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Lessons from the Allan Rock fiasco with Ann Coulter - When politicians rule universities

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Lessons from the Allan Rock fiasco with Ann Coulter
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In point-5 Rock does not only instruct Houle to write the now infamous letter; he actually dictates word for word content of the letter. Rock wrote the March 19th Houle letter. And then let Houle take all the heat for it for weeks before sheepishly stating that he had “approved” the letter and “shared responsibility” for it. Rock entertained numerous calls that Houle be demoted, saw Houle being publicly ridiculed in the national media and received comments in confidence about what an obvious error the Houle letter was but never responded that he had written the letter or came to Houle’s defence - honourable behaviour for any academic to say the least. (Many academics have been turfed for far more tenuous academic fraud misrepresentations or misattributions.)

When Houle forwarded to Rock what he had just sent to Coulter, Rock on seeing his own letter immediately exclaimed (rec-29):

“Quel excellent message! Merci et félicltations. I am sure she has never been dressed down so elegantly in her life!”

It is beyond this observer to understand how a seasoned federal politician could not see in this letter exactly what Coulter saw immediately and what all the local, national, and international media saw? I will venture that most other university presidents in Canada would have seen this letter for the harmful idiocy that is was. As soon as I saw the letter on Coulter’s web site I was stunned that anything like this could be produced by a VP-Academic (LINK), let alone a “star” president. This continues to baffle me.

For many days Rock continued to defend the letter as only pointing out the legal context in Canada to encourage civility… He developed a pet spin phrase in responding off-the-record to allies which was (e.g., rec-45):

“I guess we now know what most upsets the "far right": lt's when we demand that they be civil in their discourse. It's when we invite them to weigh their words and be responsible in expressing views.”

It took Rock weeks to partly acknowledge the error of the Houle letter and to “share responsibility”. In this kind of evolving crisis you don’t want your main boy to simply not "get it" for days: The boss has to be able to immediately recognize the problem. Amazing.

The next day, March 20th, the March 17th Seamus Wolfe letter has hit the local media but the Houle letter shit has not hit the national media fan yet and at 9:02am (rec-30) Rock tells his communications boss, Andrée Dumulon, that he probably should explain to Seamus Wolfe that “[we don’t want to] give [Coulter] more attention by allowing her to make her ‘right to free speech’ the issue instead of her pathetic views.”

That’s priceless isn’t it? Rock just sent out the Houle bomb and he explains that his goal is to prevent Coulter from making this a violation of free speech issue. Totally out of touch somehow… Amazing.

Rock is frustrated by Dumulon’s blabbery response (rec-31) which betrays the petty inner workings of the “higher administration” of the University of Ottawa: Don’t write, call, avoid ATI [kinda late for that] … “We didn’t approve [Norman Finkelstein’s] views but we are a university after all” [as an afterthought] … [hoping] “that this event will backfire on her [Coulter]” given expected vehement student opposition…

Then Dumulon (rec-32) cautions that Rock wants to preserve his hard earned improved compliance of the student union (“Fede”) to ease through the coming tuition fee increases. In the end, it appears that Rock simply didn’t respond to Wolfe.

On March 21st when Dumulon informs Rock that the Houle letter is hitting the media his first response to her with Houle in cc is blacked out in the ATI record by the university for no apparent reason (rec-34).

On March 22nd the reality-check letters of complaint start coming in to Houle and Rock:  rec-35, rec-39, rec-42, rec-56, rec-62, rec-63, rec-73, rec-78, rec-79, rec-93, rec-94. There is no evidence in the available documentary record that Rock and his team learned from or concretely used any of the elements in these many criticisms and comments, nor were acknowledgements or replies sent during the record period.

As the issue heats up, all media attempts to reach Houle and Rock for commentary are blocked (e.g., rec-38, rec-45).

On the morning of March 23rd (rec-44) Dumulon suggests to Rock that he maybe should inform the Chairman of the Board of Governors (BOG), Marc Jolicoeur, and the soon-to-be replacement chairman Robert Giroux (LINK), about the developing media fiasco. Rock responds that he will do it at noon.

