September 05, 2009

University of Ottawa dismisses Professor Denis Rancourt over grading dispute

I was fired by the University of Ottawa on March 31, 2009. I was fired under the false pretext of having arbitrarily assigned high grades in one course in the winter 2008 semester. All relevant documents have been made public at

In order to fire me the university had to dispense with due process. In the words of the professors’ union’s lawyer, my dismissal was “both a denial of substantive and procedural rights […] and a contravention of the basic principles of natural justice.”

Until my firing I was for the whole of my 23 year career, a professor of physics at the University of Ottawa. I was tenured and had occupied the highest academic rank of Full Professor since 1997. I am recognized as an expert in my profession and have taught over 2000 students.

Throughout my tenure, my overriding goal has been to give my students the highest quality of education, affording them the best possible means of learning and understanding a sometimes difficult and daunting subject. To achieve this I have researched pedagogy, conferred with professional physics education researchers, and implemented many new teaching techniques. I have developed several unique and very popular undergraduate and graduate courses, including the Physics and the Environment (Physique et environement) course, the Science in Society course, and a graduate interdisciplinary course in measurement and characterization methods in science. The Science in Society elective course had to be given in the largest auditorium on campus to accommodate the registered and community participants.

The Physics and the Environment required course was considered one of the most motivating courses in the Environmental Studies (ES) program: The executive members of the ES Student Association have referred to me as a “phenomenal teacher” and to the course as “extremely enriching … individualized … empower[ing]” and as “creat[ing] a positive learning environment where inspired students gained confidence and courage” (Letter to the dean of science dated March 15, 2007).

I have paired this teaching profile with a strong research effort, receiving throughout my entire career some of the largest research grants in the Faculty of Science. I have one of the highest scientific impact factors (h-index) in the entire Faculty, with an h-index of 25. To put this in perspective, my present scientific impact factor is more than twice that of the dean of the Faculty of Science, 40% higher than that of the present chairman of the physics department, 80% higher than that of the present chairman of chemistry, and more than twice that of the previous chairman of physics. In 2008, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) reviewed my research and renewed my grant through 2013. Such research success had been expected, because I started my university career under the prestigious NSERC University Research Fellow program, following a national competition among newly sponsored university professors.

In 2001, after I obtained the largest NSERC Strategic Project Grant ever obtained in the Faculty of Science, to study boreal forest lakes for five years, the university put out full-page-width advertisements [click to see in English / French] in the Globe and Mail, The Ottawa Citizen, Le Droit, and Silicon Valley North featuring me and my research group and entitled "Can you recognize Canada's university of the 21st century? Denis Rancourt, LSSE group" (LSSE = Lake Sediment Structure and Evolution). I have supervised more than 80 junior research terms or degrees at all levels from post-doctoral fellow to graduate students to NSERC undergraduate researchers. I have been an invited plenary, keynote, or special session speaker at major conferences nearly 40 times, an exceptional number by Faculty of Science standards. To put this in perspective, many past and present science department chairs and deans have never been a plenary or keynote speaker at an international scientific conference.

No reasonable person, and in fact so far not a single person or organization who has examined the background of my dismissal, lends any credibility to the university's claim that my grading in one course, one year ago, is the real reason for its recent actions. How can a disagreement about grading possibly justify ordering the university police to remove a tenured professor from campus, banning him from campus, assigning his graduate students to other faculty, firing his postdoctoral research fellow, and summarily firing him without due process?

The university’s pretext for firing me is particularly ironic given its Vision 2010 strategic plan, which states that the university will “Support and recognize initiatives designed to implement a range of new and diversified strategies for learning and evaluation.”

The lack of due process in the university’s recent actions is also alarming and is a threat to the principle of tenure. The dean simply asserted that my grading was not part of my teaching method and thereby circumvented a formal evaluation of my teaching without my ever being heard by a committee of my peers, as foreseen by the due process rules in place...

More info at:


Mike said...

I really don't see this case as academic bullying. Rancourt aggressively provoked a confrontation with the university admin. It's more of a fight between two bullies, and the one that lost is crying foul. It's not just the university admin who think lowly of Denis. Consider the what his former activist allies say about him or what one of the students in the class he was fired for had to say about him. I won't even mention what rockourtwatch says about him. Is the Social Revolution Party and all the physics undergrads in cahoots with the university to bully him?

He's put an image of the dean with a slanderous caption at the header of this article. Does he really seem like a helpless victim?

Rancourt isn't a victim of academic bullying; he is an academic bully. He's just an opportunist who latched onto this label after his last legal strategy failed. Anyone in this community who gives support to Denis will eventually be ridiculed and discarded by him, like all his previous allies.

Anonymous said...

'aggressively provoked a confrontation with the university admin'. Am I right in guessing that this is code for 'he refused to sign a compromise agreement and insisted on defending himself against spurious charges'?

Anonymous said...

I think that this post highlights the complexity of workplace bullying.

This is not the first time that I have been aware that an academic member of staff has alleged bullying from another academic member of staff when in fact the behaviour of both of them suggests that they are both bullies.

I know nothing about this case. I am simply stating that I am aware that this is a possibility that has to be considered.

There is a danger that the concept of bullying be emptied of meaning. It is important to be aware of this possibility.

Aphra Behn

Aphra Behn

Anonymous said...

sometimes I feel the word bully/bullied are insufficiently strong to convey what is actually happening to an academic who is being victimised; I only know what I've read and it seems possible that both Mike and Aphra are correct in suggesting two-way bullying. The above case is indeed complex. Many more cases, though, are more clear cut, and involve full-scale mobbings--a term that seems to be scarcely known or understood in the UK. One needs to draw a distinction between an acdemic who has been severely bullied and subsequently subjected to an administrative mobbing and targeted elimination ritual in which s/he has been wrongfully accused of many things, and one who has, as in the case above, openly defied/flaunted university regulations and challenged the administration publicly.

Anonymous said...

Activist Mailing Lists said...

Who created your propaganda art? Can I spread this around?