Professor sues U of C

By Darlene Seto

A prominent University of Calgary faculty member is taking legal action against the university. Haskayne School of Business Law professor Dr. Peter Bowal has filed a lawsuit accusing the university of wrongfully withholding his salary and for an abuse of trust and discretion, causing ‘incalculable personal hardship and torment.’

“I feel like a rape victim,” admitted Bowal, winner of several teaching excellence and research excellence awards, including two Dean’s Awards for Research Excellence and one for ‘Most Outstanding Faculty Member.’ “Specific people have been gunning for me, personally and privately.”

Bowal has taught at the university since 1991 and earned tenure in 1995.

A hearing was held January 24, 2006 in Alberta civil claims court. While no settlement was made, the court did make an award of costs to Bowal, meaning the university is accountable for all legal fees for the hearing. The next court date is scheduled for September 2006.

U of C provost and vice-president academic Dr. Ron Bond refused to comment on the matter.

“The university is unwilling and unable to comment as this is a personnel matter,” he said.

Bowal said he spoke to the Gauntlet only because the case is now considered public record, after the court hearing.

The lawsuit stems from a situation in the 2001-2002 academic term, when Bowal was denied an eight week leave of absence following sabbatical, during which he had been on a fellowship for the United States Supreme Court in Washington D.C.

“It was all approved at the university, at five different levels,” said Bowal. “I was selected for the fellowship–a very prestigious one–and there was a great deal of excitement. The university used my fellowship as material for many school references, publications and press releases.”

Conflict arose on the last business day of June 2002, when Bowal was sent an email while in Washington from the U of C, saying he was expected to assume duties on campus as of July 2. Bowal stayed in Washington.

“I wanted to finish off my fellowship, which did not end until August–it was a 12 month term, and had been approved,” Bowal explained. “I had no reason to be in Calgary, no graduate students to supervise on return, no classes until November. It was better to research in Washington, where I had special access and privileges to the Library of Congress because of the fellowship.”

On July 17, 2002, Bowal was sent a letter regarding his termination of employment, signed by then acting provost and vice-president academic Dr. J. Frideres, for failing to return to campus without approved leave. Included in the letter was a statement of assessment to repay approximately $50,000 in wages to the university.

When asked about the letter, Frideres was hesitant.

“I wouldn’t have been involved in that,” he said. “My mandate was not at the personnel level and I did not deal with hiring or firing. I do vaguely remember [the letter], but I’m not sure about its content, or the circumstances I signed it.”

Bowal was more forthright.

“I was suddenly and retroactively terminated, for no purpose,” he affirmed. “No one spoke to me about what had happened. I believe that this whole thing has been in retaliation for a report I made years ago about a colleague’s conflict of interest. It’s about showing me who is boss. [My family and I] were in the United States, left vulnerable. There was a newborn who needed vaccinations, another with an infection, and we were left with seemingly no health benefits.”

Upon receipt of the letter, Bowal attempted to contact the provost and vice-president academic but claimed he was refused contact via phone or fax. His lawsuit alleges that it was only after current associate vice-president human resources Sandy Repic made unilateral decisions to change his leave to time off without pay, that he was permitted resumption of his position.

“I was forced to sign [a new agreement] to save my job,” Bowal acknowledged. “It was completely outside procedures and practices. There was no cause, no justifiable reason for it. Other faculty members have been permitted years of leaves from campus after time on sabbatical.”

Bowal then quit the fellow- ship to return to Calgary.

“They made me come back for no reason,” he added. “I had no office, computer, email, or keys. I was left to wander around campus.”

Bowal is now asking for the lost salary for the 2001-2002 school year, which had been deemed leave without pay and other small bills, which total approximately $7,400.

“I’ve tried to settle with them, right up to the day before the hearing,” said Bowal. “Instead, it’s going through the courts, costing hours of work and thousands of dollars. Your tuition is being spent on high-priced law firms.”

International law firm Macleod Dixon is representing the University of Calgary. Legal costs annually are not reflected in university financial statements.

Other U of C staff, including Repic, acting Haskayne School of Business dean Vernon Jones, and general counsel for the university Linda Barry-Hollowell declined to speak about the suit or make comment.

“They certainly have a funny way of engendering loyalty among faculty,” Bowal said. “I’ve tried talking to people, sending messages to Dr. Bond, to President Weingarten. No one will talk to me. It doesn’t exactly contribute to recruitment and retention.”

There have been further actions against Bowal stemming from the dispute. A letter from Haskayne School of Business dean David Saunders contested the stipend Bowal had received for the fellowship. It was later allowed under section 16.18 of the collective agreement with the Faculty Association.

U of C Faculty Association president Anton Colijn, had no comment on the situation.

“We treat contacts between faculty and the association very confidentially,” he said.

Colijn did add, “I work very closely with university administration. By and large, our relations with administration are very good.”

Bowal was further issued a counselling letter in December of 2002 accusing him of “insubordination and lack of judgement” by Saunders, approximately a week prior to Saunder’s own resignation from the U of C.

“The real story is that it’s important to do what you say you do,” explained Bowal. “The gap between what the university says and what it does is huge. The retaliation is so deep and personal here.”

When asked about why he remains on at the U of C, Bowal is candid.

“It’s important to fight for what is right–it’s a principle,” he said. “I’ve been here for 15 years, I’ve worked hard, and I’m settled here with a family and five kids.”

“Do this if you care about students, about teaching and learning,” he said.