Letters of Support from Professors from Outside the University of Ottawa
See also: Letters from Prominent Observers.
Howard Woodhouse, Professor of Educational Foundations & Co-Director, University of Saskatchewan Process Philosophy Research Unit.
I am writing to protest the disgraceful treatment of Dr Denis Rancourt inflicted by you in the name of the University of Ottawa. By approving the firing of a physicist of Dr Ranourt’s standing, you are bringing opprobrium upon the institution and inflicting damage upon a faculty member, whose work has earned him considerable praise from leading researchers in his field. The further manacling of Dr Rancourt for having the audacity to step onto the university campus and use some of its facilities is a sign of the authoritarian regime over which you preside.
- Read Woodhouse's full letter.
Members of College and University Workers United (CUWU) - Quebec
We ... know Dr Denis Rancourt to be a dedicated educator and a fearless defender of justice. We know Denis Rancourt to stand for human rights and students' rights. We are thankful to count Denis Rancourt among the rare public intellectuals who do not compromise their principles when they become aware of institutional folly; but instead use their positions to expose and correct flawed practices. [...] [...] We conclude that the charges advanced against Denis Rancourt are a contrived pretext, that they are preposterous as reasons to summarily remove a tenured professor, and that, therefore, the real reasons must lie elsewhere. We conclude that this was a political firing to remove a dissident academic who was also critical of the university administration and supportive of student efforts to reform the institution towards greater student power.
- Read the full letter from several CUWU members HERE.
Frank C. Hawthorne, Officer of the Order of Canada, Canada Research Chair in Mineralogy and Crystallography, Distinguished Professor, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, Foreign Member, Russian Academy of Sciences, Killam Prize Winner in Natural Sciences 2008, Department of Geological Sciences, University of Manitoba
Professor Rancourt is an outstanding scientist who has worked extensively in the same general area as myself, ... There are few scientists of his calibre in the area of Mineralogy worldwide, and the community can ill afford to lose his insight and expertise. In particular, the loss of him and his work will hurt the Canadian mineralogical community; we cannot afford to lose one of our top scientists. ... Professor Rancourt is a top rank scientist and the national and international scientific communities can ill afford to lose his talents. I hope that you can reconsider this dismissal, resolve your differences in philosophy with Professor Rancourt, and reinstate him as a faculty member in your University.
- Read Hawthorne's full letter. (Identical letters were also sent to Andre E. Lalonde, Dean of the Faculty of Science, and Marc Jolicoeur, Chairman of the Board of Governors. Dr. Lalonde is a mineralogist.)
Paul A. Hamel, Professor, Faculty of Medicine & Director, Health Studies, University College, University of Toronto
I have used a variety of schemes in order to encourage students to learn both at the undergraduate and graduate levels. For some of these courses they have included the giving of "As" with the agreement that all students will faithfully be engaged in critical analysis of the topics that we cover in these courses. This approach has, by both my measure and the students' comments, been highly successful in helping to generate critical thought of difficult scientific principles. ... Contrary to some of the comments in the files I have read that form the basis of his dismissal, I believe that the approaches used by Dr.Rancourt will raise the academic prestige of the University of Ottawa in the long-term as an academic institution that embraces and promotes the development of critical thinkers rather than acting merely as a "filter" producing students with bookish knowledge but little critical understanding of their role in Canadian society and on the world stage.
- Read Hamel's full letter.
Michael A. Persinger, Full Professor, Behavioural Neuroscience Program, Laurentian University, Canada
Professor Rancourt's assumptions [about assigning A+ grades] are valid and have been shown to be maximally effective in advanced classes ... I have employed this method in advanced courses in Neuropharmacology and Quantitative Neuroscience with remarkable success. ... Consequently, on behalf of the professors and senior students of the Behavioural Neuroscience Program I support Professor Rancourt's reinstatement as professor.
- Read Persinger's full letter.
