David Noble, one of North America's most prominent critics of the corporatization of academia and a groundbreaking researcher on the influence of technology on society, died Monday evening at age 65. He passed away in hospital unexpectedly of natural causes with his family at his side, friends said.
Prof. Noble rose to prominence for his critiques of technological automation, which he argued had been a method of depriving workers of power. He worked at the Massachusettes Institute of Technology and later at York University in Toronto, where he quickly became known for his political activism.
In 2001, he was denied an appointment to the J.S. Woodsworth research chair at Vancouver's Simon Fraser University, despite the backing of faculty, which he blamed on his activism against corporatization. Seven years later, he settled out of court with the university, which acknowledged that it had made mistakes.
A Jew and an opponent of Zionism, Prof. Noble garnered an angry reaction from York in 2004 when he published a pamphlet accusing a school fundraising body of being "biased by the presence and influence of staunch pro-Israeli lobbyists, activities and fundraising agencies," and proceeded to name members of the group who had ties to Jewish organizations. After York condemned his actions, he sued the school for defamation, a case that was due to go to trial next year.
Two years later, he launched a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission against York's practice of cancelling classes on some Jewish holidays, maintaining that it constituted discrimination against non-Jewish students. The university changed its policies before the case was heard.
"He was very vehement, vibrant, intense," said Denis Rancourt, a former University of Ottawa professor and a close friend of Prof. Noble's. "He was very energetic and exciting to be around in terms of all the ideas."
Mr. Rancourt credited Prof. Noble with motivating his students' activism and described his intense passion.
"One time he called me after an opera performance to express that the singer was so powerful that he was convinced we would all live forever," he said.
He had planned to retire from classroom teaching this summer, he said.
"He was very courageous in his ability to unwaveringly speak truth to power," said Yavar Hameed, his lawyer. "He was unafraid to speak up against the corporatization of education."
The Canadian Arab Federation issued a statement on his death: "Canada lost a truly noble person, both in name and in the essence of his character."
Prof. Noble is survived by his wife, three children and two brothers.