I am writing you regarding a former McGill faculty member, Norman Cornett. I have been following Cornett’s case at McGill from afar ever since, after 15 years of teaching, he was removed from his teaching position there a few years ago.
I must admit to being rather befuddled at the manner in which the University handled his case. As one who has known Cornett for over 40 years, and as one who has been an educator at the university level for nearly 30 years myself, I am deeply troubled by the damage that the handling of his case by McGill has caused to a former faculty member – a faculty member who raised the profile of the University to international attention due to his unique and dynamic manner of engaging students directly with prominent figures in Canadian and international politics and culture.
What is especially disturbing in this case is that I can see no evidence that “due cause” has been stated by the University as a basis for his release. It occurs to me that, at least in the U.S., among the fundamental rights of higher educators are both academic freedom and receiving a clear statement of “due cause” in the case of release. Without “due cause” being identified, the professor is left floating with an unstated “black mark” against them (Was it an egregious or immoral act? A gross violation of classroom demeanour? Or what?).
This lack of clarity produces an environment for Cornett in which the potential of obtaining of another position elsewhere is virtually impossible. In this case, Cornett and his family are left to suffer and bear the entire brunt of this decision. Yet it seems that McGill University has never bothered to identify the cause for his dismissal, leaving the academic community in the dark and wondering. Some wonder about Cornett (perhaps quite unfairly?) while others wonder about McGill (perhaps unfairly?). But why remain silent? Silence only results in suspicions directed one way or the other. It certainly would be, at the very least, the kind thing to do to disclose the reasons for such actions against Cornett. Unless, of course, such reasons do not merit such a drastic action in the eyes of the academic world.
Rex A. Koivisto
Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies, Multnomah University