David Higgins, Dean of Arts and Science
Separation of Powers is a fundamental tenet of democracy and the justice system. This tenet demands independence and impartiality of all levels of law enforcement in both civil and criminal proceedings: judges (arbiters); police, prosecution, defense attorneys (investigators), and individuals (complainants). Further, all levels must be insulated from political pressure in their proceedings.
David Higgins, the Dean of Arts and Science, leveled three complaints against me in January and February 2011 (detailed below). For the first two, Higgins was the complainant, investigator, and arbiter.
Higgins called numerous meetings with me starting in 2010. At these meetings, he adopted one of two persona's:
- Higgins was exceedingly friendly. He inquired about my academic and personal life. He slowly transitioned the conversation to the meeting topic, where he encouraged me to admit my guilt because "then we could work together to fix these minor misunderstandings".
- Higgins was aggressive, towering over me, repeatedly demanding that I admit guilt. Shutting me down when I attempted to provide information in my defense. Shahidul Islam (FA VP Faculty Welfare) observed that he and Higgins can "agree to disagree", but that Higgins demands that I accept his position, and labels me ‘uncooperative’ if I do not. This was Higgins' most common persona, and used almost exclusively after he learned I filed a harassment complaint against him.
The 'good cop/bad cop' routine is usually done by two interrogators, not one(?). And while this psychological tactic is used in law enforcement, it is known to lead to false confessions as the subject desperately wants to avoid the accusations, aggression, and threats of the bad cop. In the depths of despair during one meeting, I did consider this to placate Higgins. As this website attests, that would have been a mistake.
A memorable (in a bad way) event was a meeting on 01 February 2011. Higgins had been aggressive during previous meetings, so I specifically inquired about this meeting. I was also hoping that I didn't have to meet with him.
To: David Higgins
Cc: Sean Hillman, Brian Pearson
Date: Mon, 31 Jan 2011 11:24
Subject: Re: Meeting
It is evident that I will be at a significant disadvantage not knowing what you plan to bring up at tomorrows meeting. In fairness, I would appreciate this information so that I can prepare for tomorrow's meeting. This will also expedite the meeting and -- potentially -- negate the need for the meeting, depending on what you plan to bring up.
From: David Higgins
Cc: Sean Hillman, Brian Pearson
Subject: Re: Meeting
Date: Mon, 31 Jan 2011 13:32
I'm pleased to assure you that there is nothing to prepare. The point of the meeting, simply, is to get your response to some student comments about an e-mail which they have received.
The meeting was anything but friendly. Higgins accused me of a FOIP violation and of plagiarism. He aggressively and repeatedly demanded that I (1) explain myself and (2) admit guilt. I was completely unprepared. When I tried to put events in context, he interrupted and shut me down. All he wanted was for me to admit guilt, which I did not do. This infuriated him more. Brian Pearson attended this meeting and supported Higgins in his inquisition. Sean Hillman said nothing, but took notes.
Higgins demanded documents. In the cover letter supplying those documents, I state, "I humbly submit that '[ΑΩ] had nothing to prepare' was quite misleading." Higgins response, "I would note our difference concerning the usefulness of 'preparation' for our previous meeting." I take his response to mean that he intentionally misled me as to the nature of the meeting so that he would have a psychological advantage. This is a violation policy D1100 (Respectful Workplace).
All of these abusive meetings are a violation of policy D1100 (Respectful Workplace).
A similarly abusive meeting occurred on 15 March 2011, with both Higgins and Brian Pearson being 'bad cops'.
1. IP agreements
MacEwan recommends faculty obtain intellectual property agreements with collaborators, including students, involved in faculty-led scholarly activity. However, MacEwan does not provide a template for agreements with students. Students had approached me about developing material for my textbook. In the IP agreements I used, students retained ownership of their IP and gave me a non-exclusive license to use their work. I agreed to credit the students in the textbook. None of the students involved has complained or even expressed concerns regarding the agreements. The students were not consulted during Higgins' investigation. So, without involving me or the students in his investigation, Higgins declared the agreements void and threatened to take action against me if I used the student’s intellectual property. I had no opportunity to submit evidence or review and rebut evidence collected by Higgins during his investigation.
"Your textbook is your undertaking, hence it is news to me that you would consider it to be an institutional undertaking. It is not. No discussion about or request for support has ever reached me or the associate dean - hence my surprise when you stated that you considered ‘<my textbook>’ to be supported by the institution." (David Higgins, 24 January 2011)
In reality, Higgins and Sullivan (associate dean) had both granted me course releases to develop my textbook. They received my project reports detailing the developing textbook. They received my annual report where I listed my developing textbook as scholarly activity. And when they met with the Harrassment Investigator, they argued that my textbook was definitely scholarly activity. So both before and after January 2011, Higgins accepted my textbook as scholarly activity.
It appears that the status of my textbook as scholarly activity or not was more a function of what was most appropriate to achieve the objective: my termination from MacEwan.
2. Email to students
I sent an email informing students of my FREE developing textbook. Higgins deemed this a FOIP violation and leveled this accusation during the 01 February meeting. According to policy, the MacEwan FOIP Officer is responsible for investigating FOIP complaints and the Vice President Students Services must be involved if the complaint involves students. Neither of these occurred.
