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Former Acadia dean sues over dismissal

Claims university acted in bad faith


 

A former acting dean at Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S., who was fired two weeks after being cleared in a sexual assault investigation, is suing the university for unjust dismissal. Colin Wightman was hired away from Minnesota State University to be the director of Acadia’s school of computer science, starting work in July 2006.

In a statement of claim filed Monday in Nova Scotia Supreme Court, Wightman said the job also involved a tenured position as a full professor, and that he was appointed acting dean of science in May 2007.

The documents say that in April 2007, he engaged in a “consensual one-time fantasy sex encounter” with a young woman, and that the encounter “involved some elements of bondage.”

Wightman said in the documents that there was no connection between the woman and Acadia University.

RCMP contacted him on June 19 to say that he was the subject of a criminal investigation of sexual assault, but no charges were laid and he was advised of that in writing from the force two months later, he said.

The day after the RCMP contacted him at the start of the investigation, Wightman continued, he apprised the university administration of the situation and suggested he be placed on leave, which the university did. He also started mental health counselling.

Wightman said he gave the university a copy of the letter from RCMP stating that no charges would be laid, but in early September the university fired him.

He claims in the documents that Acadia incorrectly took the position that he was not protected under the collective agreement as a tenured professor.

Wightman also alleges that the university acted in bad faith in the manner of dismissal by alleging that he had used his university computer during working hours to engage in sexual conversations in chat rooms, without providing details of the alleged use so that he could respond.

He claims that the university labelled his sexual activity as “aberrant behaviour” and took the position that the conduct that led to the police investigation was “incompatible with the purpose, principles and operative imperatives” of Acadia.

But he said his actions were of a private and personal nature, and there was no public disclosure of the police investigation or the allegation.

RCMP say the complaint they received came from a third party, but wouldn’t specify further details.

Acadia spokesman Scott Roberts wouldn’t comment on whether the university had contacted police.

He said the university knew about the court action.

“We’re aware of it and obviously we will respond in court, but we feel we acted appropriately and responsibly in this case,” Roberts said.

Wightman is seeking general, aggravated, special and punitive damages.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

The Canadian Press


 
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Former Acadia dean sues over dismissal

  1. Elhadi Shakshuki, I agree so strongly with you, would I able able to contact you further to ask your opinion a little more? Do you have an email?

  2. First of all, Elhadi, being a current professor at Acadia yourself I would have expected you to carry yourself through your comments with a little more tact and professionalism. As a current Acadia student I am highly disappointed.
    Furthermore I think the key areas in which the university needs to primarily focus on are
    1) The acts in questions were consensual
    2) No charges were actually laid
    I think it is unfortunately that Dr. Wightmen is/has been reprimanded for his actions in this manner. From what I hear he was an asset to the university and is greatly missed by the students. Good luck Dr. Wightmen, I hope you are compensated and best of luck in your future endeavours.

  3. After reading this article and the comments I’ve come to the conclusion that faith our criminal justice system is seriously impaired. Is our faith in this system so tenuous that if an allegation were made as shown in this article that we immediately pronounce guilt even in the absence of hard evidence? The article clearly states that Dr. Wightman was found NOT GUILTY on any of these accounts yet there are praises that the “the bastard” was punished.

    According to this story the events that took place were consensual and private. There was nothing at all tying Dr. Wightman and the party with whom these events took place to the university. Yet the university has taken it upon itself to dictate that this behavior is aberrant and despite Dr. Wightman’s openness to the university in regards to the investigation they punished him. Whether or not we agree that domination is right or wrong so long as it takes place between two consensual adults what right does anyone else have to condemn their actions?

    In regards to the alleged use of his computer to (sexually) chat with the other party, there again is no clear evidence (presented in this article) that this took place. However, if it were proven that it did take place then fine, reprimand him. But that would be his crime, not being sexually aberrant!

    In closing I’ll just remind everyone that we have the justice system in place for a reason; to not only punish the guilty but protect the innocent. The system WE support whether directly or indirectly. I realize it isn’t perfect but the general public is not privy to the same wealth of facts the legal professionals are. Therefore, how can we come to an informed decision solely based on a MacLeans (or insert your favorite news media) article? If the man is truly guilty then let the law show his guilt, not the uninformed masses.

  4. It’s a sad news about Dr Wightman but imho Acadia did the right thing. While I totally agree that it was an unfortunate incident, the acts were consensual and no charges were laid, there is no way Acadia should keep him.

    I can’t imagine how students can listen to his lectures while thinking of Dr Wightman doing bondage actions in their heads. It’s just like whenever a politician is involved in some sexual scandal, his career is screwed up big time. I dont understand why people defend him. Ask yourself, if you have a daughter, would you want her to take classes with a professor who has a bondage fantasy? I wouldn’t, and even I will try to stay away from him as much as possible. His fantasy is personal but keep it to himself please. If he cant keep his abnormal behavior private, he is done for good.

    p/s: Dr Shakshuki is very right although he sounded a bit harsh.

