministers. Since these attacks I have not been able to get EDGE printed in Edmonton. Of the firms I approached, one could not meet our deadlines, one was too expensive, and five refused to tender. When 1 went after these five, four admitted that they would not touch EDGE because it was “too hot politically,” or “might affect their business adversely in the present political climate"; the fifth declined to give a reason. We are apathetic and conformist. Our Establishments are massive and complacent. It is just in such a situation that we need Williamsons. We get the Establishments we deserve; we get rid of the Williamsons we need. - N. PARKER-.J ERVIS, DEPT, OF


* It is regrettable that Fenn chose to write with so little regard to the evidence, but even more regrettable is the readiness of Maclean’s to publish such inaccuracies. That readiness is just one more instance of the blithe ignorance of Alberta that prevails among members of the socalled “national” press. Once, this situation was merely irritating to Albertans. Today, it is dangerous to Canada. >n a time when national understanding is of so much importance, articles of this kind strengthen false stereotypes outside Alberta. and stoke resentment of the east w 11 h i n this province. - JOE CLARK. 1ST



Safe — but for whom?

Re The Deaths Of 4,800 Others: They say Mother Nature puts on the greatest show on earth, but when the “crashproof” cars come in we'll be able to stand by the side of the road and see the really greatest show on earth. No pedestrian, animal, bird, or slow-moving mechanical contrivance will be safe. No matter how safe the cars arc, there will always be accidents. The safer the cars, the more violent the accidents.


* If a way could be devised of running a car without the production of the poisonous by-products of carbon combustion, ninety-five percent of the problem would be solved. Even slight traces of carbon monoxide can cause mental confusion, drowsiness, and a lack of care and watchfulness.


For Eeyore, no eyesore

I am in complete agreement with Sheila Rieran when she criticizes the Walt Dis-

ney handling of Winnie-the-Pooh (The A mericanization Of Winnie - The - Pooh, Reviews). But when she takes exception to the fact that in the Disney film “Eeyore has a ribbon on his tail (the mind boggles at Eeyore's reaction to such desecration),” I would point out in the interests of exactitude that Eeyore has in fact worn a ribbon on his tail before. In the last chapter of Winnie-the-Pooh, there are two of Shepard’s pictures showing Eeyore with a ribbon on his tail, in honor of Pooh’s party. - MRS. DAPHNE


Blush and tingle

I enjoyed Alan Edmonds’ article, Schizophrenia. It states that Drs. Hoffer and Osmond “deny there are any side effects from the nicotinic acid preparation called niacin.” However, as a pharmacist, T must point out that niacin is nicotinic acid and does cause “blushing and tingling” all over the body. I doubt if either Hoffer or Osmond will deny this. This side reaction is lessened by the use of niacinamide, a “salt” of niacin.


Author Edmonds replies: “Drs. Hoffer and Osmond do deny that the preparation they use causes blushing, so presumably they use the ‘salt' of niacin or a similar variant on the preparation which does. Their argument is that many of those who claim to have tried the niacin treatment for schizophrenia have not faithfully followed the proposed treatment methods.”

No traitor — a hero

It was with great pleasure that I read the Mackenzie "poems” — Scratch A Rebel, bind A Poet: The Unintentional Verse Of William Lyon Mackenzie. To read Mackenzie’s writings is to reinforce the belief that he was an intelligent moderate who fought against the evils of privilege and corruption. I consider Mackenzie to be Canada’s greatest unsung hero, and I think it a scandal that he should still be branded a traitor in many Canadian school texts. Perhaps with more publicity for the man and his works. Canadians will learn to love Mackenzie for what he was — a patriot, ahead of his time. MRS. JANET TIEMAN, THESSALON, ONT.

Doesn’t make brutality right

I hank you for your follow-up on the seal-hunting controversy, Epilogue On A Massacre (Reports). To the horrible details of the annual seal hunt has now been added the unthinkable fact that nothing has been done to stop it. Tom Hughes, general manager of the Ontario Humane Society, claims that if Canada stops seal hunting. Norway and Russia would move in and abolish the herds. How can that possibly justify Canada’s brutality? In any case, the parties to the international agreement that allows Canada to seal hunt in international waters could easily come to an agreement to abolish the hunt to all, and enforce it by imposing fines for poaching.


* Women are the market for furs — and women can stop buying them. We might even, in time, reduce the value of a fur coat as a status symbol if we insist on regarding it as a badge of a selfish and heartless person.


What “American” education?

Marie Goff, of Phoenix, Arizona, blatantly castigates “American” education in one lump sum (Mailbag). I lived in the U.S. for twenty-five years, and if I learned only one thing, it was that there is no such thing as an "American education.” In some ways, there are at least fifty educational standards, because each state prides itself on the constitutional right that delegates education to the state: and within each state, there may be hundreds more varying standards. Both countries can claim success in some areas, both know of the problems existing in others. May we be unselfish enough to emulate the best in both.