TRU's faculty association will co-operate with investigation into academic freedom complaint

But university administration will not participate; Derek Pyne has been suspended since June

While Thompson Rivers University will not be co-operating with an investigation into allegations a professor had his academic freedom violated, the university’s faculty association will take part in the probe.

The Ottawa-based Canadian Association of University Teachers is looking into a complaint filed by TRU professor Derek Pyne, who has been suspended by the university since June.

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“I cannot talk about the details of the case because the TRU Faculty Association is actively involved in representing Dr. Pyne and our normal practise is to not make any comments about this specific case,” TRUFA president Ton Friedman told KTW.

Friedman said TRUFA has “very close ties” to CAUT, but noted TRUFA’s internal rules govern how they participate.

“In other words, if we are asked questions by the investigators, we will do our best to answer them, but we won’t reveal anything that’s confidential,” he said.

While TRU brass will not comment on the reasons for the suspension — citing privacy rights of its staff, faculty and students — Pyne told CAUT he was targeted by university administration after he published an article in the Journal of Scholarly Publishing (published by the University of Toronto) in April 2017.

Pyne’s article looked into the use of so-called predatory publishers by faculty members and administrators in TRU’s School of Business and Economics. At issue is the practise of university professors paying to have their papers published in journals with dubious reputations.

RELATED: TRU will not take part in probe

David Robinson, executive director of CAUT, said Pyne contacted the association in the late summer, asking that it launch an investigation into his allegations that TRU has violated his academic freedom.

However, TRU’s interim president, Christine Bovis-Cnossen, said the university will not be participating in CAUT’s investigation, arguing CAUT does not have authority or jurisdiction to probe issues covered in the collective agreement between the university and the faculty association.

Bovis-Cnossen also noted no grievance related to academic freedom has been filed by TRUFA.

“That would be the appropriate process to follow if TRUFA believed Dr. Pyne’s academic freedom had been infringed,” she said.

To that, Friedman replied: “We’re taking every action we believe is justified given the circumstances and we’re not prepared to discuss whether this case involves academic freedom or not.”

Friedman said TRUFA believes that any publications that don’t follow the normal peer-review standards tend to invalidate academic research.

“So we are very concerned, as are most university faculty associations across the country, about these bogus journals,” he said. “We think that they tend to devalue what our members are trying to do, which is to bring new knowledge and perspectives to the academic community and beyond.”

RELATED: TRU subject of academic freedom investigation

He said TRUFA urges its members to ensure proper peer review is part of their paper-publication process.

Can journals that charge for publication, and are peer-reviewed, be considered legitimate?

“It depends on the discipline area,” Friedman said. “We know that some journals will charge for what are called page costs. And that’s more common in the sciences than in other areas. Those are perfectly legitimate.

“Quite often they are charged by journals that have very elite editorial boards and have very rigorous peer review. What we are talking about are journals that are charging in exchange for a guarantee of publication, and often without any external oversight. That’s where the problem lies.”

When asked if he is aware of any TRU faculty members being published in so-called blacklist journals, as alleged by Pyne in his paper, Friedman said neither he nor TRUFA has such knowledge as they have not undertaken such an investigation.

“Although I should tell you that we have a series of committees that examine publication records for the purposes of tenure and promotion,” Friedman said.

“Our committees have been fully informed that this is obviously an issue. I know that in certain disciplines they identify legitimate and illegitimate journals.”

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