Native Studies prof considers hunger strike

    (Book Sadprasid\The Aquinian)
    (Book Sadprasid\The Aquinian)
    (Book Sadprasid\The Aquinian)

    A dispute over a social work course has Native Studies professor Roland Chrisjohn mulling the idea of a hunger strike.

    “No, I’m not talking about my fast until I’m sure myself that it’s a fast,” said Chrisjohn in an email to The Aquinian.

    A social media post, made by a colleague of Chrisjohn, surfaced last week, citing the professor’s concerns about the university’s direction for the class. It said the professor has been on a hunger strike since Feb.1 because he was asked to teach a research methodology course but later “his signed contract was summarily declared null.”

    The same post was also emailed to department members.  The university said a grievance process with the faculty association has been going on for weeks, but they weren’t aware of the latest action until the social media post surfaced.

    “To my knowledge Dr. Chrisjohn has not been in contact with the university administration,” said university spokesman, Jeffrey Carleton. “From the university’s perspective, the concern is not from an academic freedom or a historical or a long-standing grievance. It relates to teaching course content that was reviewed and approved by Senate.”

    The social work course is required for students to complete the program. The university said the professor now teaching it has met the requirements to teach the course and has previously taught it. But Carleton did not specify what those requirements are.

    A group of students are backing the professor. The group plans on circulating a petition supporting Chrisjohn, after a press release expected sometime this week.

    “Due to the nullification of a binding contract by the university, Dr. Chrisjohn has decided to take up a hunger strike as a means to raise awareness to the ongoing breach of academic freedoms the university has committed against him,” wrote Lauran Hass, a student whose organizing the petition. “Students of Dr. Chrisjohn have become concerned that the university has not taken this situation seriously. We urge St. Thomas University to take note of this ongoing plight, as we do not wish to see our beloved professor suffer any longer.”

    The social media post by his colleague mentioned past grievances between him and the university. In the 2012-2013 school year, D’Arcy Vermette, a native studies professor, took issue with the creation of the Aboriginal Resource Centre in 2012. By the end of the 2013 school year, Vermette resigned his position and took a position at the University of Alberta law school.

    That same year Andrea Bear-Nicholas’s term as endowed chair came to an end. She had been at St. Thomas since 1993. Chrisjohn has been at the university since 1998 and, according to the social media post, has taken issue with the university on other issues throughout the years.

    “The issues several years back were formally investigated and resolved. From the university’s perspective we will be focusing on the current issue,” said Carleton.