MRU lets go of politically divisive professor
By Keoputhy Bunny, News Editor
Frances Widdowson has been let go from her tenured position as an associate professor at Mount Royal University (MRU). Widdowson made waves in 2020 by criticizing the growing Black Lives Matter movement as well as asserting that there were also educational benefits to residential schools.
MRU has yet to issue a statement to the public about firing Widdowson but according to a tweet from Duane Bratt, a political science professor at MRU, an internal email was sent out to confirm Widdowson’s dismissal.
“There was an internal announcement from the Dean. There is lots that I can say, but I will leave that to MRU,” Bratt said on Twitter.
A statement from MRU confirms that she is no longer part of the faculty. The statement stressed that while the university supports academic debate and is committed to fostering expression and free speech, “academic freedom does not justify harassment or discrimination.”
Widdowson has been a professor at MRU since 2008. Before being fired, she was tenured. Tenure usually guarantees a professor’s job at an institution except for extraordinary circumstances.
Widdowson told the Calgary Herald that her case would be going into arbitration. Going to arbitration means handling a dispute privately instead of in a courtroom. The entire process may take up to a year, she added.
In 2019, she wrote a response to MRU’s agenda of academic Indigenization, questioning the logic as to why the process was implemented.
“These reasons are political in nature, and are a distraction from examining the academic implications of the initiative,” Widdowson wrote in her response.
The response cited three reasons as to why the Indigenization process would have negative consequences. Problems for academic standards, open inquiry and academic freedom.
The policy studies professor’s perspectives divided the views of some. On one side, she had some faculty and the student body outraged. On the other, she was being hailed as a free speech advocate.
She was the subject of a lot of controversy, being called out in interviews by several members of the MRU teaching community.
There was also a petition started by students back in 2020 to get her fired from her position. Kenna Fraser, who started the petition, also called out President and Vice-chancellor Tim Rahilly in one of her petition updates, saying, “President Rahilly, if you truly believe in an inclusive and safe institution then we are excited to hear what you have planned in order to create change at Mount Royal University.”
She also encouraged Rahilly to look at the comments under the petition to understand the full scope of Widdowson’s effects on students.
One of the comments stated: “I feel disgusted to say I’m an MRU student. [Widdowson] is not promoting her freedom of speech, she is promoting hate speech.”
Widdowson has implied that she worries that ‘woke culture’ will stifle independent academic inquiry, homogenizing the way the university thinks. She believes that educational institutions like MRU should have the academic freedom to challenge different ways of thinking, she told the C2C Journal.
She also added that MRU and the academic world has changed dramatically since the start of her career. She started teaching at MRU in 2008.
“After I returned to campus following a sabbatical in 2014, I noticed the institution just wasn’t the same.”
After 2019, she said it was no longer possible for her to sit down and have a constructive conversation about sensitive topics.
“I don’t even recognize the campus anymore. It’s been taken over by wokeism,” she said in the same interview.
She explains wokeism as “an irrational, anti-science philosophy obsessed with what it believes to be social justice.”
So far, the university and Widdowson have been keeping quiet about the specific details of her being fired because of the arbitration process but details are expected to drop sooner or later.