Rock’s email to the BOG Chairman (and to the BOG Chairman-in-waiting, with all executives in cc) (rec-46) is a piece of work:

“[…] Ann Coulter has in recent years become a prominent spokesperson for the extreme right wing in the US and has a regular role on the Fox channel, from which she spews a combination of ignorance and bile on a daily basis. She is almost a caricature of the loud-mouthed provocateur, and she relies on venom and vituperation in making her offensive points, resorting often to racial and religious stereotypes and prejudices.

[…] The letter was my suggestion and Francois wrote and sent it, with assistance from our own staff lawyers.

Coulter published the letter and has mocked us, in concert with the right-wing elements of the media both here and In the United States.

I Insist that it was correct and responsible for us to "lay down a marker" with Coulter, given her past conduct. The letter that Francois sent was careful, measured and clear. Contrary to misinformed commentary from some quarters, it did not threaten criminal proceedings.

[…] I guess we now know what most enrages the extreme right: it's when we ask that they be civil, considerate of the position of others, and avoid singling people out for abuse... […]”

Rock continues to defend his letter and blames the right-wing media. No one among any administrative staff, executives and BOG leaders at this point question or will ever question Rock on these interpretations, except that VP-Governance Diane Davidson is now finally alerted (rec-48). Only a brave and lucid dean when consulted later will actually speak out, and one regular member of the BOG (see below).

Meanwhile Rock continued to personally micro-manage media relations from the shadows: e.g., rec-49, rec-50.

Later on March 23rd BOG Chairman-in-waiting Robert Giroux responds to all (rec-51) that he “understand[s] what motivated [Rock] and Francois to write the letter.” He also shares that he goes to the Canadian news web sites every morning and offers no insights or educational critiques beyond that.

In the evening of March 23rd there is a revealing email exchange (rec-53) between Rock and someone who appears to be a senior former colleague or mentor (possibly Lloyd Axworthy, prominent former politician and president of the University of Winnipeg; the identity is blocked from the ATI record):

“Axworthy” at 7:48pm feels he has to spell it out for Allan:

I see you have that nut bar Ann Coulter visiting your campus. She is a disgrace.
That said, I thought your VP was unwise to write to her as he did. VPs Academics and Presidents need to err far on the side of academic freedom and the rights of speech, freedom, etc. It is the value that distinguishes universities from all other institutions and is at the core of their purpose.
I know your instinct will be to back up your VP because he is on your team. But on this occasion, I would not follow that instinct and instead stand clearly for the freedoms.
Free advice from the peanut gallery. No need to reply.”

Rock engages further at 9:43pm:

As always, I am grateful for your views. I would like, however, to engage a bit further on this question.
After it was announced last Thursday that Coulter was coming, the Student Federation wrote me demanding that I ban her. It was clear from the outset that I could not and would not but a quick review of her website/history revealed the depth of her ignorance and the capacity of her thoughtless words to wound and offend. The Provost's letter was intended to encourage civility and to remind this foreigner that the rules of the game are somewhat different here.
Question: is it a derogation from the principle of free speech for a university, while expressing to a mindless poltroon the willingness to receive her, to issue as well a plea that she be civil and respect the legislative limits of free speech?

“Axworthy” at 9:59pm has to repeat the lesson:

“I think it is. Because it always plays as this one has - that tlre university doesn’t really believe deeply in these fundamental freedoms.
The cops and immigration officials can enforce our laws on speech. You should and no doubt did as AG [Attorney General] but not as President.
University's (sic) have a unique role and the President has to not only uphold it but be seen to. That means nuance, subtlety and balance need to be put aside. Unequivocal defense of the freedoms is where the President should stand at Canada's university. The fact that the students wanted something else is no answer.
You are an awfully good friend to bother to reply. Thanks.

Rock at 10:27pm correctly concludes that he needs to think and do some reading:

“Thanks “Lloyd” I will think about all of this further and do some reading too. Maybe we can continue this discussion a some point.
Warm best wishes.

