TRU prof suspended again; surprised union is filing a grievance | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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TRU prof suspended again; surprised union is filing a grievance

Image Credit: Thompson Rivers University
July 21, 2020 - 5:18 PM

A Thompson Rivers University professor has has been suspended for a second time in two years and suggests it may be due to statements he made about a lack of academic freedom.

Derek Pyne was first suspended in 2018 after pointing out that several Thompson Rivers University faculty had been published in journals without professional credentials. In November 2019, the Canadian Association of University Teachers determined the university administration’s actions had breached academic freedom.

As an indirect result of his 2018 suspension, he is facing now a one-year suspension without pay, benefits or access to his work email.

On June 10, Pyne shared a post to his Facebook page that related to his 2018 suspension. He suggested that his union, the Thompson Rivers University Faculty Association, did not respect academic freedoms in the same way other university unions do. He tagged several members of the union on the post and was suspended about a month later on July 16.

“They cut off my access to union emails and there’s a lot of documents I have related to this case... and when people send me emails they don’t get an out of office response,” Pyne says.

Pyne says although his issue was originally with Thompson Rivers University faculty writing for ‘predatory publishers,' he says there is also friction with the union representatives. He says they supported the university following his previous suspension, which inclined him to tag representatives in his June 10 Facebook post.

Pyne believes the suspension will impact his ability to run for a union position if he ever wanted to do so, as he claims one of the individuals he tagged in the post doesn’t want him to say anything negative about her.

“I’m not the type of person that would want to get elected to a union position but does that mean that if I did run against her for a union position that I can’t say anything against her about why I should replace her? To me, the whole argument makes no sense,” Pyne says.

Darshan Lindsay, TRU director of executive and government relations, says the suspension has nothing do do with academic freedom.

“While we cannot provide specific information on personnel matters due to employment and privacy laws, we want to be clear that matters involving Dr. Pyne are not about the exercise of academic freedom,” Darshan says in an emailed statement. “In general terms, it is unlikely the university would suspend an employee for a single social media post.”

"Academic freedom, including the ability to conduct independent research, freely communicate knowledge and the results of research and scholarship, and respectfully debate differences, is core to our university culture," the statement reads.

Lindsay states the university would first have a discussion with an employee to resolve the issue prior to taking harsher measures like suspension.

Pyne says he was surprised when he was told of his suspension and notes he didn’t have a last chance to access his work email.

On Friday, Payne received correspondence from The Thompson Rivers University Faculty Association. 

“It was a copy of a grievance and it does list academic freedom as a ground," Pyne says. "I’ve been trying to get back to them and understand why the reason now we’re filing a grievance on academic freedom when in the past they always opposed it. If they’re serious about this new grievance, it really will change things… but they haven’t gotten back with the clarification.”

“It seems to imply they’ve changed their position," Pyne says. "Before, they were against doing anything about the academic freedom infringement, but this lists academic freedom as a ground.”

Pyne says he doesn’t yet know when the grievance process will move forward, or what he'll do for the upcoming year.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Jenna Wheeler or call (250) 819-6089 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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