Helmut Burkhardt, Professor of Physics Emeritus, Ryerson University, Toronto
Such action is totally inadmissible, and I urge you to reinstate Professor Denis Rancourt immediately for the sake of healthy diversity and creative thinking at the University of Ottawa, and in all Canadian Universities.
- Read Berkhardt's full letter.
Mary Ebeling, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Drexel University
I have followed Professor Rancourt's teaching methods, as well as his case, and recognized many of his techniques in my own teaching. I admire Professor Rancourt's pedagogical approach to science education, especially his recognition and inclusion of the political and the social in physics education – he acknowledges and emphasizes that science is not 'neutral' or 'value-free' in the very methods that he uses. The work of a scientist is always political and always embedded in the society within which he lives. I find it truly shocking that the University of Ottawa, by firing Rancourt, has violated, with impunity, the very principle of academic freedom said to be upheld by your institution.
- Read Ebelin's full letter.
Elizabeth Whitmore, Professor Emerita, School of Social Work, Carleton University
One challenge we all have is how best to engage students. There are many ways, of course, and no one way will be effective for all students. Dr. Rancourt has succeeded in engaging a large group of students in the learning process - as evidenced by the many who support him. What lesson do students take away when their Professor is fired for challenging the 'way things are done?'
- Read Whitmore's full letter.
Edmond Nawrotzky-Török, Assistant, Faculty of Economics and Business Administration, Babes-Bolyai University (Romania)
I have recently found out about the problems Professor Rancourt must deal with at the University of Ottawa. Let me tell you that I am appalled by the violation of academic freedom and the totalitarianism which seems to characterize a university that allegedly stands for "freedom of expression in an atmosphere of open dialogue, enabling critical thought".
- Read Nawrotzky-Török's full letter.
John Southin, Professor (ret.), Department of Biology, McGill University
I have read most of the documentation generated in this dispute, and am struck by the several resonances between Professor Rancourt¹s efforts to reform the learning and examination process in his courses and my own such efforts when I was a professor at McGill University. The striking difference, however, is that McGill, while never exactly enamored of my teaching experiments, nonetheless tolerated them as legitimate expressions of my academic freedom to teach in the manner I thought best.
- Read Southin's full letter.
Marc Spooner, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Education, University of Regina
As to the specific of Professor Rancourt's grading policy: I first implore that we do not make the fallacious assumption to mistake grades for learning. Second, to suggest that under a pass/fail (or in Dr. Rancourt's case an all "A") approach students do not learn, become unmotivated, or that such a system is not a well-respected and credible marking scheme is simply unfounded. I proffer the University of Saskatchewan's medical school and the University of Prince Edward Island's Bachelor of Education program as two examples; the former highlights that, even with something as self-evidently important as a medical doctor's education and training, such a system can be employed to great success; the latter is an example of its adoption by those who research and practice effective pedagogy.
- Read Spooner's full letter.
Arthur Jutan, Professor Emeritus, Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering, University of Western Ontario
It takes an extreme level of courage to stand up to the Emperor. I congratulate you for this. Long after these Houses of cards come falling down, and they will some day, and new more solid structures to replace them are built ( perhaps they will be called Academic Institutes) your name will be remembered, as someone who had the courage to stand up to all the administrative hacks, that tried to hang onto their little deck chairs as the Titanic slowly slipped under the sea.
- Read Jutan's full letter.
Aruna Srivastava, Associate Professor, Department of English, University of Calgary
I wish to add my voice to those who are writing in support of Dr. Denis Rancourt, and to express not simply dismay but shock that a university would adopt such heavy-handed tactics to eliminate from its ranks a researcher, teacher and colleague whose opinions and ideas were (to some) abrasive and unpopular. I am a faculty member who teaches in very much the same way as Professor Rancourt, says many of the same things, receives much the same criticism as he does from a minority of students, believes very strongly in the purpose of education and the possibilities of student-centred and democratic pedagogies and who, like he does, believes that part of the job of a university professor, its administration and its students is, at the very least, to welcome, accept and entertain disparate beliefs and approaches, particularly the non-traditional and the less-than-accepted. I believe as well that an institute of higher education must model for its participants informed, ethical discussion and policies, and often time-consuming consultation.
