Vote to censure U of M over economics dispute delayed six months

With resolution in sight, CAUT gives school time to reach agreement

The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) has given the University of Manitoba a six-month reprieve on a vote to censure the school surrounding a deep-seated dispute within the economics department.

At its regular council meeting in Ottawa Nov. 27-29, a motion to censure the U of M was punted to the organization’s regular spring meeting following positive signs the school is nearing a resolution to a rift within the economics department reaching back nearly a decade.

The issue came to a head in a CAUT report released in January detailing academic disputes between so-called “heterodox” economists, who favour critical approaches to the discipline, and “orthodox” or mainstream economists, who study the aggregate behaviour of individual buyers and sellers in the market economy.

The report claims that the heterodox faculty members have been marginalized within the department and their academic freedom has been violated through a series of decisions stretching back to 2006.

In May, a letter was forwarded to U of M president David Barnard from CAUT executive director David Robinson warning the school would be censured by the organization if appropriate steps weren’t taken to settle the dispute.

Following a promising meeting with Jeffery Taylor, dean of the faculty of arts at the U of M, last week, Robinson recommended council delay the vote to its late-April meeting, giving the school time to quell the dispute.

“We essentially put it in abeyance until then with the hope that there will be a resolution to the matter,” said Robinson following a vote which he said overwhelmingly supported his recommendation.
“It’s not off the table,” he warned. “It’s deferred for six months. It’s under the recognition that there is some progress being made but, at the same time, we want to make sure the university understands that unless there’s a resolution to the problem then the motion of censure comes back.”

In October, the Manitoban reported that a resolution was taking shape to keep the warring department united under one roof by housing two semi-autonomous streams in a single department.
An earlier proposal to split the department was panned by Robinson, who said the fracture would result in the eventual dissolution of the heterodox unit.

Censure motions are rare and have been passed by CAUT only twice in more than 30 years, most recently against First Nations University of Canada in 2008.

If the motion passes, the association will request that all its members refrain from taking jobs and participating in activities at the university, including speaking and attending conferences at the U of M.

The Manitoban has been following this story since March. For more background, see the following articles: