U of Sask professor wrongly disciplined by school for social media posts, arbitrator rules

An arbitrator has ruled the University of Saskatchewan improperly disciplined a professor for his social media activity. (Courtney Markewich/CBC - image credit)
An arbitrator has ruled the University of Saskatchewan improperly disciplined a professor for his social media activity. (Courtney Markewich/CBC - image credit)

An arbitrator has found the University of Saskatchewan wrongly disciplined a professor who has been a vocal advocate for COVID-19 vaccines, sometimes leading to conflict on social media.

The university sent a letter to Kyle Anderson, an assistant professor of biochemistry, microbiology and immunology, in April 2021 regarding its social media conduct standards.

That letter criticized some of his social media posts and demanded he take steps to disassociate himself from the university in his social media activity.

In a decision dated Sept. 29, arbitrator Eric Cline said the letter was considered to be disciplinary.

However, the proper steps outlined in the university's collective agreement weren't followed, the decision says, because Anderson wasn't made aware of the complaints before the letter, meaning the university had no standing to make that order.

"I'm really thankful to my union for supporting me when the university seemed to make a few knee-jerk reaction responses to complaints that were not really founded and complaints that were really harassing at times," he said in a Thursday interview with CBC.

Anderson said his public communication was not an "effort to try to speak for the university." Rather, he was "just trying to get information out there," he said.

Anderson has often posted to combat misinformation about COVID-19 in his social media posts and was commended for that by his department head and the dean of the university's college of medicine in December 2020, according to the arbitrator's decision.

But he also became involved that same month in a social media exchange described in court documents as "rancorous," in which he later admitted to the department head that he "could have done better."

Kyle Anderson/Facebook
Kyle Anderson/Facebook

Anderson said Thursday there was a learning process in trying to "manage how to be attacked without attacking back or without feeling like I needed to defend myself."

In April 2021, Anderson tweeted "there is a much stronger undercurrent of anti-Moe exasperation across the province than we are aware of," in reference to Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe.

A little more than a week later, he retweeted an accusatory tweet related to the death of an educational assistant in Moose Jaw. He later apologized for that retweet and removed it.

Both of those tweets were the subject of the letter he got in late April 2021 that, according to the decision, said the university had "received multiple complaints from the public expressing concerns with communications you have recently posted and shared through social media."

"Some of these complaints have expressly asserted that you are leveraging your status as a member of the faculty of the University of Saskatchewan in your postings," the letter said.

It demanded that his social media no longer indicate a link to the university, including in his comments, biography, or personal communications. If he failed to do so, the university would consider disciplinary actions, the letter warned.

The university's president, vice-president, academic and the dean of medicine signed it.

Backing Anderson, the University of Saskatchewan Faculty Association took the university to arbitration and won.

The arbitrator ordered that the letter sent to Anderson must be "removed from any and all university files where it may be situated."

In an email, the university said it was aware of the decision but said due to privacy issues, it "cannot provide any further comment on the specific situation."

Despite the arbitration victory, Anderson's Twitter no longer references his employment at the university. He said he doesn't believe he needs it there because people know who he is without it.

"It's nice to know that I can put back up where I work on my social media profiles whenever I wish to," he said.