Edwin Mellen Press has announced in a press release that it will not pursue its libel suit against McMaster University and Dale Askey, a McMaster librarian.
EMP launched a $3.5 million lawsuit against the University and Askey in February over a 2010 post on Askey’s personal blog. EMP claimed that the post (still active) contains defamatory statements that slander the publishing company. McMaster was brought into the lawsuit on the grounds that the University refused to demand that Askey take down his blog post.
The press release made no specific mention of a separate $1 million lawsuit against Askey launched by Herbert Richardson, founder of EMP.
"All I know is what's in that press release. I'm awaiting further information before drawing any conclusions or making any comments," said Askey in an e-mail.
On Feb. 19, the Association of Canadian University Presses released an Open Letter to the Scholarly Community. The letter urged EMP to “withdraw this lawsuit” and found that Dale Askey’s comments “fall well within the range of fair comment.”
A petition on Change.org that calls for the end of EMP's libel lawsuit has gotten more than 3,100 signatures.
In the March 1 press release sent to the Silhouette, EMP stated: “financial pressure of the social media campaign and press on authors is severe. EMP is a small company. Therefore [it] must choose to focus its resources on its business and serving its authors.”
Andrea Farquhar, McMaster spokesperson, said this morning that the University was not contacted by EMP with the press release, and is seeking official confirmation that the lawsuit will be dropped.
Although EMP says it will no longer pursue the court case, it did not make any apologies for taking legal action in the first place: “EMP remains resolute that all have the right to free speech. Equally, all have the right to take steps, including legal action, to protect their good names and reputation.”
UPDATE: The University confirmed with its lawyers this afternoon that a 'notice of discontinuance' was sent by EMP to McMaster's legal counsel.
"We're pleased by the Press's decision [not to go through with this case]," said Gord Arbeau, a McMaster spokesperson. "This is good news for all those across North America who have supported McMaster's position in defence of academic freedom."
As for the second lawsuit against Askey in which McMaster University was not named, Arbeau said "that piece is still not clear at this point."
The University is not obligated to take action in the lawsuit against Askey if the suit persists.
Edwin Mellen Press is formally suing a McMaster librarian, along with the University, for $3.5 million in damages over a libel claim stemming from a 2010 blog post.
The Ontario Superior Court of Justice is now trying the case of Dale Askey and McMaster versus Edwin Mellen Press (EMP). Askey published a series of personal blog posts critiquing the publisher under the title, “The Curious Case of Edwin Mellen Press” three years ago.
In his blog posts, Askey stated that Edwin Mellen Press produced books of low quality and was a “junk publisher” that regularly published second-class works that were exorbitantly overpriced. He also claimed that the press treated its authors in an unprofessional manner and, as a librarian, had seen many poorly edited and poorly bound books published by EMP.
Askey was issued legal notice in June 2012 as a result of the alleged defamatory statements. The notice also identifies McMaster University as co-defendant.
The plaintiff, EMP, claims that by refusing to force Askey to remove his defamatory comments, McMaster has vicariously adopted his defamatory and libelous statements.
McMaster spokesperson Gord Arbeau said that the University stands in full support of Askey.
“The University is very supportive of Mr. Askey. Freedom of speech and academic freedom are foundational principles of this institution.”
McMaster issued a statement on Feb. 8 re-asserting its commitment to academic freedom. McMaster affirmed “the right of the academic community to engage in full and unrestricted consideration of any opinion ... the University supports the exercise of free speech as a critical social good.”
In his posts, Askey emphasized the importance of being critical of publishers and the quality of academic publications that universities purchase. He re-iterated that in his role as a librarian, and given limited university library budgets, it is important for universities to be selective in what they purchase.
Lingua Franca, a noted American magazine, was also taken to court by EMP in 1993 for libel and asked for $15 million in damages. EMP lost the case.
An online petition on Change.org, asking for the case to be dropped, has elicited over 1000 signatures in support of Askey and McMaster.
On Feb. 11, The McMaster Faculty Association also issued a statement urging McMaster to offer its member, Askey, all “necessary support, including financial assistance, in dealing with this threat to him, our institution and to the wider academic community.”
Arbeau noted that because Askey’s comments were made on a personal blog and while he was not an employee of McMaster, his case is a unique one. McMaster has chosen to act in support but “is responsible for its own defence and the costs borne from that as a co-defendant,” he said.
Questions are being raised with the quality and fairness of a new joint McMaster-Mohawk agreement.
A new program has been launched between Mohawk College and McMaster’s Faculty of Social Sciences. Mohawk says about 10% of their student population are university graduates looking to top up their undergraduate degree with a one-year certificate.
The program seeks to eliminate that extra year by allowing some social sciences elective courses to lead to a certificate with Mohawk College.
The Faculty of Social Sciences and Mohawk College have been studying ways to fast-track students through the process over the past two years with a letter of understanding signed on September 2011.
The program, which began last year as a pilot project, has now been officially launched with two certificates programs. According to McMaster officials, the certificates are in Business Studies and Leadership and Management in the Not-For-Profit Sector, while a third certificate called Introduction to Autism is in development.
Professors at colleges across the province have recently concluded new contract negotiations with their administrations.
During the negotiations, concerns were raised about the lack of academic freedom that the colleges give professors. The central demand of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), the union that represents Mohawk professors, was more academic freedom for professors alongside more job security.
Kevin MacKay, Mohawk professor and communications officer for OPSEU local 240, stated, “Currently, college professors have absolutely no academic freedom. The high school teachers in [the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association] (OECTA) actually have more academic freedom than we have after their recent contract. Academic freedom was the number one demand the college professors took into this round of bargaining, and we got nowhere with it.” OECTA represents 34,000 Catholic school teachers in the province.
MacKay says the concerns around academic freedom are real: “Currently, management in the college system is telling faculty what textbooks to use, how to deliver their material and how to evaluate it. They are even changing grades over faculty objections, and mandating delivery methods that lead to lower educational outcomes.
Edward Lovo, an undergraduate student at McMaster, has concerns with the lack of job security for many sessional professors at McMaster in light of the new program. Lovo stated, “I am interested in being a professor myself and I would hate these conditions to be imposed on me.”
Elizabeth Moore, the program’s coordinator, stated that some of the professors are only part-time at Mohawk College and hiring is not handled by McMaster.
College professors have no way to move up the ladder at McMaster to a tenured position. As professors are unable to engage in research in their fields, students may not be getting the cutting-edge insights that a tenured professor may offer.
Assistant Dean of Social Science Lynn Giordano says that the faculty has “enhanced the courses to [make them of university quality].”
Textbooks and course outlines were assessed through several committees, and one course was even deemed similar enough to a first year commerce course that it was listed as an anti-requisite. This leads to concerns about outsourcing sessional professor positions to Mohawk.
The Faculty did state that no courses were replaced by the introduction of the Mohawk-Social Science program but did not wish to provide information on how many classes were offered last year compared to this year, though an additional 800 seats were allocated in Social Science by the provost.
Collaborations between colleges and universities present exciting possibilities; however, while college professors lack academic freedom and both colleges and universities continue to rely on part-time over full-time professors, questions remain concerning job security and quality of education.