Following months of not commenting, Thompson Rivers University has finally responded publicly to a complaint by a professor who claims his academic freedom has been violated.
Economics professor Derek Pyne was suspended by the university earlier this year. He said he was banned from the campus in May and suspended in July due to his research into faculty at TRU and elsewhere paying to have papers published in dubious scholarly journals.
In a statement issued on Friday, the university’s interim president said Pyne’s suspension was not related to his research.
“Much of the media attention has incorrectly stated that faculty member Dr. Derek Pyne was disciplined for his research,” Christine Bovis-Cnossen said. “This is not the case. The discipline imposed is related to matters which I am unable to comment on due to both employment and privacy law.
“But I do want to be clear, to set the record straight, that academic freedom is fully protected at TRU under the collective agreement with our faculty association. Action taken against Dr. Pyne was not related to his specific research, the dissemination of his research or the exercising of his right to academic freedom.
“Any faculty member hired or promoted at TRU goes through a robust process which involves a review of research activity and publishing credentials. This is a process led by peers, hence, any faculty member at TRU moving through the promotion and tenure process is doing so with the endorsement of their faculty colleagues provincially, nationally, and internationally.”
However, when contacted by KTW, Pyne said he has indeed been suspended because of his research into so-called predatory journals.
The research formed a paper, The Rewards of Predatory Publications at a Small Business School, which was published by University of Toronto Press Journal of Scholarly Publishing.
Pyne said he was suspended due to the research he included in his feedback on proposed promotions of other TRU instructors, with his feedback including information he found that connected those instructors to having paid for papers to be published in journals.
“It’s definitely not matters unrelated to my research,” Pyne said of the reasons behind his suspension. “That’s definitely a wrong statement. Right now, they are making a big deal about feedback I gave.”
Pyne said at TRU, as with other universities, faculty can give feedback on candidates for administrative positions. He said it is the feedback he gave on one particular candidate that led to his suspension, a candidate Pyne said had papers published in recognized predatory journals/publishers.
That candidate, Pyne said, was eventually hired for the administrative position.
“And they are claiming that is defamation,” Pyne said. “So that’s a big part of the case.”
He said his research also uncovered other examples at TRU of predatory journals being used in publishing papers, noting he also questioned whether research backgrounds could pass a faculty tenure review.
Pyne added that the university’s department of economics approved two motions against him — on Oct. 13, 2017, and on Dec. 8, 2017 — that raised “serious concerns” with comments Pyne posted online in response to a CFJC-TV story on a new graduate program at TRU.
“At the time, it was clear they were very upset with the New York Times interview,” Pyne said, referring to an Oct. 30 article in which he was quoted.
“Basically, everything is related to that research.”
He said if the feedback he gave is behind the suspension, so too is his research, as his research formed his feedback.
Pyne said he met with the university’s human resources department on Oct. 27, a meeting he said “involved arguing about the feedback.
“The HR director insisted that I retract it and I refused,” Pyne said. “The meeting ended with his saying that he would schedule another meeting with the dean and again give me a chance to retract it. I responded that I would never retract it.”
Tom Friedman, president of the TRU Faculty Association, previously told KTW the association is “actively involved” in representing Pyne.
“We’re taking every action we believe is justified given the circumstances and we’re not prepared to discuss whether this case involves academic freedom or not,” Friedman said.
To which Pyne replied: “I’ll be a bit careful about what I say. I don’t really agree with that.
“If you give them every benefit of doubt about their motivations, it is safe to say that they don’t seem to understand the concept of academic freedom,” he said. “One should remember that they are not people with research responsibilities or backgrounds. Many do not have PhDs. Thus, they may not understand the importance of these issues. I should note that many of my colleagues do not give TRUFA the benefit of the doubt when it comes to motivations.”
Pyne has asked the Ottawa-based Canadian Association of University Teachers to investigate his complaint that his academic freedom has been violated. TRU administration has said it will not take part in the probe, arguing CAUT does not have authority or jurisdiction to probe issues covered in the collective agreement between the university and the faculty association.
Friedman said the faculty association will do its best to answer questions without revealing confidential information.