COLUMN

Lost in the groves of academe

Allan Fotheringham March 29 1982
COLUMN

Lost in the groves of academe

Allan Fotheringham March 29 1982

Lost in the groves of academe

COLUMN

Allan Fotheringham

The universities are in a down period, strapped for money, their government grants cut back, students fearful of bleak employment prospects. Academics worry about the erosion of standards and whether the public cares. The public cares, but the public has worries—a suspicion that a new layer has been added to society, a fatcat layer that is not only insulated by tenure but now is quite adequately paid, thank you very much. As a subject for examination, the prosecution presents the case of Dr. Julius Kane, a professor of the University of British Columbia’s Institute of Animal Resource Ecology.

In June of 1977—fix that date in your memory—the UBC Gazette, in the shy, guarded manner of academia, stated that a professor (unnamed) had been suspended for three months for improper use of the university computer and for using a research grant for private purposes. The public was never told a thing. It was then that journalist Doug Collins, a man who had escaped from 10 Nazi prisoner-of-war camps and was then with The Vancouver Sun, dug out the story. Collins, not UBC, gave the public Julius Kane’s name because two of his staff were so appalled by his conduct that they went to the RCMP with evidence. They are Bruce Wilson and Arlene Francis, husband and wife. He was employed by Kane as a researcher. She was employed by Kane as a secretary. They alleged that Kane, among other things, had his staff type his “very bad novel” into the UBC computer, had his sophisticated financial affairs analysed by the same route, worked out a complicated accounting system that was put into the computer, used his National Research Council (NRC) grant for private purposes and had his staff work on his real estate business.

Professor Kane is an American who has since gained landed immigrant status. He does not even live in Canada to this day, maintaining his residence in Bellingham, Wash. Wilson and Francis,

based on information they handled, estimated his worth at $2.7 million, including houses in Vancouver, a farm in the Fraser Valley, apartments in Bellingham, land near Yosemite National Park and property in Malibu. His salary was $3,380 a month.

In September of 1977, Julius Kane sued the couple for libel. He also appealed his suspension to the B.C. Supreme Court. In December, he was charged with theft, fraud and attempted fraud—relating to improperly employing two persons to work for him on personal matters using NRC money.

Ten days later the B.C. Supreme Court turned down Kane’s appeal on his suspension (of only three months) by I'BC. University friends, meanwhile, had to start a defence fund for the young husband-and-wife team who were being sued by the wealthy zoology professor. He was a man who loved the courts and could afford them.

By May of 1978, Julius Kane had elected trial by jury at a preliminary hearing on seven criminal offences in connection with misuse of public funds. The wheels of justice grind slowly. In March of 1980 the Supreme Court of Canada overturned UBC’s timid decision and said the three-month suspension was invalid because UBC President Doug Kenny had stayed in the room (while Kane vacated it) when the UBC board of governors upheld the suspension imposed by Kenny. We are now four years down the road, remember, from the alleged meeting of the bad novel and the publicly owned computer.

By April of 1980, the ponderous brain

of UBC groaned and, hearing the evidence on orders of the Supreme Court, decided to uphold the timorous threemonth slap on the wrist. By June, 1980, we are finally into the trial at which Francis told how she and Wilson would have to drive Kane to the Faculty Club, to his $45,000 sailboat, his farm in the country, his property in the United States and once had to deliver his children to a hockey school on Vancouver Island. (“We’ve all heard of the phrase ‘the absent-minded professor,’ ” Kane’s defence lawyer argued. “They do exist, you know.”) He was found guilty on two counts of theft and fined $5,000.

During the trial, which had its bizarre aspects, Crown counsel A.G. Henderson’s entire handwritten court brief containing a list of Crown witnesses, exhibits and argument disappeared from the counsel table. We are, ho hum, now into September, 1980—three months after the trial—and President Kenny ponderously produces a press release saying the good professor has been suspended once again z “pending the outcome of a ¡¿process which could result tin his dismissal for

yy gcause.

“ In January, 1982, it is discovered that Julius Kane has been drawing close to $1,000 a week, for the past 16 months while the ostrich of academia has labored. This month the process labored and grunted an answer. President Kenny, in a letter to faculty— not to the public—revealed that a special committee agreed that Julius Kane was guilty of gross misconduct but decided not to fire him, just to suspend him for 18 months without pay. Back in 1977 (remember?) Bruce Wilson said: “Kane used to talk to me quite freely about how easy it was to rip off the Canadian system. He would laugh a lot about it and say: ‘Why should I go back to the U.S.? It’s so easy up here. The whole system is wide open.’ ”

C.R.B. Dunlop, a University of Alberta law professor who was chairman of the three-man committee that declined to fire Kane, refuses to discuss the committee’s work and will not even reveal the names of the other two committee members. It’s only the public’s ! money. A friend of academia weeps.

Allan Fotheringham is a columnist for Southam News.