Featured

Full, heavily redacted version of the Smith Report released

Late this afternoon UBC released the full [but heavily redacted] version of the Smith Report. This is the fact-finding report produced by retired BC Supreme Court justice Lynn Smith in response to allegations that Sauder professor Jennifer Berdahl’s academic freedom had been infringed upon.

The terms of reference for the fact-finding process had originally stipulated that the full report would remain private but that a separate executive summary would be prepared and circulated to the public. However, UBC is subject to Freedom of Information legislation, and a request was made the day after the report was delivered to the parties. The document linked above is what was produced.

Unsurprisingly, UBC has taken a heavy hand to redacting huge swaths of the document, claiming entire sections would harm the privacy of third parties if disclosed, or that the text constitutes policy advice or recommendations to UBC (despite the fact that Lynn Smith actually writes at the conclusion of the report: “The Terms of Reference under which I write this Report explicitly state that I will not make any recommendations for any actions to be taken by the parties relating to my findings or conclusions. Accordingly, I do not.”) The main redactions include:

  • The names of all person interviewed, except for Jennifer Berdahl and John Montalbano, have been severed.
  • A section titled “Chronology”, which is approximately 10 pages long, has been severed in its entirety.
  • The next section, “Narrative” manages to reveal just one paragraph and two sentences of its 11 pages.
  • Lynn Smith then delivers about 9 pages of “Analysis”. Only 4 paragraphs survived, with the rest covered up.

Ultimately, employees and officers of the university collectively acted in a manner towards a professor such that her academic freedom was infringed upon. It’s unacceptable that the identities of these individuals continue to be concealed, as well as the actions that occurred. Remember that the Smith report exonerated each of them on an individual level. What is the harm to these individuals that is being prevented by withholding disclosure?

The full report, after having gone through UBC’s severing process, arguably contains even less information than the executive summary which was released on October 15, 2015. A complaint will be filed with the BC Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

Of the little information that remains, there’s one troubling conclusion that can be teased out: structurally, the Chair of the Board is largely uncontrollable and essentially above the law. (The ‘law’ in this case being university policies.) For example, Smith notes that UBC Policy #3 (Discrimination and Harassment), which is a Board decree, does not include Board members among the people who must comply with the policy.

The Faculty Association and UBC have been contacted for comment. This post will be updated if received.

Update [January 12, 2016]: Reached by telephone this morning, UBC Provost pro tem Anji Redish defended the lack of information released in response to the FOI request. She re-iterated that the terms of reference agreed to by the parties were clear that the process was intended to be confidential. Individuals were encouraged to speak frankly and did so in the belief that what they shared would not be released publicly. Dr. Redish pointed out that if put in their shoes, it would not seem fair to release details that were given under those pretenses, but could not specify how that would cause harm the individuals.

Dr. Redish also argued that because the failure in Dr. Berdahl’s case was one in which the university failed to pro-actively upheld academic freedom, the specific details were not necessary to prevent future breaches. She re-iterated the university’s commitment to hiring a specialist on Academic Freedom who could educate governors and other members of the university community on that obligation, hopefully preventing any more instances of infringement in the future.

Discussion

Comments are disallowed for this post.

  1. If a judge is writes policy, does that make them an activist judge?

    Posted by Alex Lougheed | January 11, 2016, 9:45 pm
  2. So apparently we expected our high-powered business, lawyer, doctor, and corporate-type governors to fully understand the concept of academic freedom without any kind of pep-talk?

    I’m so glad the intervention of a “specialist on Academic Freedom” will cure this systemic problem once and for all.

    Posted by Jean-Fran├žois | January 15, 2016, 8:54 am
Please vote for us in the Continuous VoterMedia Contest