  5. This is an interesting debate because now we’ve left the realm of fact (law) and entered the realm of subjection (philosophy). I think we can all agree that the law officially cleared his name but the interpretation of his ability to remain a professor is in question. As such, consider some statements in this article.

    First of all, the complaint came from a third party. There is no clear evidence presented here that the woman Dr. Wightman was involved with complained in any way thus leading me to believe that the complaint came from someone outside the actual incident.

    Second of all, “involved some elements of bondage” could mean many things, therefore I don’t think it’s fair to vilify Dr. Wightman for incorporating these “elements” especially since there is no clear description of what they were.

    Thirdly, since there were no official charges laid and the term “young woman” was used I think it’s safe to say she was not a minor. Therefore we can’t vilify him based on the assumption that he took advantage of a youth and that the person he was involved with did so with a clear intent to partake in the act.

    I personally don’t think that the suggestion that if I had a daughter I’d second guess sending her to his class. He hasn’t done anything illegal, he didn’t force himself on her, we all agree it was consensual therefore why would I believe he would force my daughter into such acts or that she was in danger? And I think the comment that students will sit there and envision their prof engaged in some bondage escapade is a rather self-satisfying argument. Students attend class not to imagine their prof as some raging sexaholic but to learn the material.

    Consider this, Acadia has at least one prof who is a homosexual. Not too long ago this was taboo and would meet roughly the same adversity as Dr. Wightman is facing now. Isn’t it time for everyone to grow up and realize that nothing wrong was done here and that the purpose Dr. Wightman serves for students is to impart his knowledge of computer science to them?

    The university should stay out of the private lives of others (assuming no illegalities are committed). Sad to say that this “third party” cannot follow the same lead.

  6. Dear Acadia Alumni,
    While I understand your personal stance, I have to disagree. Dr. Wightman did try to keep his sexual life personal. It was a third party individual who lodged the complaint to the police. I believe someone in his profession needs be very careful as to how they conduct themselves in their private life as it can have extremely devastating effect on ones career (as we have seen). However, Dr. Wightman was dismissed for something that wasn’t even illegal. Bondage is not against the law, if it were, he would have been charged. And really, we do not know what acts even took place or to what extreme. Acts of bondage can be as simple as mild spanking or tying someone up during intercourse. I’m sure if you knew half of the stuff ‘professionals’ did in the bedroom you wouldn’t let your daughter out of the house. I think the students are a little more open minded than you give them credit for. Bondage is a more prevalent/acceptable practice than most people like to admit. They only thing Dr. Wightman is guilty of in my opinion is sexual exploration, which I think is greatly under appreciated. Too many people think unconventional sexual acts are dirt and are to be shunned, which they are not. To each their own, as long as they are not breaking the law (which again I point out, he was not guilty of). I think he was being discriminated against.
    Why would you try to stay away from him as much as possible? It’s not like he’s going to paddle you in pubic or his bondage fantasy will wear off on you. His behaviour is only considered to be abnormal because society deems it to be. The same was said about being homosexual, but its mainstream now. Why? Because people were brave enough to speak out and stand up against social closed-mindedness.
    Honestly, I would send my daughter OR son to an institution that employs someone who takes part in bondage. The fact that he may have a bondage fantasy or fetish doesn’t mean he’s going to act inappropriately while he’s working. I don’t let personal preference cloud my judgement on what someone can offer professionally. His sexual practices do not degrade his teaching abilities or his credibility. As for why you don’t understand why I defend him? It is simple; I don’t think his bedroom activities are mine or anyone else’s business. I would also like to point out that the article stated it was a ‘one-time’ act. Maybe he didn’t like it. Maybe he will never do it again. But so what if it does. He is human, is not infallible, and everyone makes choices they may regret. Can you honestly say you’ve never done something that you regret or were curious about but decided it wasn’t for you? Politicians are no exception. And I also think it’s wrong that we judge them so harshly in this context as well. So Bill Clinton had an affair with his secretary, so what? It doesn’t diminish from the fact that he did do good things while he was in office. I know people argue that when this sort of thing happens they are being poor role models, BUT, it is their mistake to make. We are individuals who have the ability to govern our lives as we see fit. We possess the ability to make a moral stance with our own lives and learn from the mistakes of others. People aren’t perfect and I don’t understand why the world expects them to be. Ask yourself this, in the grand scheme of things, how does what someone does in the privacy of their own bedroom affect you? Is it causing your physical harm? Has it emotionally distressed you in some great way which you cannot recover? Honestly? You may be morally opposed to it, however, it’s not your choice to make, it’s not your life, and he is not imposing his beliefs/preferences on you.
    All of that being said, you are entitled to your opinion as much I am to mine. Dr. Shakshuki is entitled to his opinion too…. BUT he is a representative of the university and needs to be professional. Wait, isn’t this what this debate was about? A professional supposedly not acting professional? Hmmmm, interesting…. Maybe we all need to learn to be less judgemental. Maybe I shouldn’t have ‘flamed’ Dr. Shakshuki for his so called harsh comment. But I get a little hot under the collar when I see an innocent man being degraded by a colleague and one of my role models. Dr. Wightman was an asset to the Acadia. I haven’t talked to a single student yet who thinks any less of him for what he has done. In fact, the general consensus thus far has been one of disappointment as to how the university handled the situation. None of them really have cared that he took part in an act of bondage.