- Read Srivastava's full letter.
John McMurtry, University Professor Emeritus, Department of Philosophy, Guelph University & Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada
Coincidentally, I long ago almost got fired for challenging the grading system at my university 35 years ago. The V-P Academic, the Dean and the Chair all went on the record as deciding to dismiss me, but many faculty and students successfully defended me. It was a harrowing witch-hunt I experienced, but in the longer run the university got clear and good criteria for each grade category where before there were none, and pass-fail became an option in some courses. The eminent Professor David Noble at York University has long since fought for and won this form of evaluation in his courses.
- Read McMurtry's full letter (in response to Tony Hall's letter, shown below).
Anthony Hall, Professor of Globalization Studies, University of Lethbridge.
Dr. Rancourt should not have been subjected to a witch hunt or to a twenty-first century Canadian version of the Spanish Inquisition as if he is some sort of heretic rather than a principled educator unafraid to speak the truth as he understands it to power in measured and moderate tones with a very rich array of well documented proofs and references at his command. Dr. Rancourt stands near the academic peak of his area of specialized expertise even as he is moving from an exclusive focus on the hard sciences to a fuller interdisciplinary analysis of social and political interaction on a global scale.
- Read Hall's full letter.
Leah Skrzypiec, Research Scholar, School of History and Politics, The University of Adelaide
Never have I seen a class (of, at times up to 400 people) more engaged, more stimulated, and more driven to learn. My fellow staff members and I could only dream of having this response, week after week to our lectures and courses. As a pinnacle in the pursuit for knowledge, universities should push beyond the status quo and utilise the revolutionary alternatives available. Denis epitomises this approach and I can only see him as an asset for your university.
- Read Skrzypiec's full letter.
Mikhail Balaev, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology and Social Work, Northern Michigan University
I have recently heard of the conflict between the University of Ottawa and one of your faculty, Dr. Denis G. Rancourt. Let me be frank: this is Appalling to see the University of Ottawa to abandon all the dignity and responsibilities of a higher education institution and go on a witch hunt after a single employee.
- Read Balaev's full letter.
Aaron Thompson, Assistant Professor, Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, The University of Georgia
I was also shocked to hear that Dr. Rancourt's suspension was related to his duties as an educator. During the course of our collaboration, Dr. Rancourt invited me to spend a week at his laboratory in Ottawa learning his scientific approach and expertise. The experience was immensely enriching. Dr. Rancourt spent considerable personal time teaching and mentoring me in spectral analysis, introducing me to this students and researchers. When I arrived I had no prior experience in Mossbauer spectral interpretation, yet came away from that week feeling confident I could participate in fitting the spectra from our soils. This is quite a testament to his abilities as a mentor and teacher.
- Read Thompson's full letter.
Ignacio Chapela, Associate Professor, Department of Environmental Science, Policy & Management, University of California (Berkeley)
I have followed with dismay the proceedings of your administration, over the last year, aimed most currently at revoking Prof. Denis Rancourt’s tenure at the University of Ottawa. It is difficult for me to understand that a distinguished academic of Prof. Rancourt’s caliber would be threatened with such action, harassed to the point of suspension and denial of access to campus and generally not embraced for what he is; a brilliant researcher, an indefatigable innovator and a committed educator within and outside the university. There can be no justification for the treatment of Prof. Rancourt, certainly not in a cursory and apparently misinformed evaluation of his grading method. I write to you to express my alarm at this, a threat to some of the most basic foundations of academic life, and to beseech you to redress the damage already caused to Prof. Rancourt, his career, your university and the academic system in general. Your actions in this case, President Rock, will be monitored far and wide in the academic community and I trust that history will side with Prof. Rancourt’s decision to stand by his principles which are, as far as I can ascertain, those principles shared by us all in academe.
- Read Chapela's full letter.