A Canadian university professor attends a conference of Holocaust deniers, disgracing himself, his profession and his university.
This is not academic freedom. Indeed, it may be grounds for dismissal.
Shiraz Dossa is a political scientist at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia. A brief review of his writings quickly reveals that Prof. Dossa belongs to that school of intellectuals who believe "the Zionist strategy is one of aggressive ethnocide" against Palestinians and that "development" is "quintessentially developmental imperialism." His writings on the political philosopher Hannah Arendt, though controversial, have received critical praise.
Some of his students have apparently complained to a rate-my-professor website that the professor's classes include watching satirical American television shows and trash-talking George W. Bush. Others, however, praise him for standing up to Western imperialism and insist that he is not at all anti-American; they say his lectures are worthwhile.
Prof. Dossa does not deny the Holocaust, though he finds it ironic and tragic that its victims are persecuting Arabs just as they were persecuted by the Nazis. His loathing of what he believes to be America's war of terror against Islam and his solidarity with those who resist American imperialism led him to accept an invitation to attend this week's Tehran conference on the Holocaust.
Prof. Dossa, in an interview with The Globe's Doug Saunders, insisted he had no idea the conference would be rife with Holocaust deniers. He must not have read the agenda of the conference, which contains such topics as "Gas Chambers: Denial or Confirmation," and "Holocaust: Western Media and Propaganda."
So a man with a PhD is invited to a conference on the Holocaust. In Iran. With that agenda. Hosted by the President of Iran, who has repeatedly called the Holocaust a myth. And this man with a PhD is shocked to find anti-Semites, neo-Nazis and other Holocaust-denying rabble at the conference.
There are only two possibilities: Either Prof. Dossa is lying, or he's an idiot.
Sean Riley, the president of StFX, acknowledged yesterday in an interview that "from the university's point of view, it was an embarrassment" for Prof. Dossa to attend the conference. But Mr. Riley is far from ready to say what, if any, action his administration will take.
"I will have to take a careful look at all of the facts, and I certainly wouldn't rush out to state at this point that the university will make any particular decision," he said.
That's understandable. The university's administration should deliberately and carefully weigh all the facts. But one hopes they will decide to fire him.
The ancient principle of academic freedom was designed to protect the university from persecution by the state, not to protect the lazy, the mediocre and the irresponsible.
Prof. Dossa may be neither lazy nor mediocre, but he is irresponsibility personified. He was invited to attend what Foreign Affairs Minister Peter McKay rightly described as "this despicable, provocative conference" because of his credibility as a professor at St. Francis Xavier.
If you were invited to a conference because of the position you held in a corporation or organization, and you embarrassed that corporation or organization by your presence or your acts, then that corporation or organization would have the right to discipline you. If St. Francis Xavier University surrenders that right, it surrenders any right to defend its own name.
If he is fired, Prof. Dossa may sue for wrongful dismissal. This wouldn't be a bad thing. It could prompt a long-overdue debate about tenure, academic freedom, the power of faculty unions, and whether academics are truly immune to the disciplines to which the rest of us are subject.
But if Shiraz Dossa is allowed to get away with this, without so much as an apology, then it's pretty clear that, in Canada, the only limitations on the rights of tenured faculty are contained in the Criminal Code.