Statement by Rick Mehta Regarding His Dismissal from Acadia University
On August 31, 2018, President Peter Ricketts fired me from my position of Associate Professor of Psychology at Acadia University. In the letter that he gave me at my dismissal hearing, he stated that he was firing me on the basis of issues that “were wide ranging and include failure to fufill [my] academic responsibilities, unprofessional conduct, breach of privacy, and harassment and intimidation of students and other members of the University community.”
President Ricketts’ letter of dismissal states only broad categories of misconduct instead of providing any specific examples of misconduct on my part. The university hid behind vague accusations and opaque investigations, while refusing to spell out their concerns – which were based on filtered complaints. I believe that their stealth charges were pretexts to get rid of me at any cost. The real reason for my dismissal has to do with a culture war that is taking place in universities all over Canada and much of the Western world.
Navigating the Acadia website was like wandering through a picturesque maze, with not a single human being to be seen. In five minutes, I didn’t see the actual name of anyone, let alone Heather Hemming’s. I phoned the switchboard, hoping to speak to someone who could give me Ms Hemming’s email address: the hours are 8:30-4:30, Monday to Friday, so no luck. So, here I am at the general email address.
I also thought of contacting Acadia’s Office of Safety and Security as I believe that Professor Mehta’s safety and security are under siege—the topic of this message.
I have been an educator for 45 years. In that time, I have noticed a serious deterioration in both the maturity and behaviour of a critical mass of students. At the same time, I have noticed a standing down of the administrators, whose first line of defense now seems to be to appease the miscreant. This solves the problem of having to deal with an even more angry, entitled student and, often, that student’s belligerent parent(s). It’s nice for the three parties just mentioned—and hell for teachers, not to mention society at large.
I have twice been physically assaulted as well as suspended, minus due process, on the say-so of well known, student bullies. In all cases, the students were coddled and catered to: there were no negative consequences for them, but plenty for me. Who do you think felt really unsafe? As a colleague says, “Our schools are safe, all right—for the bullies.”
I attended excellent public schools in Toronto in the 50s and 60s: the adults were in charge. There were clear boundaries and not only were we safe, we felt safe! Academics were rigorous—a far cry from the curricula today—and we were held to account. We were not taught to be offended : the very idea of micro-aggressions and triggers didn’t enter our minds.
We were treated respectfully, which meant that we were held to high academic and behavioural standards. We could actually fail a grade. We could actually be suspended. Teaching our children that they have a right not to be offended is, in my opinion, a form of child abuse. This fiction renders young people very vulnerable to their own capricious and often tempestuous emotions. How is allowing vindictive and often misguided emotion to be the standard by which a university makes crucial decisions helpful to anyone?
Professor Mehta sounds like a man after my own heart. If the fairy tales being propagated at places like Acadia weren’t so outlandish, Professor Mehta’s ideas would seem to be just what they are: fairly mainstream. Why are his rights the only ones being disregarded? Why is his integrity considered expendable? Why is it OK to offend him?
Ms Hemmings, in attempting to censor, shame and bully Professor Mehta, Acadia seems willing to put itself in the same position as Wilfrid Laurier, which, deservedly, became a laughing stock. It seems that you’re unable to discern the gigantic double standard under which you appear to be operating. Acadia seems to have everything backwards: in order to enforce tolerance, you are intolerant. In order to appease the immature appetites of a group of coddled adult toddler students, it seems that Acadia is willing to sacrifice not only the integrity of a hard working, accountable academic, but his very livelihood. Shame on you.
How about if Acadia were to come to its senses and follow the example of the University of Chicago, re its expectations of its students? How about if Acadia were to actually treat its students not like spoiled brats, but like adults?
“Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called ‘trigger warnings,’ we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own,” the letter said.