Triggered at Acadia: Old boys club runs roughshod over equity officer

Acadia University equity officer Meg Townsend has tendered her resignation, in large part over the university’s handling of the Rick Mehta affair.

Although she outlines several complaints in her May 17 resignation letter — which somehow made its way into my hands — the straw that broke the camel’s back appears to have come this winter when she was directed by an unidentified member of the administration on the precise wording she was to use when complaints came in regarding the controversial psychology professor.

“My being ordered to do this was contrary to the (University’s Harassment and Discrimination) Policy,” she writes.

“It was at this point that I decided that I would have to leave as Equity Officer. If am unable to act in the position in a way that is ethical, legal and moral... then it is not a good fit.”

In her seventh year as Acadia’s equity officer — she was hired during president Ray Ivany’s reign — the position has only ever been a one-day-a-week sorta thing. She estimates that she’s worked hundreds of hours of free overtime during her tenure there.

But she was shocked when, after receiving the first complaint againt Dr. Mehta from aboriginal student Harrison Paul in January, it wasn’t long before she was informed by her immediate supervisor, university CFO Chris Callbeck, that she was in a conflict of interest and wouldn’t be able to deal with anything pertaining to Rick Mehta.

Apparently the problem was that, up until she went on sick leave from her studies last fall (she suffers from lupus), she was a graduate student in psychology. And Rick Mehta teaches psychology. But, she’s never had Mehta as a professor, and he doesn’t teach in the grad program anyway.

Oh, and Mehta himself doesn’t seem to be concerned about an alleged conflict, since he continued to send her materials via email long after she was officially taken off the case.

Harrison, incidentally, had complained that, as an indigenous person at Acadia, “I do not feel that people of the same cultural background are safe being taught by one of his classes.”

For those not accustomed to this usage of the word safe, allow me to explain. He doesn’t mean people are at risk of being hurt or killed in Mehta’s classes. He’s talking about safety in the new sense, wherein one can feel unsafe in any mildly unpleasant situation at all. Like if you asked the waitress to cut the crusts off your sandwich, but yet, your sandwich is delivered with the crusts still intact. That can make someone feel unsafe these days.

Harrison’s complaint came just a few days after Mehta tweeted favourably about Senator Lynn Beyak’s stance on residential schools. Harrison also advised that he once overheard Mehta telling someone that “There is no need to recognize that we are on indigenous land.”

Even before Meg was conflicted out of the Mehta Affair, she found herself constantly left out of the loop.

When that first complaint came in, the president arranged a meeting with him without consulting her. When she found out about it, she said she had a family obligation that morning at 9 a.m., but she would come to the meeting as soon as she could. President Peter Scurvy Ricketts told her not to worry about it, he’d be fine. But he’d follow up with her after the meeting. He never did.

“As the concerns raised fell under the bailiwick of the Equity Office, as Equity Officer for Acadia,” she figured she should damn well be kept in the loop. A few days later, when the media came knocking, nobody asked for her opinion about what to say, either.

So Acadia comms dude Scott Roberts was all, “It would not be appropriate to open up a debate on Dr. Mehta’s comments.”

“Can you imagine if I wrote that as a response to concerns persons have raised to the Equity Office about Mehta(?),” she wonders.

The wife of St. Mary’s criminology professor/ former NDP candidate for the riding of Kings South Steve Schneider, Meg herself is a former RCMP officer who specialized in sexual assault investigations.

Which is why she was stunned that her beancounter boss wouldn’t authorize overtime for her to help craft the university’s new sexual assault policy. If she wanted to work on it, she would have to do the work for free.

“Incidentally,” she writes, “One of the two persons left creating the policy is a faculty member from NSCC, whose institution gives her the time to come help with Acadia’s policy. Isn’t it ironic (and embarrassing) that another institution is paying their employee while she comes here and helps create our policy while Acadia won’t pay me, the person at Acadia who is the most qualified and experienced subject matter expert on campus?”

