Mount A students 'disheartened' by closed arbitration process for prof who offended them

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In statement issued in April, Mount Allison University, the Mount Allison Faculty Association and professor Rima Azar announced that 'all matters in dispute between them have been resolved.' (Brian Chisholm/CBC News file photo - image credit)
In statement issued in April, Mount Allison University, the Mount Allison Faculty Association and professor Rima Azar announced that 'all matters in dispute between them have been resolved.' (Brian Chisholm/CBC News file photo - image credit)

The Mount Allison Students' Union questions whether student complaints against a health psychology professor were taken seriously, given the secretive nature in which an arbitration process took place.

Rima Azar was placed on a seven-month suspension without pay in May 2021 after an investigation into complaints that some posts on her personal blog were racist and discriminatory.

An arbitration process took place earlier this year, with hearings held privately.

CBC asked Azar about her status as a teacher. She said she was unable to comment directly for "confidentiality reasons," but noted she has never taught during summer and won't this year.

Course timetables show Azar will be teaching classes in fall and winter.

Rohin Minocha-McKenney, president of the student union, said the lack of communication about what happened during this arbitration process is a problem.

"It's hard to see if students and the community are being properly advocated for when there are closed-door sessions like this," Minocha-McKenney said.

masu.ca
masu.ca

In an earlier interview with CBC News, former student union president Jonathan Ferguson said the union received multiple complaints about Azar's blog.

The complaints were not about any one post specifically, he said, but rather about "what this professor was saying throughout her blog … denying systemic racism in New Brunswick or in Canada, talking about BIPOC students in unkind ways, labelling Black Lives Matter a radical group."

In February 2021, the Black Students' Union at Mount A issued a statement on social media saying it had written to the university demanding Azar be removed from her position.

"As Black students, we already face enough barriers outside of the classroom," the post said. "It is especially disappointing and offensive to have our experiences ridiculed by an accredited professor."

Minocha-McKenna said the student union wasn't happy it was unable to hear more about the proceedings involving Azar,

"We are disheartened to see how their proceedings were conducted entirely in private, but we understand why it had to happen."

On April 8, the university, the faculty association and Azar released a joint statement saying that "all matters in dispute between them have been resolved," and that the university had received student complaints in accordance with its policies on workplace harassment and anti-racism.

The statement continued, "All parties have agreed that fostering a respectful and inclusive learning environment — one which also recognizes academic freedom — is of the utmost importance."

'Academic freedom is not synonymous with free speech'

Minocha-McKenney said the university has not indicated that any details of the arbitration process will be made public.

Despite this, Minocha-McKenney hopes there can be a healthier conversation about what academic freedom looks like.

"Academic freedom is not synonymous with free speech and requires much greater consideration of the ends at which it is aimed and the context in which it is situated," the student union said in a statement earlier this month. "Academic freedom is not inherently absolute and untethered, but situated with its end-based goal of creating a non-toxic learning environment."

CBC sought comments from Azar, the university and the faculty association. All three directed inquires to the joint statement released in April.

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