Teachers association launches inquiry into Acadia’s investigation of controversial free speech professor

An associate professor at Acadia University is facing a growing backlash over incendiary social media comments. File/ Global News

An association of university teachers says they’re looking into Acadia University’s decision to investigate a controversial professor.

The university in Wolfville, N.S., says that they’re looking into comments that Rick Mehta made on social media and in the classroom.

The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) association says that it will launch an inquiry, as the case has issues of “broad significance to all academic in Canada.”

“Professor Mehta’s case raises important questions about the scope of academic freedom in teaching and the exercise of extramural speech by professors,” says CAUT Executive Director David Robinson.

READ MORE: Acadia University launches investigation of controversial free-speech professor

The CAUT says that their investigatory committee will review how the university is handling complaints against Mehta, determine whether his academic freedom has been threatened or breached and then make appropriate recommendations.

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Mehta told Global News that he welcomes the inquiry by CAUT and hopes that other academics won’t be investigated for “presenting alternative perspectives that go against society’s norms”  like he has.

“One solution would be universities revising their policies on harassment and discrimination to that they take intent into account,” wrote Mehta in a statement.

“Having policies that are so broad and vaguely defined, at least in my view, makes them open to abuse.”

According to The Canadian Press, a letter sent to professor Mehta by Heather Hemming, vice-president academic at Acadia, said that the university has received complaints from students, faculty and others with concerns about his views.

“These concerns relate to the manner in which you are expressing views that you are alleged to be advancing or supporting and, in some instances, time that you are spending on these issues in the classroom,” she said in a letter to Mehta on Feb. 13.

“The university has a legal responsibility to provide an environment free from discrimination, sexual harassment and personal harassment,” Hemming wrote.

Hemming added: “The nature and frequency of these complaints and the significance of the allegations is concerning for the university, and we have determined the necessity of proceeding to a formal investigation.”

The university has retained Wayne MacKay, professor emeritus at Dalhousie University’s Schulich School of Law, to investigate and provide a report to the university.

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READ MORE: Outspoken professor stokes free-speech debate at East Coast university

Mehta has been outspoken both on campus and on social media about a range of contentious issues, including decolonization, immigration and gender politics, garnering both supporters and opposition.

He has come under fire for saying multiculturalism is a scam, there’s no wage gap between men and women, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has created a victim narrative to prompt “endless apologies and compensation.”

Mehta bills himself as a free-speech advocate trying to build bridges across political divides, but critics say he perpetuates harmful stereotypes and is simply seeking attention.

Members of the CAUT committee will include Penni Stewart, a professor at York University and Francesca Holyoke, Head of Archives and Special Collections at the University of New Brunswick.

With files from The Canadian Press

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