Lieutenant-Duval requests compensation for ‘damages to reputation’
Nearly two years after sparking outrage for her use of a racial slur in class, University of Ottawa professor, Verushka Lieutenant-Duval, appeared in front of the arbiter to discuss grievances posed by the Association of Part-Time Professors of the University of Ottawa (APTPUO) against the U of O.
In late August, lawyers representing the University and the APTPUO gave their opening statements.
According to Le Droit, Lieutenant-Duval’s camp alleges that Lieutenant-Duval was condemned by the University without being subjected to a fair process, and that statements made in the media by U of O President Jacques Frémont were “humiliating” and “harmful” to Lieutenant-Duval’s mental health.
The faculty of arts received two complaints from students following Lieutenant-Duval’s use of the ‘N-word’ in a class setting. An email was then sent to students by the faculty dean, Kevin Kee, labelling the professor’s use of the racial slur as inappropriate.
Duval claims this email was sent to students unbeknownst to her. The following day, she was relieved from her teaching duties.
In an email to the Fulcrum, the U of O stated, “the University maintains that there was no breach and that it acted reasonably and on good faith in seeking to achieve a balance between the interests of the griever, the students and the University community.”
The APTPUO and Lieutenant-Duval are being represented by Wassim Garzouzi from Raven Law LLP. According to Garzouzi, Lieutenant-Duval received a punitive suspension before the situation could be subjected to a proper investigation, and it wasn’t until April 2021 that Lieutenant-Duval met with her employers to discuss the aftermath of the controversy.
Lawyers for the University of Ottawa argue that Lieutenant-Duval was not suspended after students complained about her use of the slur in class, but rather put on administrative leave during the investigation into the matter.
However, an email between Lieutenant-Duval and her representative, which Garzouzi read in part to the arbitration committee, stated that Lieutenant-Duval was “suspended from her courses, with pay, effective immediately.”
Lieutenant-Duval’s lawyer concluded by requesting she be compensated for damages to her reputation and receive a public apology by the University. The U of O’s legal team maintains that they did not violate due process set by the APTPUO collective bargaining during its investigation and that it was acting under exceptional circumstances.
Nevertheless, if the arbiters rule in favour of Lieutenant-Duval and the APTPUO, they believe a simple apology should be sufficient.
Academic freedom, freedom of speech, and creating safe learning spaces
Lieutenant-Duval’s use of the racial slur was met with divided opinions from the U of O community. When students were asked to debate the use of the ‘N-word’ in the professor’s class, many of them opined that it was unacceptable. Later, the University of Ottawa Student’s Union stated, “incidents like these make racialized students feel unwelcome and question their belonging to the uOttawa community.”
A group of 34 U of O professors then signed a letter in support of Lieutenant-Duval, arguing that the backlash was a threat to academic freedom.
The arbitration committee’s decision could potentially reignite conversations about academic freedom and creating safe and inclusive spaces for Black students.
Dr. Lieutenant-Duval was scheduled to testify in front of the arbitration committee on Aug. 31. The next hearing is scheduled for Dec. 1. The Fulcrum will continue to provide updates as the story develops.
Editor’s note: this article was edited for factual accuracy on Sept. 20, 2022. Questions regarding this edit can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.