Author Jeff Schmidt campaigns for just treatment of Professor Joanne St. Lewis
From: Jeff Schmidt
To: Allan Rock (President, University of Ottawa)
Cc: Joanne St. Lewis, Joseph Hickey
Subject: Law professor Joanne St. Lewis is a victim of your institutional racism
Date: November 21, 2011
As an education researcher and author of “Disciplined Minds: A Critical Look at Salaried Professionals and the Soul-battering System That Shapes Their Lives,” I have a keen interest in the politics of employment in North American universities.
Recently, thanks to several media reports, I was made aware of a lawsuit that draws attention to your disturbing treatment of University of Ottawa law professor Joanne St. Lewis.
Everything about the lawsuit has been made public on the web.[1,2]
Professor St. Lewis’s hiring was a victory of the civil rights movement, but this victory should not be a token statistic. It must translate into fair and equitable treatment of Ms. St. Lewis.
Instead, your institution has given Ms. St. Lewis the worst possible treatment.
Her law school colleagues behave in a way begrudging her hiring. Despite her many years on the faculty and her lengthy list of professional service, they keep her at the assistant professor level, like a new hire fresh out of graduate school. Thus, the university treats professor St. Lewis like a second-class citizen, giving her a salary incommensurate with her service, and institutional recognition lower than that accorded her peers who are white.
You are fully aware of this, as evidenced by the fact that you have used Ms. St. Lewis’s vulnerable position to extract obedient service from her, such as in 2008 when you wanted a black person to rebut the Student Appeal Centre’s public report accusing the University of Ottawa of systemic racism.
The intellectual dirty work that you drafted Ms. St. Lewis to do for you in that case has caused her great embarrassment. You put Ms. St. Lewis in the impossible position of having to play up the student report’s limitations rather than its strengths, and yet not appear to be trying to please you. She tried her best to finesse that, but got called out for it. First, the Student Appeal Centre (SAC), which is part of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa, publicly criticized Ms. St. Lewis for belittling their evidence of systemic racism. They said, “The Student Appeal Centre denounces the University of Ottawa’s tactics as an attempt to discredit student voices. Professor St. Lewis’ accusation of the SAC report as ‘methodologically flawed’ not only detracts from the issues of racism and injustice on campus, but also silences the valuable student perspective on matters of appeals and the broader student/university relationship.” These criticisms were echoed in the media and on blogs.
Then, when the SAC released freedom of information documents showing the extent to which you and your administration guided professor St. Lewis to write a report aimed primarily at serving you in a damage-control public-image campaign, former physics professor Denis Rancourt, who writes a blog critical of the university, provided his considered opinion that professor St. Lewis may have acted in servitude to you, her employer, rather than in such a way as to most effectively fight systemic racism.
It is sad to see Ms. St. Lewis try to make the embarrassment go away by asking a court to silence Mr. Rancourt. Ms. St. Lewis knows that racism is an institutional process. Yet, rather than suing the institution that treats her unfairly and forces her to compromise her principles, she is suing an individual for publicizing her compromise. Ironically, Mr. Rancourt, has a long history of fighting racist and class-based oppression. But he is a safe target for Ms. St. Lewis, because he is a well-known critic of her employer. I hope that Ms. St. Lewis will withdraw her futile lawsuit against Mr. Rancourt and join with him in fighting institutional racism.
I was shocked when it was exposed that Ms. St. Lewis’s lawsuit against Mr. Rancourt is being sponsored by a powerful organization. As you know, that organization is yours, the University of Ottawa. It is wrong for a public university or any government-funded organization to try to silence its critics. You obviously know that, as evidenced by the lengths to which you went to try to keep your sponsorship hidden. We have no reason to believe that this is the only time that you have used public funds to go after your critics.
In any case, now that Ms. St. Lewis’s professional dedication and service have been made part of the public record, the University of Ottawa must without further delay promote her to the associate professor level.
Indeed, it is almost unheard of in North American academe to be given tenure without promotion to the associate professor level. Your discriminatory treatment of Ms. St. Lewis harms the status of equity and fairness at all universities, not just Canada’s universities.
Allan, please repair this wrong. I would like your answer before I consider how best to further campaign for fairness for Joanne St. Lewis.