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Thompson Rivers University violated the academic freedom of a professor who criticized his colleagues for publishing in low-quality journals, an investigation by the Canadian Association of University Teachers has found.

Derek Pyne, an associate professor of economics at the Kamloops university, was suspended by the university and banned from campus in 2018, actions that he believed stemmed from his criticism of his colleagues.

Prof. Pyne published a scholarly article in 2017 about the rewards of publishing in what are known as predatory journals, which he defined as “journals that claim to be refereed but in reality publish articles in exchange for the payment of fees by authors.” The article studied a “small business school,” which he didn’t name but was his own university’s school of business and economics, the CAUT report states.

The research got a lot of attention, including in international publications such as The Economist and The New York Times. Prof. Pyne believed the university’s embarrassment lay at the root of a series of complaints about his behaviour that led to his suspension.

The CAUT report found that Thompson Rivers has a weak institutional understanding of academic freedom, and that there were significant breaches of Prof. Pyne’s academic freedom. There were also significant breaches of his privacy, the report found, as details of Prof. Pyne’s university-ordered psychological evaluation were shared with “a large number” of people without his permission.

Prof. Pyne said he was pleased with the report’s conclusions. “It feels like vindication,” he said. “It’s been very stressful.”

Prof. Pyne, 55, returned to teaching in January this year.

Thompson Rivers University president Brett Fairbairn said it’s healthy for universities to debate academic freedom.

“I’m most interested in what our own faculty think of academic freedom, rather than CAUT,” Mr. Fairbairn said.

A faculty committee is working on an academic freedom statement that he hopes will soon be ready for presentation to the broader university community. He said he sees no cause for concern for the university’s reputation stemming from this report.

The university declined to participate in the CAUT investigation, which was conducted by Mark MacLean, professor of mathematics at University of British Columbia, and Carla Graebner, librarian at Simon Fraser University.

The CAUT report makes a number of recommendations but is an external process conducted by a faculty advocacy group with no authority over the university.

The report raised concerns about the university’s decision to bar Prof. Pyne from campus in the summer of 2018. The evidence seen by the investigators did not justify such a decision, they wrote. They also had serious concerns about a psychologist’s report evaluating Prof. Pyne’s mental health, which was done at the university’s request.

“We are shocked that this report has been allowed to circulate into the hands of so many individuals at TRU and beyond in the management of this case. This is a serious breach of Dr. Pyne’s privacy rights,” the report states.

Prof. Pyne said he had not known his health details had been circulated inside the university. “I’m not happy about that. I’d like to find out more,” he said.

The report states that Prof. Pyne “can be extremely blunt in presenting his academic opinions,” and that colleagues could feel attacked. Thompson Rivers administrators seem to have concluded that “he needs to be silenced to protect the safety his colleagues,” the report says.

Prof. Pyne said he hopes to get back to his research soon, but the process has been draining.

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