Meg was no doubt greatly entertained last December when President Smallpox Ricketts promised the CBC that the uni was working diligently to create a stand-alone sexual assault policy.

No Free Speech Allowed

In Free Speech Investigation

The daughter of former Wolfville mayor Bill Townsend, Meg was dumbfounded when Beancounter Chris forbade her from speaking to the Canadian Association of University Teachers when they came to Wolfville in April as a part of an inquiry into how the Maritimes answer to Jordan Peterson was being treated.

Writes Meg in her resignation letter, Callbeck told her she was prohibited from meeting with them, advising her that President Gout Ricketts had sent them a letter saying CAUT “has no standing at Acadia University and that Acadia would not be participating in their investigation.”

Just to be clear, the Acadia University Faculty Association is a member of CAUT.

CAUT executive director David Robinson supplied me with a copy of the April 4 letter sent to them by the prez, in which he says administration would not be co-operating due to the nature of “this internal employment issue.”

“(Acadia) is not in a position to provide CAUT with any documentation or information, or to discuss the issue in any way,” he writes.

“Any contact for us on this matter or in the future will be AUFA and not CAUT. I trust that you will understand and respect the confidentiality of this matter.”

Pish-posh, says Dave.

“It’s our view that universities and colleges are public institutions, and they should be open to public scrutiny,” he tells me.

“When there’s concerns about the basic principles of academic freedom, we always launch these investigations.

“Unless they have something to hide, there’s no reason why they wouldn’t want to co-operate.”

Unfortunately, he says, in recent years they’ve received numerous letters that are “mysteriously similar in tone, almost word for word,” from universities across the country anytime they’ve launched similar inquiries. As for CAUT’s Mehta investigation, a report is in the process of being written, and he says it will be available in the next few months.

Meg writes in her resignation letter that when she tried to fight back against her superior’s heavy-handed treatment, he threatened her job.

“I advised him that I was unaware such a letter had been sent or that Acadia would not be participating,” she writes.

“He also, not too subtly, threatened my job when stating ‘You are an Acadia employee,’ while nodding his head up and down.”

Once again, she found herself being directed to write an email and what to say.

“He advised me what to write in the email, and what was not to be put in it, including my using the words such as ‘prohibited,’ as in I am ‘prohibited’ from meeting tomorrow.”

“I was directed to email him as soon as I sent the email to the committee members. When I asked if he wanted to be ‘cc’d’ on the email to the committee members Chris Callbeck looked horrified and said ‘No’ while shaking his head back and forth.”

She did his bidding, and then emailed him to say the task was done. He called her and asked her to read it to him verbatim, which she did.

“I then said it was ironic that in an investigation into free speech, that I was not allowed to have free speech. Chris Callbeck responded stating ‘Aw Meg. Don’t be like that’.”

She also complains that she only learned that Acadia was hiring an external equity officer — retired Dal professor Wayne MacKay — from a student who had heard it from another professor.

“This was extremely bad form of the university to allow me to find out through such a channel. This situation speaks to me to how little regard the position has at Acadia and how senior administration violates policy when it suits them.”

Eventually, she would discover that MacKay wasn’t doing an equity investigation, that the issue was “bigger than that... between employer and employee.” Considering she was still receiving complaints about Mehta and she continued to communicate with him, she was incredulous that MacKay hadn’t contacted her for his investigation.

Acadia announced in February it had retained MacKay to investigate and provide a report to the university on Mehta. As far as I can tell, that report has yet to be delivered.

There’s been no response to correspondence sent to Acadia mouthpuppet Scott Roberts — who’s apparently out of the office for a few days — and copied to President Whooping Cough Ricketts and Beancounter Chris before I went to press.

Although Meg says in her letter that she’s sorry for leaving the position she’s fought and advocated for, and will miss working with the students, staff and faculty, “I will not miss the frustration I have felt re: the lack of support from senior administration (and not just fiscally).”

#793 #ValleyofFear