In a letter dated 04 February, Higgins states, "This matter has also been referred to the University FIOP Office to determine whether the University has any reporting obligations from this event." That is, three days after accusing me of violating FOIP, Higgins had concluded that I breached FOIP and was asking the FOIP Officer what the reporting obligations were. This is not the process outlined in policy. Higgins had again assumed the role of complainant, investigator, and arbiter.
The FA inquired with the FOIP Officer. The FOIP Officer acknowledged having been contacted by Higgins, and based on the information provided by Higgins, concluded that there was no reason for the FOIP Officer to investigate. When presented with the information by the FA (now the second time he was informed of the same issue), the FOIP Officer stated that he perceived the issue to be minor, if a FOIP violation at all, and that he would have used this as a “learning opportunity”.
The FOIP Officer declining to investigate should had concluded this issue!
But no. Higgins forged ahead, alone. Not quite alone, Brian Pearson (Human Resources Director) and Jeff Wasalenchuk (Acting Human Resources Director) assisted Higgins.
Higgins concluded his investigation with a letter on 01 April 2011. Higgins deemed my action an egregious breach worthy of a length suspension. Higgins threatened that any further issue would result in my termination. This is the same issue that the FOIP officer twice deemed not worth investigating!
Higgins' 01 April letter does not contain the word 'FOIP'. Additionally, Higgins told the Harassment Investigator (pages 8 and 9) that he wasn't even sure email addresses were covered by FOIP. Yet, he blew this non-issue into an event worthy of a length suspension.
An analysis of Higgins letter found numerous errors and inconsistencies. Several instances where faculty activities were promoted to students via email — similar to my email — were presented.
The FA finally decided to grieve in October — despite me requesting since April that they file a grievance. Administration argued that the grievance was filed too late and refused to consider it. The FA dropped the grievance.
The FOIP'd documents show that MacEwan Administration convinced themselves and others that the 01 April letter constitutes 'progressive discipline'. (It doesn't.) Administrators also expressed concerned that the 01 April letter will be voided through grievances.
For progressive discipline to have occurred, I would have had to have been disciplined for an offense, and then committed a similar offense. In this case, all three complaints — all very different — were leveled (by Higgins) in January and February 2011. It is evident in the 01 April letter that MacEwan Administration intended to use the third complaint as the culminating issue for termination.
At the same time that Higgins was targetting an email informing students of my FREE textbook, Robert Hilts, as Chair, had made his workbook a required resource for all first year chemistry students. Faculty teaching these courses were not informed of this. Many were not teaching from his workbook. Hilts' workbook wasn't even associated with the course textbook! The workbook cost the students approximately 40 $ per term, and Hilts and Pearson Education shared around 20 $ per book in profit. (My book was free.)
MacEwan Policy C5051 (Code of Conduct in Research) establishes a process for investigating possible cases of academic misconduct. A process that separates the roles of complainant, investigator, and arbiter. Both of the above issues were textbook cases of where this policy should have been applied. However, Higgins failed to follow this policy and assumed the roles of complainant, investigator, and arbiter. My expressions of concern to Paterson-Weir were dismissed. I learned that MacEwan Administrators give themselves the right to activate and deactivate policies at their discretion.
3. Use of material
After informing the Dean's Office of my plan to use my developing textbook at MacEwan, the Chair and I discussed logistics. One concern was ensuring student learning was not negatively affected, and we agreed that an obvious way to do this was to have some common assignment questions. Since the assigned questions were from the current textbook (General Chemistry, by Petrucci), I adapted a few questions into my developing textbook to monitor student learning. The questions were adapted to my style of asking questions, and often only the concept was taken, with the numerical data and question focused changed. This is a common practice in science instructional material development. Higgins labeled it plagiarism. Higgins was the complainant, investigator, and set to rule as the arbiter when I learned of policy C5051. When I brought policy C5051 to the attention of Brian Pearson (Human Resources Director), he informed me that MacEwan Administrators have the right to activate and deactivate policies at their discretion, and that Higgins was conducting a "private investigation". I complained to Janet Paterson-Weir (VP Academic), who outwardly did nothing. However, Higgins stopped his private investigation and informed me he was "invoking the policy".
Higgins and other administrators received an unsolicited arbitration decision from their lawyer that dealt with a situation similar to my own, but with greater alleged misconduct. That arbiter exonerated the faculty member of any wrongdoing. Many of the arguments that Higgins dismissed and prevented me from making were of significant importance in the arbitration decision.
Getting this arbitration decision should have stopped MacEwan.
Instead, Sullivan, Higgins, Paterson-Weir, and MacEwan Human Resources suppressed the arbitration decision, the associated recommendations from their lawyer, and forged ahead.
Higgins was the complainant according to policy C5051, but he also asserted himself as an investigator by creating and using a matrix that, in his mind, clearly showed plagiarism. According to a legal opinion I received and submitted to MacEwan, Higgins' matrix followed a process that had been "rejected by the courts of Canada".
Higgins is a historian, not a law expert.
Higgins directly, repeatedly, and flagrantly violated policy and process. And my complaints to senior administration were summarily dismissed.
The FA Executive was copied on all correspondence and attended all these meetings, but they refused to get involved despite all the policy and process violations and despite the severity of the issues. Indeed, the FA Executive even failed to inform me of policy C5051; I learned about it from a colleague.