Fired college instructor was 'resisting' change, school's lawyer argues

·5 min read
Rod Cumberland was fired from the Maritime College of Forest Technology on June 20, 2019. He claims it was because of his views on herbicide use, but the college says it was because he was a difficult employee. (CBC - image credit)
Rod Cumberland was fired from the Maritime College of Forest Technology on June 20, 2019. He claims it was because of his views on herbicide use, but the college says it was because he was a difficult employee. (CBC - image credit)

A fired college instructor has been portrayed in court as someone who resisted and resented a modern approach to running the school, and who campaigned against a colleague who beat him out for a job promotion there.

A lawyer for the Maritime College of Forest Technology confronted Rod Cumberland with a detailed chronology of his frequent complaints about new approaches by new administrators in 2018 and 2019.

The college is denying Cumberland's claim he was fired for his views on the herbicide glyphosate and is arguing he was dismissed for being a difficult and disruptive employee.

The instructor complained about yoga courses, "oversensitive" colleagues and the possible renaming of the college's Woodsmen lumberjack competition team with a gender-neutral term, according to Cumberland's emails introduced as evidence in the Court of King's Bench trial.

Jacques Poitras/CBC
Jacques Poitras/CBC

In one email he referred to "these liberal politically correct leaders who are changing the fabric of what our college has been."

"You thought it should be the old forest ranger school, and others thought something different," asked the college's lawyer Clarence Bennett.

Cumberland agreed.    

Later, Bennett asked him, "You will agree with me that none of this had to do with glyphosate spraying, right?"

"Right," Cumberland answered.

Cumberland, a wildlife biologist, is a vocal critic of industrial spraying of glyphosate by the forest industry and contends that it has contributed to a decline in the province's deer population.

Radio-Canada
Radio-Canada

During Wednesday's cross-examination, Bennett grilled him about how he contacted a lawyer, insurance companies, and a Fundy National Park official looking to bolster his arguments against the relaxing of rules against student drinking.

The instructor says he was seeking clarity because he was concerned he would be personally liable if a student were injured after drinking during one of the college's regular camp activities at Fundy.

Bennett told Cumberland it was "not your business" because executive director Tim Marshall and academic chair Gareth Davies had already made the decision.

"I think it's a lot of my business if I'm going to be the person put out there," Cumberland said.

"All of a sudden I'm disrespectful and insubordinate for trying to communicate this."

Lost out on promotion

The instructor was fired in June 2019. In 2017 he applied for the job of academic chair at the college but lost out to Davies.

Bennett suggested Cumberland's persistent complaints were motivated by his bitterness over that decision but the former instructor says he was expressing legitimate concerns, including about a heavy workload Davies assigned him.

"As a believer I'm expected to turn the other cheek. … I couldn't do that," he said.

"There's no question you were resisting Mr. Davies as your boss?" Bennett asked.

"I had concerns about the decisions that he was making that were going to affect me."

The trial also heard how Cumberland complained about a mediator brought in to resolve a dispute between him and a colleague. The mediation efforts always ended with the colleague and the mediator "pointing fingers at me," Cumberland said.

Bennett said he'll be presenting evidence that some of Cumberland's colleagues had warned him that he was at risk of being fired if he didn't stop complaining to Davies and Marshall.

The college's lawyer also challenged Cumberland's claim about the impact of the firing on his ability to get a job, accusing him of seeking out media coverage.

"The reason why your dismissal was so public is because you made it public," Bennett said.

It was Cumberland's decision to sue that forced the college to defend the decision with its account of his behaviour, he continued.

"You told everyone who would listen that you'd get to the truth, and that's what we're doing, isn't it?"

JDI involvement?

Later Wednesday, Atlantic Forestry Centre director-general Peter Fullarton confirmed during his testimony that an email complaining about Cumberland came from J.D. Irving Ltd.'s vice-president of woodlands Jason Limongelli.

Limongelli wrote in the email that college instructors "should not be undermining federal scientists."

CBC News reported on the email in April but at the time Limongelli's name and title were redacted. The unredacted version was entered into evidence at the trial.

In a later email Marshall responded that it was "very important to me that [the college] maintains a positive relationship with the organizations working in the sector we aim to serve."

Fullarton said he wasn't aware of anyone from JDI seeking Cumberland's firing.

Meanwhile, a federal research scientist with Natural Resources Canada testified that he wasn't bothered by Cumberland's comments at a seminar on glyphosate held at the University of New Brunswick in January 2019.

The college has cited his actions there "undermining" federal scientists as one of the grounds for his firing.

Cumberland spoke during a question-and-answer period.

Ed Hunter/CBC
Ed Hunter/CBC

"The question he asked was more of a statement," said Chris Edge, one of the panelists. "It was quite aggressive, the way he asked it. … It was more like a longer statement."

Edge said the following week Marshall invited him to a meeting where he apologized for Cumberland's behaviour.

"I told him that it didn't bother me in the least," Edge recounted.

Fullarton said during his testimony however that he found Cumberland aggressive and didn't think he was setting a good example for students in the way he acted.

Edge said he didn't like Cumberland's insinuation in an email about the seminar that he wasn't independent and was being manipulated by the industry on the issue.

Edge said he has published 14 peer-reviewed papers on glyphosate and added that while he has no personal view on using it, his scientific assessment is that it has "negligible" risks when used in forests.