The latest professor being exalted as a free speech martyr may have been fired for being an asshole who was bad at his job—not for his political views.
Rick Mehta, a tenured psychology professor at Acadia University in Nova Scotia was fired on August 31. Since then Mehta, who taught at the university since 2003, has made a lot of noise arguing that his axing was over his edgy and outspoken political views on sexual assault, multiculturalism, and residential schools.
Well, a letter outlining the reasons for his termination seems to tell a different story, one about a man who showed little regard for his students, the subject he was teaching, and his co-workers. The letter was reported meticulously and printed fully by CBC yesterday—you can read the article here and the letter here.
For a little background, Rick Mehta is one of a very particular subsect of professors floating around on the internet who aggressively seek out controversy. He’s fond of saying things like multiculturalism is a scam, the wage gap is a myth, residential schools weren’t necessarily bad, and (according to the letter) that sexual assault survivors are responsible for putting themselves in dangerous situations.
Mehta and his crew, for whatever reason—seeing the money and power attained by Jordan Peterson couldn’t have hurt—position themselves as “truth sayers” while preaching endlessly about how they’re the real victims. Mehta, while never gaining much of a following, has been living in this space for a while now.
The going line has been, since his dismissal, that Mehta was fired for his political opinion, something that was, rightfully, troubling for many out there. Mehta has been offered the op-eds, fawning adoration, and media appearances one gets when something like this happens. That conversation surrounding his termination would have, most likely, kept on that same path except that Mehta (for some reason) released the letter written by Acadia's vice president of academics Heather Hemming outlining complaints against him and they are, well, pretty damning.
In a statement following his termination, Mehta stated that the reasons for his firing listed in the letter were simply “broad categories of misconduct instead of providing any specific examples of misconduct.” But the eight page letter appears to be chock full “specific examples of misconduct.” The incidents range from the mundane, like rolling his eyes and laughing when a student presented an honour thesis, to the extreme like outing a rape victim.
The letter references a three-month report into Mehta’s actions and a separate internal investigation—these two documents are not available. It is clear to say early on that what fills the eight pages are “only examples” and much more was documented in the reports.
Perhaps the most egregious complaint leveled against Mehta is that he outed a sexual assault survivor when he publicly posted a recording of a class in which she detailed being raped in a publicly available Dropbox. The letter describes this action as “reprehensible” and states that when he was asked to remove the posting by the university he instead asked his Twitter followers to “make copies to preserve the audio recordings online."
“This action further demonstrates your disregard for the privacy rights of students and suggest you are more concerned with public online support than the interests of the students,” reads the letter.
The letter goes on to say that Mehta tended to be hostile towards some students, allegedly harassing them online through social media. The harassment was apparently widespread with, as the letter reads, "virtually every faculty and staff member identified situations of harassment and discrimination of women, transgendered individuals, black students, victims of violence, and Indigenous people."
"You seem to be under the impression that your rights of 'free speech' and academic freedom trump all other obligations to the university and members of the university community," wrote Hemming.
Hemming also says Mehta failed to do what he was hired to do—teach the courses to a satisfactory level. The letter alleges that Mehta left his students ill-prepared for future classes because “a significant amount of class time (in some classes 90% of more) was spent on topics which are irrelevant, or not connected to the course syllabus." The letter questioned Mehta’s non-academic sources whose “relevance to psychology are dubious.”
Speaking with the CBC about the letter, Mehta denied that these were the reasons that he was fired and said he has “never done any of the acts that have been attributed to me.” He copped to the fact there were “disputes” but countered that “perspectives are subjective.” He also stated that the majority of coworkers stopped speaking to him after he became “outspoken.” Online Mehta tweeted that “In my view, the letter consists of baseless allegations.” Mehta and his union are appealing the decision to terminate his employment.
One of the final portions of the letter outlines that Mehta was allegedly told about his actions but instead of listening and possibly correcting course he “doubled down” and was unable to accept his actions may have been harmful. The letter states that Mehta attempted to turn his actions into a free speech or academic freedom issue—something he is attempting to do with his termination.
“In summary, your conduct, commentary, deviation from teaching curriculum and the poisoned teaching and collegial environment you have created is totally unacceptable and cannot be justified by rights to academic freedom or free speech,” reads the letter.
At the end of the day I think we can all agree, there is a difference between someone fired for their political beliefs and someone fired for being an asshole who performs poorly at their job. After reading the letter it seems pretty clear which camp Mehta falls into.
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