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How Covid-19 Killed Academic Tenure
Janice Fiamengo • 14 Oct, 2021 • 5 Min Read
Or fire me, as the case may be.
Academic tenure has long been controversial and imperfect—and now, in one fell swoop, it is dead, killed by progressives under the guise of Covid-19 safety. The manner of its killing tells us much about progressives’ respect for individual rights.
Defenders of tenure for university professors once claimed that it offered necessary protection against the combined forces of corporate funding and political correctness, a multi-headed hydra which if unchecked would prevent academics from conducting honest research into topics of their choosing.
Others argued that tenure was mainly harmful, making it costly to dismiss university faculty members who collected large salaries without fulfilling their teaching and research duties. In practice, as organizations such as the National Association of Scholars and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education warned, tenure repeatedly showed itself incapable of protecting those who needed it most. Dissident intellectuals often found themselves on the wrong side of disciplinary committees, dismissed from their positions for alleged harassment and/or vaguely defined “misconduct.” Many of these academics’ troubles began because they were ideological outliers in a punitively progressivist milieu.
Until now, however, there was at least a semblance of due process. Though they were often targeted unfairly, persecuted academics were at least notified well in advance of proceedings against them; allowed to attempt a fact-based self-defense; examined by a committee convened for the specific purpose of hearing the evidence; given the opportunity to hire a lawyer or enlist the assistance of their faculty association/union; and if terminated given written notice of their particular transgressions. Inadequate and biased as it often was, some formal fact-finding procedure was observed.
In the time of Covid, however, mass firings are in preparation at universities across North America without even a pretense of case-by-case consideration or rational weighing of evidence—tenure be damned.
The mere evocation of “safety” is now enough to authorize firings without investigation on grounds not covered by any faculty member’s Collective Agreement and notably without public protest from faculty associations, bodies which once existed solely to protect the working conditions and rights of faculty members. Outside of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, this is an unprecedented situation so far being greeted with stunning silence from the professoriate.
Under the new Covid dispensation, professors are simply notified that, if they do not produce proof of vaccination by a certain (arbitrarily chosen) date, a disciplinary process will be commenced with an end-point of termination.
The University of Waterloo, a large research university in southern Ontario, is one among many universities that began sending out the equivalent of pink slips on the Friday before Canadian Thanksgiving (Oct. 11 this year), informing what it called “non-compliant” employees that the deadline to provide proof of vaccination is October 17, 2021.
The letter, sent to me by a University of Waterloo employee, states that unless “alternative work options” (left conveniently vague) can be found, employees who do not provide the required proof of vaccination will be placed on a 42-day “unpaid suspension,” presumably in order to think over the prospect of the total wreckage of a once-secure and remunerative career. Then, “[i]f the individual remains non-compliant 14 days before the end of the 42-day suspension, they will receive a letter indicating that their pay and benefits will cease as at the end of the suspension.” No appeal procedure is mentioned.
Following up on this dire statement, the letter informs employees that “the vaccination form is quick and easy to complete”—as if mere cumbersome documentation were hindering compliance—and that “personal information will be kept confidential in compliance with statutory privacy requirements and will only be shared with individuals for the purpose of program administration.” It’s presumably a relief to know that, having been coerced to take an experimental medication in order to keep one’s position, the violation takes place under cover of confidentiality. The obvious fact that hundreds of people on campus will easily guess why “non-compliant” employees are being suspended—thus violating the privacy promised—is not acknowledged.
No science-based rationale is offered for the extraordinary statement of compulsion. The extremely low infection-fatality rate for Covid-19, particularly for healthy individuals under 65 (the super-majority of those studying and teaching on campus) is never mentioned. The now well-documented failure of vaccines to protect against infection and transmission is also left unmentioned; alas, the evidence reveals that vaccinated individuals are just as likely as the unvaccinated to transmit Covid-19, even in conditions where all are vaccinated. The unseemly haste reeks of a political desire to purge the non-conforming.
No attempt is made in the letter to explain why provisions in the Universal Declaration on Bio-Ethics and Human Rights are flagrantly violated by the measure. The Universal Declaration makes clear that medical treatments must never be coerced, must always be informed and entirely voluntary (not carried out under conditions of duress) and that the good of society or of science must never take precedence over the individual human right to choose.
No provisions are made in the letter for individuals with natural immunity, which scientific evidence shows to be at least as effective as, and likely far more effective than, vaccination. The humane alternative of enabling the unvaccinated to carry on their duties off campus—as had been done for well over a year before the advent of the vaccines—is gestured toward, but not in any way guaranteed.
Accommodation is offered only “for unique cases where individuals cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons or protected human rights grounds,” but it is not made clear how such accommodation decisions will be made or why university administrators are qualified to make them. One of the main grounds for a human rights accommodation would be an exemption for a sincerely-held religious belief, and it is far from self-evident that a group of secular leftists—with many avowed Marxists—can discern or appreciate the sincerity of any such beliefs.
No velvet glove needed any more.
In a final paragraph full of unintended irony, the letter informs the non-compliant that “If you are struggling with your mental health during these changing times, reach out for support […],” providing the names of various university agencies, none of which, of course, will provide any actual support in resisting the vaccination mandate, and none of which, given the demonizing tenor of communications regarding non-compliance, will likely even be able to express genuine empathy for an employee about to be terminated. If the termination of your employment leads to suicidal despair or health-damaging stress, you’re on your own.
This is the new university: fully collectivist and tyrannically indifferent to individual rights of conscience or choice. Over the past 30 years, the progressivists infiltrated and took over the academy. Their ruthless determination, always under cover of benign rhetoric about "inclusion" and "safety," should always have been evident; now its vaunting brutality is unmistakable.
Janice Fiamengo is a retired Professor of English from the University of Ottawa who lives in New Westminster, BC with her husband, poet and songwriter David Solway. She hosts The Fiamengo File, a YouTube series on Studio Brulé about the fraud of academic feminism and its impact on western culture. She edited and introduced Sons of Feminism: Men Have Their Say, a collection of personal essays.