Who is Allan Rock and Why Was Denis Rancourt fired?

Analysis of a Temper Tantrum Gone Viral

When Liberal Party heavyweight Allan Rock took over as president at the University of Ottawa this September [2008], many wondered what would be in store for Denis Rancourt.

— Jesse Freeston, journalist1

We conclude that the charges advanced against Denis Rancourt are a contrived pretext, that they are preposterous as reasons to summarily remove a tenured professor, and that, therefore, the real reasons must lie elsewhere.

— Members of College and University Workers United2

I have been following, with interest, the case of Marc Kelly — an under-graduate at the University of Ottawa who appears to be the victim of an outrageous vendetta brought against him by the President of that University, Allan Rock.”

–blogger (sophos)

It is difficult to know how decisions are made because hierarchical institutions do everything they can to hide their true inner workings.

Nonetheless the chronology of events and the leakages of some documents allow one to advance plausible versions.

Until Rock became president of the University of Ottawa in 2008, the previous administration, starting in 2005, was involved only in relatively moderate schemes to contain radical physics professor Denis Rancourt in his incessant applications of pedagogical advances and social justice and community outreach practices.

Pre-Rock containment attempts included: removing the professor from all large first-year courses which he had developed, barring him from reserving an auditorium for his popular weekly documentary film and discussion series, arbitrarily imposing new academic rules in violation of Senate procedures (until overturned via a union grievance), an in-class dean’s intervention for which the university was later forced to apologize, allowing unethical attacks by a departmental chairman until the university was forced to intervene, fabrication of a student complaint (which the university withdrew), multiple contrived disciplinary campaigns that were dropped without explanation, and unjustified discipline for course content that was overturned by a labour law arbitrator.3

In all of this tug of war over academic freedom the previous administration did not appear to contemplate outright dismissal and did not ever threaten dismissal. The first threats of dismissal came with Rock.

Only after Rock’s arrival did the administration’s methods become much more severe and physical, to include everything up to denial of due process, complete banning from all teaching, an unannounced laboratory lockout, unjustified firing of a research associate of 12-years (later settled out of court), threatening graduate students with loss of scholarships, banning of the professor from his weekly campus radio show using threat of police arrest, and forceful police arrest with handcuffs and removal while attending a campus event.4,5

Although the professor had received several disciplinary attempts and internal criticisms for hosting invited speakers who were critical of Israel in his classes in 2005 and 2006 and had widely expressed and published his own criticisms of Israel, and although Allan Rock is a known staunch supporter of Israeli policies and has directly intervened on campus on multiple occasions to impose his views on Israel,6 ,7 ,8 the sudden and fast-tracked decision to fire Rancourt may not have been primarily driven by Israel-Palestine politics, as is often the case in high-profile firings in North America.9

In hind-sight, the chronology of events suggests otherwise, suggests that something suddenly irked Rock at an even more visceral level than his allegiance to the Israel lobby.

It was more than the Israel lobby that drove Rock to his extremes of both urgency and intensity.

Let’s examine the chronology, including key campus events that involved Allan Rock. Here is how it went down.

Physics-mathematics student Marc Kelly (now of YouTube fame) took a fourth-year quantum mechanics course that Rancourt gave in the winter semester of 2008. The pedagogical method was unusual for a physics course and involved a non-competitive student-centered approach with an emphasis on in-class discussions. This caused some students in the class to question the pedagogical methods being used in their other courses.

Marc Kelly questioned the nature of the tests and assignments in a statistical physics course that he was taking concurrently with professor James Harden. Harden, was not receptive to the student’s questions and belittled Marc in front of the class and verbally intimidated him out of his office while nonetheless allowing the student to do a project instead of the final examination, only to refuse the project after the course was over and to attribute a failing grade without considering the project.

Student Kelly appealed this first to Harden, then to the physics department chairman Bela Joos, then to the vice-dean of science Leonard Kleine, then to the dean of science André E. Lalonde, then to the vice-president academic Robert Major, and finally to the president Allan Rock. In these appeals Kelly documented every step and put all those concerned and their superiors in cc. The saga is reported in a series of posts on UofOWatch and elsewhere.

Rock chose to not acknowledge or respond to Kelly’s emails. So, on Monday November 3, 2008, Kelly went to Rock’s office to chat with him about his ordeal.

That is when things took a nasty turn. Rock went ballistic on Kelly and repeatedly yelled at him to verbally intimidate him away in a disrespectful episode that could be enough to get a professor fired.