We see that Rock is still repeatedly defending the idiotic Houle letter and still does not understand the concept of a university’s societal responsibility to vigorously defend free speech. His teacher finds himself needing to go slowly, give examples, and use repetition.

At 10:28pm (rec-54) an outside personal friends tells Rock the obvious, that Coulter “would have thought she hit gold when she got that [Houle letter],” and suggests that bad publicity is good for the university and that Rock “planned it all along!”

Nope, he did not.

On March 24th at 6:36am (rec-57) Rock asks his communications people if he shouldn’t “cancel Boston and come home to manage this?” Looks like he is starting to understand the damage involved.

Meanwhile, the media continues to ask for interviews (e.g., rec-59), Rock receives another 17 pages of media articles transcripts from his communications boss, responds to a Liberal friend “poltroon” her “not over yet” (rec-61), and forwards a particularly damning letter from a donor to his communications people (rec-63):

“Mr. Rock,
Suffice it to say I am very disappointed in how the University of Ottawa handled the visit of Ann Coulter.
Disappointed enough too actually send an email.
Surely someone as erudite and politically educated as yourself realizes the University of Ottawa gave Mrs. Coulter exactly what she wanted - the role of pariah.
When did my alma matter turn its back on free speech?
Why can latent anti-Semitism fester on campus (as an ex student I have seen it) in the name of Palestinian rights but a right wing blowhard cannot?
I do not like Mrs. Coulter, she is a sensationalist and in my opinion a media-whore. That does not condone the actions of Mr. Houle.
Mr. Houle allowed his personal politics to cloud his judgment and should be punished for harming the character and image of the University as it is now, a laughingstock.
The student council should be ashamed of themselves as well.
Going forward, my father, my wife (alumni as well) and I, will no longer be donating to an institute that allows anyone to be silenced in this matter (sic).
I have taken off my school ring.
I would appreciate any thoughts you may want to share on the matter.”

This should have helped Allan understand free speech: Minus three alumni donors = motivation to do that reading…

At 12:53pm (March 24th) the communications team celebrated a positive letter “Ye-ah!!!” (rec-65).

At 1:10pm (rec-67) VP-Governance Diane Davidson responds to all executives and communications people that she “has nothing substantive to add” to the final draft of the misguided and disingenuous (Coulter did not unilaterally cancel her talk) press release intended for damage control. At 1:21pm Davidson responds again but only to Rock this time:

At the end of the day the question that remains is the following:
What she welcomed or not??

Smart girl but too late. She joins “Axworthy” as part of the very few making intelligent suggestions (which are ignored by Rock).

VP-Resources Victor Simon, by comparison, who has direct information from campus police and is responsible to know exactly what happened, at 1:48pm simply agrees with the fraudulent final draft: “D’accord, aussi.” But then Simon is known to falsify documents to make his point (LINK, LINK).  

At 3:16pm (rec-72) Associate Professor of law Amir Attaran offers his legal services to Houle and Rock and disparages Levant (Coulter’s lawyer) in the process:

“[..] My condolences - nobody deserves this. If you end up being sued, as seems likely, [...] Litigating against Ezra Levant, no excellent lawyer, on a sell-evidently specious claim would be none too taxing of the grey matter. [...]”

Following this, Rock somewhat panics and believes the university (Houle and himself) will likely be sued and rushes to mitigate the possible damage. He circulates a 9-point line of defense (rec-75) against a lawsuit (human rights complaint) to Houle, Davidson, Simon and staff, including an attached draft letter of re-invitation to Coulter (rec-75B). Rock also sent this material to the private consulting firm Earnscliffe Strategy Group, to lawyer Debby Hanscom of Sutts Strosberg Law, and to Dean of Common Law Bruce Feldthusen (of women’s rights fame, LINK).

It therefore seems clear that, contrary to recent media reports, the suggestion to re-invite Coulter was primarily motivated to mitigate harm from a potential lawsuit; that to show commitment for free expression in this way was motivated by “show” which in turn was largely motivated by mitigation against potential litigation. The man has principles.

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