University of Alberta deans stand with Ukrainian community: ‘The Holodomor is a fact’

Some University of Alberta students are calling on the school to fire an assistant lecturer who denies the Holodomor, the mass genocide against Ukrainian people carried out by the Soviet Union in the 1930s. AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis

The University of Alberta, as well as two deans, have issued statements about the Holodomor after a sessional instructor called it a myth on his personal Facebook page.

Dean of Education Jennifer Tupper and Dean of Arts Lesley Cormack issued a joint statement Friday.

The pair stressed the research and evidence of the Holodomor and voiced their support for the Ukrainian community.

“As many of you know, a sessional instructor in Education, Dougal MacDonald, recently came to public attention as the author of a personal Facebook statement, as well as several articles claiming the Holodomor to be ‘fictitious,’ ‘a myth concocted by the Hitlerite Nazis to discredit the Soviet Union.’

“We, as the Dean of Education and the Dean of Arts, wish to state categorically that this is not true. It is not a statement based on historical evidence.

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“Historians from around the world have studied this Ukrainian tragedy, demonstrating the devastating nature of a human-created famine that caused massive starvation, misery, and death.

“At the University of Alberta, we have world experts in this field, led by the Holodomor Research Education Consortium at the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies. Scholars on our campus continue to conduct and disseminate important research on the Holodomor and were involved in the Holodomor conference hosted by the University of Alberta in Fall 2019,” the statement continued.

It also pointed out U of A faculty members have helped create educational materials about the genocide for K-12 classes.

“While the University of Alberta holds strongly to the values of freedom of expression, which allow members of our community to express their ideas, we also hold strongly to the values of evidence-based research and a quest for truth.

“We want to acknowledge the offense that has been caused by Mr. MacDonald’s statement and to affirm that we stand with the Ukrainian community in insisting on the reality of the Holodomor as a genocide, which caused intergenerational trauma and still resonates with Ukrainians to this day.”

READ MORE: Ukrainian students want U of A lecturer fired after calling Holodomor a ‘lie’ on Facebook

On Nov. 20, MacDonald posted a message claiming the Holodomor genocide is a “myth,” a “lie” and a “man-made Ukrainian Famine.”

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Since his Facebook page is private, Global News has not been able to independently verify the Facebook post.

The assistant lecturer’s post sparked calls for him to be reprimanded and fired.

Deputy Provost Wendy Rodgers told Global News MacDonald’s views do not represent those of the university. However, she said, as a private citizen, he has the right to express his opinion.

Click to play video: 'Hundreds gather in Edmonton to remember the victims of Holodomor'
Hundreds gather in Edmonton to remember the victims of Holodomor

In response to Global News’ request for comment, MacDonald said he’s been researching the issue for a number of years and is not alone in his views. Other researchers have expressed similar doubts about the Holodomor.

MacDonald said there are different positions and it’s clear he and the students’ union are not in agreement — but that disagreement does not mean opinions should be silenced.

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READ MORE: Remembering the Holodomor, 85 years after the start of the Ukrainian genocide

The Holodomor is a recognized genocide by the Parliament of Canada and most legislatures in Canada, including Alberta, as well as countless other countries and international government organizations around the world.

The imposed famine in Soviet Ukraine was orchestrated by the Joseph Stalin regime in 1932 and 1933. Ten-million Ukrainians died.

READ MORE: Alberta’s Wildrose party apologizes for comparing carbon tax to Ukrainian genocide

The university also issued a statement Friday, outlining a number of initiatives it’s working on including holding an annual Holodomor lecture, displaying materials in the faculty of education about Holodomor, a Rapid Research Response project, and hosting the Holodomor Bus at the earliest opportunity.

“One of the university’s roles is to enable students and scholars to engage in rigorous intellectual inquiry and debate that leads to well-informed, evidence-based judgments. In response to concerns we have received about a private Facebook post by Dougal MacDonald, a sessional instructor in the Faculty of Education, we have been meeting with students and members of the Ukrainian Canadian community to listen and address these concerns.

“We want to make very clear that, while the University of Alberta acknowledges Mr. MacDonald’s right to free expression, his views do not represent and are not endorsed by the University of Alberta.

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“The Holodomor — the deliberate starvation of millions of Ukrainians by the Stalinist regime in 1932-33 — is a fact established by scholars, many of them working here at the University of Alberta,” the statement said in part.

“Many centres and institutes located at the University of Alberta hold events, develop curriculum and programs, and produce peer-reviewed research that ensures that knowledge of the Holodomor is disseminated widely. In November 2019, the university hosted a conference about the famine, the latest in a series of international gatherings sponsored by HREC. The University of Alberta is committed to increasing awareness and learning about Holodomor on our campus and beyond.”

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