Volume 94, Issue 84

Thursday, March 1, 2001


No re-vote in store for Huron top spot

Hopeful disqualified over posters

London public school gets health scare

Investigated U of T law prof's peers defend academic freedom

Study says movie star smokers make teenagers more likely to light up too


Planet Me

Investigated U of T law prof's peers defend academic freedom

By Chris Lackner
Gazette Staff

A war of words is raging in the land of academia, as the University of Toronto continues its investigation of Denise Réaume, one of its professors in the faculty of law.

Réaume is being investigated for her possible involvement in the actions of 30 first-year law students, who stand accused of altering their first-term grades on their summer job applications.

The professor is alleged to have told her class she disagreed with employers requesting first-year students' exam results and suggested students submit higher grades.

The university has come under fire from various academics, and received a critical letter from a group of eight professors from institutions such as Oxford, Yale, and Arizona State University.

Yesterday, U of T president, Robert Birgeneau, released a letter to the public defending the university's actions in investigating Réaume, who is slated to defend her actions when she returns from a law conference in England.

"We are fully respectful of academic freedom and have consistently affirmed our commitment to that fundamental principle by our words and actions," the statement reads. "The fact-finding process is to determine what was said and the impact, if any, on the 30 or so students who are being investigated by the university for possible grade misrepresentation. No conclusions whatsoever have been drawn at this stage."

Patricia White, a dean of law at Arizona State University, and one of the eight professors to sign the protest letter, said academic freedom was at stake at U of T.

"When a great university like U of T calls into question the fundamental principle of academic freedom it can spread like wild fire," she said. "This is an improper attack against the things [the academic community] all hold dear."

White said she found the rebuttal letter from Birgeneau disturbing. "I think the letter shows an unfortunate misunderstanding about the nature of academic freedom and protection," she explained. "Sometimes people make mistakes. [The letter] suggests this was a case where a decision to investigate a professor was undertaken quickly and with a conscious disrespect to the fundamental charge of the university."

Students in the faculty of law are concerned for Réaume, said Anna-Maria Distasio, president of the U of T student law society. "She's a well-respected professor at the law school."

Henry Jacek, president of the Ontario Colleges and University Faculty Association, said OCUFA has no official position on the case but supports the concept of academic freedom for faculty and students within the classroom.

"If you start saying certain subjects are out of bounds, you end up destroying the very nature of the university," he said.

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