Morris Wolfe - Essays, New & Selected

DR. FABRIKANT'S SOLUTION (continued)

atrick Kenniff told the media there was nothing the university could have done to prevent what happened. Seventeen days after the shootings, he fired Fabrikant: “Events before, on, and subsequent to August 24,1992,” he wrote, “demonstrate clearly that you constitute an immediate and continuing threat to this university, its faculty, staff and students ... . Furthermore,” Kenniff added sensibly, if unhelpfully, “you are no longer accomplishing your duties as a faculty member.”

The Link , a student paper, didn’t buy the university’s — and the media’s — portrayal of Fabrikant “as yet another isolated case of a madman on a murderous rampage.” “The perpetrator of the August 24 killings,” wrote Heidi Modro, “didn’t live in a social vacuum. Many people saw what was happening and didn’t react, hoping that the problem would simply go away. But it didn’t ... . What we need right now is not a bunch of Health Service employees roving the hallways asking us how we ‘feel.’ We need answers.”

There were attempts in several quarters to supply them. A team from the Montreal Gazette burrowed into Fabrikant’s background in the Soviet Union. They found — as Tom Sankar or Sam Osman would have if they’d gone looking — that Fabrikant’s academic credentials were substantially as he’d stated them. The arresting discovery was that he’d emigrated not as a political dissident but because he’d been fired from a succession of posts for his threatening and disruptive behaviour.

Then, searching out contrary angles for a special issue on Canadian universities, Maclean’s magazine investigated Fabrikant’s charges that Tom Sankar and Srikanta Swamy had made no contribution to numerous papers on which they were listed as co-authors. The magazine interviewed deans of engineering at other universities about the productivity of professors of engineering who become administrators. It declined sharply, they all reported. McGill’s dean told Maclean’s he now produced one or two new papers a year. The same was true of Harvard’s dean. By contrast, Swamy’s production had doubled from seven papers a year to fourteen or fifteen when he became dean. He’d produced twenty-six papers in 1982 alone.

Carl Goldman, a civil engineering professor at Concordia, was also quoted in Maclean’s and was outspoken in his criticism of his faculty colleagues. “Professors have become entrepreneurs of a sort,” he said. “They go to the government to get money for research, hire juniors to do the work and then put their names down on the papers. It is a practice that has corrupted the entire educational system across Canada, but Concordia engineering is probably the worst example you can find.”

Meanwhile, Concordia’s Board of Governors had initiated two independent inquiries: one under John Cowan, former vice-rector of the University of Ottawa, into the employment history of Valery Fabrikant; the other, under Harry Arthurs, former president of York University, into academic and scientific integrity at Concordia. The board seemed determined to make changes. In the spring of 1994, following a lengthy and contentious review of her appointment, the board voted not to reappoint Sheinin to a second term as vice-rector academic. Though she brought a fierce commitment to academic excellence and integrity to Concordia, there’s no doubt that she made serious mistakes, the board concluded. Soon after, the board removed Patrick Kenniff as rector, saying they’d lost confidence in his ability to lead. (He was given a lump-sum severance payment of $400,000 and a year’s salary — $180,000.) Not long before Kenniff’s removal, I’d seen him on the Canada AM television programme, promoting gun control. If Canada had had better gun control laws, he implied, the events of August 24, 1992, would never have happened. (Appropriately, Concordia’s new rector, Frederick Lowy, is a psychiatrist.)

It’s possible, as Kenniff and others at Concordia like to suggest, that Fabrikant’s murder spree was inevitable, and that had the university attempted to deal with him sooner, he would simply have pulled the trigger sooner. But, as the two independent inquiry reports make clear, there’s more than enough blame to go around. The Cowan Report describes a senior administration riddled with dissension and confusion. A cartoon published at the time the report came out refers to the university as Discordia U.

Dr. Fabrikant's Solution, continued > 


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