Public condemnation of professor’s flyer contrary to collective agreement

Social sciences professor distributed information on ‘pro-Israel’ elements in university administration to students; University called it anti-Semitic

An Ontario university did not defame a professor in a media release denouncing material in a pamphlet he distributed but did violate the collective agreement by denying his right to academic freedom, an arbitrator has ruled.

David Noble, a social sciences professor at York University in Toronto, distributed a flyer to students from his classes at a film screening by a student group supporting Palestinian human rights on Nov. 18, 2004. The flyer said the fundraising foundation for the university was “biased by the presence and influence of staunch pro-Israel lobbyists, activists and fundraising agencies” and promoted further research. It named several members of the foundation’s board of directors, many of whom were Jewish.

The next day, York released a media statement labelling the flyer as anti-Semitic and “targeting Jewish members of the York community.” At the time, York didn’t know Noble was the author and there was no reference to him. However, Noble was named in a release the same day issued by the Canadian Jewish Congress condemning his comments.

Noble was surprised by York’s statement and offended since he himself was Jewish. On Nov. 29, 2004, he filed a grievance, claiming York violated the collective agreement by failing to protect academic freedom to research and teach without interference or reprisal. He also claimed the media statement branded him as “a racist, a bigot and an anti-Semite.” He demanded an apology, a retraction of the media release and $10 million for defamation.

The arbitrator found York didn’t consider the collective agreement or its duty to allow academic freedom as it was concerned with the material itself and didn’t care who wrote it. However, it was aware of rumours Noble wrote it and the arbitrator said it should have investigated given the collective agreement’s protection of academic freedom.

York’s media statement implied the flyer was racist and shouldn’t be exposed to students, the arbitrator said, which was “a clear violation of academic freedom.”

“It seems clear that a charge of racism and bigotry leveled, if only implicitly, by a university against the work of one of its own professors would tend to diminish rather than uphold, to attack rather than protect, and to frustrate rather than promote, academic freedom,” the arbitrator said.

However, though York implied the material was racist, it didn’t refer to Noble specifically and the arbitrator felt the average reader wouldn’t see any link to Noble. The arbitrator dismissed Noble’s claim of defamation.

The arbitrator ordered York to remove the statement from its website and pay Noble $2,500 in damages for the violation of the collective agreement. See York University v. Y.U.F.A., 2007 CarswellOnt 9171 (Ont. Arb. Bd.).

To read the full story, login below.

Not a subscriber?

Start your subscription today!