  7. We have two most important ‘facts’ that were given in different ‘online reports’ including the one provided by CAUT:

    – Dr Wightman is not guilty by law.
    – He did use Acadia-issued equipment to arrange date during the office hour, and then had some sexual acts involve with ‘elements of bondage’.

    I agree with what you said, Scott. Dr Wightman is absolutely innocent in the world of law but reality is different. We are not computers and dont see things strictly as black or white. There are a professionalism and a standard in what you do, which defines you. For example, a president is an image of a country, a police is an image of law and so on. What if the president is an acoholic and a weed smoker, what if a police break the law? If they were normal people, no one would take their actions seriously. However, since they have different images, they should be careful with what they do.

    I grew up in Asian culture and I was taught the value of a teacher/instructor/professor. Teaching is not seen as an ordianry job, it is much more noble than others and students have a great respect for the teachers. (You probably dont agree because I know that in western culture, teaching is just a job, you pay the tuition and you go to the class. Outside the class, students and teachers almost dont have any relationship). Because of that, if the teacher does something that makes him/her lose the respect from the students, he/she can’t stand in the class teaching anymore. That’s my whole point of view about the image of teacher, it might sound ignorant to white people but it’s the way Asian people (well, most of) think :)

    I didnt imply that sending a daughter to his class would put her in danger with his fantasy. I meant I don’t believe that Dr Wightman can teach her anything if she knew what he had done. Just like when I lose all the respect for some teacher, there is no way I want to learn anything from him. It is true that in the univ level, you’re mature enough and do not really learn how to behave, how to grow up (like in kindergarten or primary school) but you learn other stuffs. However, again it is the image of the teachner is damaged and he is not suitable for the job.

    You said my comment about students’ envision about Dr Wightman’s bondage action in their heads is a self-satisfying argument. Well, maybe I exagratted a bit but I meant students lose their respects and they wont care about what Dr Wightman is saying in class.

    While freedom and private lives of others should be protected, keep it to self please. If one cant do it and once it’s out to the public, it’s surely not private anymore. Dr Wightman should blame himself for putting him in this position. He was the one who started the lawsuit, which makes this whole issue public. Otherwise it would still remain secret between the police, some high level university staffs and Dr Wightman. I doubt that he could win the lawsuit against Acadia, furthermore, this incident is widely known and will affect his career more in the bad way. You can’t blame that the media is harsh, it’s always like that and it’s his responsibility to deal with this the moment he decided to sue Acadia.

  8. When I was wrting the above comment, I didnt see Nicole’s latest response. You said the third party that reported the incident to the police was responsible for not keeping others personal lives private. It’s true but Acadia hasnt done anything wrong once they knew about this incident.

    I’d say it’s Dr Wightman’s fault in the first place for using Acadia-issued equipment to arrange date during office hour. Then it’s the third party who filed the complaint. Finally, it was a very bad move by Dr Wightman to put the whole thing in the public.

  9. Acadia Alumni,

    I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree on moral side of this debate. I respect your opinions and realize there is cultural clash going on here. I just want to say that as a North American, I do not think that the Asian viewpoint on the image of a teacher is ignorant at all . I do not want you to think I am passing judgement on your culture. We are all entitled to our own beliefs. I have a lot of respect for people in the teaching profession and it is definitely not something I personally could do. However, while I may have a great respect for the profession and the people in it, I do not look upon them negatively for having flaws or engaging in personal exploration. As I said, no one is perfect. You make the argument about image of the teacher being damaged means the students will not learn. While I do not want to offend you, I want to bring up that this is not an Asian university with a predominantly Asian population. I do not think the majority of the student body will have issues learning from him based on this incident.

