By arguing that publishing peer-viewed research conflicted with her role as an indigenous scholar, a former law professor has won her bid for a human rights tribunal hearing after losing her job at the University of British Columbia.
Lorna June McCue was denied tenure and ultimately dismissed after 11 years at the university in part because of her failure to submit a single piece of peer-reviewed research during that time.
McCue has alleged that peer-reviewed research is contrary to indigenous oral traditions and that UBC’s research standard effectively discriminated against her “race, colour, ancestry, place of origin … and sex.”
The university’s demand for her to publish in academic journals “would require her to be a round peg in a square hole,” she told a preliminary tribunal hearing whose decision was published this month.
A round peg in a square hole
Lawyers for UBC, meanwhile, have argued that there is “nothing about indigeneity that prevents an indigenous person from having the capability of meeting the university’s requirements.”
A hereditary chief with the Ned’u’ten people of B.C.’s Lake Babine First Nation, McCue was formerly the director of First Nations Legal Studies at UBC.
The root of the complaint is UBC’s informal requirement for professors to put their name to at least five academic papers before being considered for tenure.
“Although contributions to scholarship necessarily involve a combination of quality and quantity, generally we would expect to see five to six peer-reviewed, significant publications by the time you seek tenure,” read a note to McCue from the dean of the Faculty of Law early in her career.
As UBC lawyers told a tribunal hearing, McCue “had not even commenced to meet” the standard when the university chose not to renew her contract in 2012.
McCue’s position is that she adheres to an indigenous oral tradition that requires “significant compromise” for her to meet UBC’s tenure and promotion standards.
Instead, she said, UBC should change their standards to account for “non-traditional scholarship” such as conference appearances, submissions to UN bodies and chapters in non-peer-reviewed books.
“This is work that does not fit conveniently into an academic time-table, but it is vital,” she wrote in her CV.
They should value the teaching I am doing with my community
For instance, after a warning from administrators that she was not meeting her research quota she testified that she remembered thinking “I was doing teaching with my community – they should value the teaching I am doing with my community.”
Tenured professors at UBC’s school of journalism, she noted, have been promoted purely based on their professional achievements without publishing any peer-reviewed research.
McCue has been clear that there is no problem with systemic prejudice at UBC with regards to women or indigenous people. Rather, she has said the university is forcing Indigenous scholars to compromise their research by forcing it into non-oral forms.
“The essence of her position is that UBC’s stance forces her, as an indigenous scholar, to be someone she is not,” read a tribunal document.
Reckless with her career
Lawyers for UBC have countered that McCue was “reckless with her career” by repeatedly ignoring warnings to generate peer-reviewed research, a requirement that had been fulfilled by other indigenous scholars at the university.
In 2008, for instance, the university granted McCue eight months of teaching relief to focus solely on research. In that time, her only publication was an eight-page article included as a chapter in a non-peer-reviewed work.
UBC “does not and need not weigh unknown, unreported and unpublished work as heavily as peer-reviewed publication,” read tribunal documents.
McCue notes in her CV that as an academic she has been “successful in collaborating with legal professionals that work with indigenous peoples.” However, she does not appear to have been a particularly popular professor among UBC students.
Her page of anonymous ratings at RateMyProfessors.com notes that McCue is pleasant outside the classroom and well-versed in aboriginal law, but students of a property law course complained that she reads verbatim from the text, repeatedly mixed up statute names and refused to admit mistakes.
“I had McCue for property law. I am pretty sure her failure to secure tenure had nothing to do with discrimination,” wrote a post on a forum for Canadian law students discussing McCue’s human rights complaint.
This month’s decision by the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal saw the dismissal of a no-evidence motion by UBC. The matter will now proceed to a full hearing.