Fortunately, Kelly voice recorded the encounter and was therefore able to defend himself. Kelly posted the voice recording on the web and sent the link10 by mass email to all the students and staff at the University of Ottawa (over 40,000 emails). (Even this exposed culmination of mistreatment did not result in justice for Kelly and his final project in the statistical physics course was never considered.)

Rock in turn sent a message to the university community in which he expressed “regret” by blaming Kelly. What followed was uninterrupted persecution of Mark Kelly. He was arbitrarily barred from his student-nominated position on a key university committee, unilaterally deregistered from a physics project course, pursued on multiple (a dozen or so) bogus criminal charges that were dropped, arrested in a class where he was invited to speak, arrested at an event where he was the main presenter (then let go without charges), barred from registering for all courses required to complete his degree, trespassed from campus, and ultimately pursued criminally again for allegedly violating his trespass. Concerted formal protests from both the student union and the union of teacher assistant have been to no avail. [12]

Following the November 3, 2008, verbal intimidation event in Rock’s office, Rancourt was coincidently invited on a pre-scheduled TV talk show (Talk Ottawa) to discuss his academic freedom struggles at the University of Ottawa. The TV interview was held live on the evening of November 12, 2008.11 During the call-in segment of the show, Mark Kelly called the studio and was put on air. The host had heard of the incident with Rock and the recording of Rock’s verbal intimidation was played on air from the web.

Rancourt then commented on air that he was appalled at the president’s behaviour and stated that a professor would be fired for treating a student that way.

Within days of this TV show Rancourt and his eight graduate students and research employee were locked out of their laboratory without any notice or forewarning on November 21, 2008. Following this, Rancourt was banned from campus and removed of all his functions on December 10, 2008, when he was escorted off the grounds by campus police. In an accelerated process like has never been seen at the University of Ottawa, Rancourt was then stripped of his tenure and fired on March 31, 2009, by an executive committee that included the membership of a prominent Ottawa Zionist organizer and Allan Rock himself.

It therefore appears that Rancourt was fired under public Israel lobby pressures because Allan Rock was irked beyond rational response by scholarship and award-nominated student and published scientific author Marc Kelly who remains banned from campus like a dangerous criminal.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) chief, Nathalie Des Rosiers, who continues to receive a salary from the University of Ottawa after serving under Rock as a vice president, has a different opinion about why Rancourt was fired.12

  1. Opening line in “Dismissing critical pedagogy – Denis Rancourt vs. University of Ottawa”, best of rabble.ca 3 – book, Jenn Watt (Ed.) (First posted on web January 12, 2009.) []
  2. Open letter from members of College and University Workers United (CUWU). []
  3. List of outstanding and resolved labour law grievances and outcomes. []
  4. Background information at AcademicFreedom.ca. []
  5. Report by workplace mobbing expert Dr. Kenneth Westhues. []
  6. Statement by Denis Rancourt regarding his dismissal. []
  7. Allan Rock background and actions at the University of Ottawa. []
  8. Allan Rock and the Israel lobby – on and off campus. []
  9. Nocella et al. (Eds.), Academic Repression, 2010, AK Press. []
  10. The true face of Allan Rock – post on UofOVoice blog. []
  11. Talk Ottawa with James Hendricks, Rogers TV (Ottawa), Wednesday November 12, 2008, 9pm to 10pm. []
  12. CCLA’s Nathalie Des Rosiers on why Rancourt was fired. []

Denis G. Rancourt is a former tenured and Full Professor of physics at the University of Ottawa, Canada. He is known for his applications of physics education research (TVO Interview). He has published over 100 articles in leading scientific journals, and has written several social commentary essays. He is the author of the book Hierarchy and Free Expression in the Fight Against Racism. While he was at the University of Ottawa, he supported student activism and opposed the influence of the Israel lobby on that institution, which fired him for a false pretext in 2009: LINK. Read other articles by Denis, or visit Denis's website.

One comment on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. MylesH said on June 26th, 2010 at 9:26am #

    This is worth knowing a lot more about but frankly I find the article lacking in specifics. Really who is Rancourt? What are his issues? What led to his firing?
    If I have to read it again to find these answers then it eluded me upon first reading.
    Even the video (viral with only 10,000 hits?) which showed the arrest didn’t help. Is Canadian law different than American where a lease holder is identified as an owner? Isn’t that an oxymoron? I would assume an arrest/search warranted was necessary and the cops are very wrong on that (the arrest) but why were they even entering the office? Hope someone explains this better to me.