    I would like to expand on your comment:

    “He did use Acadia-issued equipment to arrange date during the office hour, and then had some sexual acts involve with ‘elements of bondage”

    To my knowledge the elements of bondage that Dr. Wightman was accused of took place prior to his employment with Acadia. They had nothing to do with the university itself. Technically, since the incident in question had nothing to do with Acadia, Dr. Wightman was not obligated to disclose the investigation to the university. He went above and beyond what he was required to do, he even asked to be placed on leave until the investigation was over and his name cleared. Furthermore, I would like to take a quote from the Teachers Association who did a report on the incident which states:

    “The termination of any employee who is innocent of criminal behaviour, but of whose personal beliefs and behaviours the administration might disapprove, is an extraordinary breach of employer-employee relations,” …. the report also stated that Dr. Wightman “was fired without cause and recommended he be restored to his position and compensated for his financial losses”.

    The above quotes were taken from

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20080720.wlpersonal21/BNStory/lifeMain

    The university did not follow protocols and procedures. For this they are being held accountable. I also think the third party is in the wrong. That being said, I respect that they were looking out for the best interested of the young woman, but they should have gotten their facts straight before contacting police. Sexual assault is a grave accusation and should not be made to taken lightly. Yes, it was in bad judgement that he used his computer supposedly during office hours for the personal reasons in question. But do you really think arranging a date is grounds for dismissal? I certainly don’t. Bad taste yes, detrimental to his career? No.

    I also am going to disagree with your comment that:

    “It was a very bad move by Dr Wightman to put the whole thing in the public”.

    Here is why. When you get down to things, Dr. Wightman was dismissed because an institution took it upon themselves pass judgement and terminate an employee based on their private/sexual life, which is wrong. This is illegal, and as I said before is discrimination. They used the supposed act of using his computer for personal reasons as an excuse to terminate him. As I have also said, acts of bondage are considered to be ‘dirty’ and wrong by much of society. I think by going public with this, Dr. Wightman can potentially empower other individuals who have also been prosecuted as he has. Because he is making a stance, other people may as well. It is individuals like Dr. Wightman that by making a stance, make a difference and thus institute change. Social injustices are not fixed if people keep quiet and these kinds of matters private. If you still want to debate that the university is in the right because of the emails, please consider this; in the above link it is stated by Dr. Wightmans lawyer that “Employees must also be told they are doing something wrong and given an opportunity to correct their behaviour”. This was obviously not done, thus reinforcing my stance that Acadia acted hastily.

  10. Although I do not fully understand the situation that is occuring at Acadia University, I do realize that this is a very personal issue that is being raised. Whatever the outcome, I just hope that the University and the professors involved realize that the outcome of this trial will not only affect the working professors, but also more importantly, will affect the students of Acadia. Students and their futures are a huge reason why anyone would become a professor at Acadia, and as much as I am appalled at both scenarios of this situation, both parties must realize that the future of Acadia Graduates may have an enormous affect on the “censureship” that could potentially occur. Please, for the students’ sake, make wise decisions that could potentially not only affect one life, but affect the future of thousands!

    (But to be honest… I would think that the gossip and thoughts of students’ that may be in the classroom of Dr. Wightman would not be of his lecture, but be of his own personal behaviour, JUST BECAUSE this has become so public.) I know that if it were me, I would not want to face a classroom of students that didn’t know exactly what was going on, but just their own version of the scenario….which lets just face, is not the most forgiving nor the most understanding for 18-22 year olds.

    ps…why are the students just finding out now?

  11. I don’t know if anyone is still reading this, but just in case…

    Scott, you seem to be very confused about the nature of the legal system in this country. The article says the RCMP did not press charges. That does not mean the person (Wightman in this case) is “not guilty”. He might be, but it could also mean that the RCMP did not believe a conviction was likely. For example, if the complainant disappeared, they would have no case, and it would be pointless to go to court.

    Also, even if someone is tried in court, you will notice that one of the results is “not guilty”, not “innocent”. The test in Canadian courts is that the jury (for a jury trial) must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty before rendering a guilty verdict. If there is even a bit of doubt, our justice principles dictate that the defendent be found “not guilty”.

    I was a juror on a supreme court trial once, and it was not a trivial thing to render a verdict; the trial was not like one of those TV shows where one lawyer was able to provide incontrovertable evidence, or the defendent broke down and confessed on the stand. Rather, we had to weigh the possibility that the defendent was innocent even in light of considerable, but not completely convincing, evidence against him. It was something of an unsettling process, because I know that regardless of which way we went, there would be lingering doubts that we did the right thing.

    Finally, to those of you bleeding over Dr. Shakshuki because of the of the first article, how are you so sure it is actually him? I could easily have used the name “Myran Boloney” at the top of this. Or even the name of a former PM. Geez.

  12. I don’t know if the first poster was really Elhadi or not, but the way he acted is pretty much like the real one. Anyway, is there any update on this story? Did Dr Colin Wightman succeed in the lawsuit? I hope everything went well for him.

  13. Although the last post was over a year ago, the answer is, yes, Dr. Wightman was successful in his suit. And, he is in a new position, elsewhere, that he seems to enjoy quit a bit. Acadia’s loss, for acting in haste…

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