October 17th, 2018

Controversy test case for universities: Hall

By Kuhl, Nick on June 8, 2018.

Part five of a five-part special report

Nick Kuhl

Lethbridge Herald


Tony Hall, a tenured University of Lethbridge professor who has taught Globalization studies, Native American studies and liberal education at the U of L since 1990, was suspended without pay in October 2016 over concerns he had contravened Section 3 of the Alberta Human Rights Act, including providing a platform for hate speech regarding some of his online activities.

Following is the conclusion of The Herald’s recent sit-down with Hall.

Herald: “In summation, Prof. Hall, what do you see as the big issues raised by the contentions between you and the administration of the University of Lethbridge?”

Hall: “I believe this controversy is becoming something of a test case whose outcome will influence how universities will be governed in the future. This case is already setting precedents for institutions of higher learning in Alberta and beyond. These schools of advanced education play vital roles at the very interface between continuity and change in the evolution of our most important civilizational complexes.

“The contentions set in motion by my suspension raise many fundamental questions. For instance, how is it to be decided what can or cannot be the subject of research, publication and pedagogy at universities? How is expertise in various fields of study to be acquired, passed along, certified and applied these days? Who is to decide what academic faculty get hired, retained or dismissed?

“Should limits be set on what can be investigated, discussed, debated, written about and taught in the curriculum? If so, how are these boundaries to be set? By whom and how should these outlines of academic legitimacy be established? Are there checks currently in place to safeguard the integrity of procedures currently used to decide such matters? Are the supposed safeguards adequate to meet the growing incursions of powerful political lobbies?

“All of these questions bear directly on the fundamental issue pertaining to the role of university faculty members and administrators in drawing distinctions between truth and falsehood, between legitimate inquiry and quackery. In this sense universities constitute a kind of high court for such determinations essential to the very viability of free and democratic societies founded on platforms of enlightenment and rationality.

“The pursuit of truth through the application of evidence combined with disciplined reasoning is not the same thing as a popularity contest. Accordingly, it has long since been recognized that there has to be some special protections for qualified university faculty members who may from time to time develop interpretations that are seen as menacing to those in positions of power. These considerations have much to do with the frequency that specialized terms like tenure, academic freedom and peer review come up in my case.

“This contention at the University of Lethbridge is coming to embody the basic dilemmas that often arise when powerful interests line up with the object of trying to silence the message by professionally destroying the messenger. Essential to my self-defence is my conclusion drawn from primary documents that the board of governors of our university has aligned itself too closely with a powerful political lobby that began a systematic attack on my reputation prior to my suspension in October of 2016.

“Then on November 24, 2017, the day after I was reinstated to my professional position, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley joined with the powerful interests calling for my removal from the academy. In public pronouncements Premier Notley condemned both my academic work and my reputation. Premier Notley declared that I “absolutely” should not be “teaching students;” that she sees my views as “repulsive, offensive and not reflective of Alberta.” Our premier said nothing about how she arrived at her conclusions. Could it be that her opinion of me continues to be influenced by the misrepresentation of the Facebook deception funnelled into her office on August 27 of 2016?”

The Herald has not received a response from Premier Rachel Notley’s office regarding comments towards her.

U of L officials were given the opportunity by The Herald to respond to all of Hall’s direct claims. They provided this statement:

“The University of Lethbridge will not provide any comment on the background or the process currently underway related to Dr. Hall. The process was agreed to by Dr. Hall, the University of Lethbridge Faculty Association (ULFA) and the University of Lethbridge Board of Governors. To comment at this time would be inappropriate and irresponsible.”

Herald: “Tony, after going over all of this, do you have any final comment, or overarching statement?”

Hall: “I moved to Lethbridge in 1990, January 1st of 1990, to take up my position as associate professor of Native American studies. I moved here, I have joined in the community, I’ve contributed to the life of the community, including The Lethbridge Herald, and the discourse of The Lethbridge Herald, whether it be the Yuan Yi hog plant, or Milton Born With A Tooth and the Oldman Dam, or the free trade area of the Americas, and the controversy that unfolded in 2001, fluoridation, smart meters – I haven’t been shy to try to contribute to the discourse. And sometimes I’ve been unpopular as a result. And sometimes I’ve been popular as a result.

“But, anyway, that’s the nature of discourse in the public sphere. I’ve taken pride in the fact that I can communicate through popular press, in very accessible media, and explain, what might seem to some, complex matters in language that is accessible to people. My really deep commitment to justice for First Nations in Canada, and looking at Indigenous peoples increasingly in a North American context, a Western Hemisphere context, and in a global context, I think it’s not surprising that my attention was drawn to the plight of Palestinians, to the situation in the Middle East, that I read the situation, which involves a very gross disparity of power between a sovereign country, Israel, and a people who have no state, the Palestinians, that there needs to be some equity. And there needs to be some voices raised to people who are suffering in the terms of how power is exercised these days.

“Muslim people after 9/11 have been put in a particularly precarious position and I mean the worldwide community of two billion Muslims, the Islamic religion, Islamic people, Islamic culture, Islamic philosophy. So I’ve lent my voice to drawing attention to that and I see 9/11 and the interpretation of 9/11, and the Global War On Terror, and the way terrorism is depicted; some instances that I think aren’t depicted as they really should be.

“I seek to use my experience as a researcher, my capacity to articulate things in the public milieu; I’ve written for the Globe and Mail, I’ve written for the Toronto Star, I’ve written for the Ottawa Citizen. To me, it is a tactic that I’ve used throughout my academic career to comment on contemporary issues and bring historical interpretations to that cause or to that procedure, to that process. So, to me, False Flag Weekly News fit into that pattern and was a kind of natural for me.

“I would like to see some calm and collegial resolution to this matter. I don’t think that the differences are as radical as some would like them to be. And, of course, I made a commitment to this community. I’m still here and I would like to be able to live in this community and continue to contribute in this community and be understood as having a good intention. People may disagree with my interpretations; I might even irritate some people the way I express myself. But this is how it works in the sphere of ideas and conflicting interpretations. This is what we have universities for.

“Knowing how to agree to disagree is crucial. I think we should embrace that ideal of finding ways to agree to disagree that is essential in the process of advancing liberal education – which the University of Lethbridge apparently stands for.”

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One Response to “Controversy test case for universities: Hall”

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