Faculty emotions high over Natalie Knight dismissal

Instructors voice concern over free speech, political motivations

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By JAMIE MAH and EMILY BEST

Langara faculty are divided in the wake of the firing of instructor Natalie Knight, who was suspended following controversial comments at a public rally last fall, reinstated and subsequently sacked.

Her firing on Jan. 25 has raised issues of academic freedom, speech, and how best to have civil debates on heated and often deeply personal political issues. It has also raised questions on how post-secondary institutions like Langara should handle employee rights, responsibilities and highly charged workplace disputes.

Knight, an English instructor and Indigenous curriculum consultant, was placed on paid leave for making pro-Hamas statements at a pro-Palestinian rally downtown in October. With the college remaining tight-lipped about her status, Knight announced that she had been reinstated by the college and declared her return a “victory” at another pro-Palestine rally held at the Langara-49 Station and Langara campus last week. Two days later she was terminated. The college said that while an investigation found her comments in October were within the bounds of protected expression, Knight failed to meet the conditions of her reinstatement. The Langara Faculty Association, however, said there were no conditions attached to her return to work.

Instructors disappointed

Erfan Rezaie, a Langara physics instructor, said he was “pretty upset” at Knight’s termination. He said while there was an investigation into her comments at the downtown rally, there was no subsequent investigation into the alleged breach of the conditions of her reinstatement.

“Within a matter of maybe a few hours or something like that, she was dismissed,” Rezaie said. “So, no investigation was done. And I don’t think that seems right. It seems like the college’s giving in to outside pressure and that’s very disappointing.”

Rezaie and fellow physics instructor Bradley Hughes were gathering signatures for a Palestine solidarity petition in the lobby of the A Building on Monday.

Hughes said the college fired Knight to “dampen opposition to genocide in Palestine.”

“They don’t want support for Palestine on campus,” Hughes said.

Hughes said he was also worried about academic freedom, and said he was concerned about what he considered a warning shot from the college last fall.

“They sent out this email saying if you say things that don’t represent the views of the college, whatever those are, you face discipline,” Hughes said. “Well, what are the views of the college? And I couldn’t get an answer from anybody.”

Hughes was referring to a statement the college sent to the Langara community Oct. 31, the day Knight was suspended.

“We are aware that a Langara employee shared their personal views during a public event in Vancouver, which has been shared on social media and addressed through news reports,” the statement read. “These views do not represent those of the college and while the matter is under investigation, the employee is currently on leave.”

Hughes said people should be able to protest wherever they wish.

“We have freedom of assembly, freedom of conscience, freedom of speech,” he said. “People want to assemble to express a common view, they should be allowed to do that.”

Knight’s roles at the college

Knight’s employment status has caused fractures among Langara faculty since she called the Hamas attack on Israeli civilians “amazing” and “brilliant” at a protest in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery on Oct. 28.

“I mean, we have a pretty strong collective agreement and pretty strong union,” said Bryan Breguet, chair of Langara’s economics department. “So, it was pretty impossible for them to fire her for just what she said initially.”

Breguet’s said he understands the college’s reasons for initially reinstating her as an English instructor, but not for her work on curriculum Indigenisation.

“There was a much stronger case to be made that she should not be allowed to stay in this position,” Breguet said. “It’s a little bit absurd if departments like me have to work with consultants, and the consultant is the person who is known for having said that it was beautiful to have 1,000 Jews killed. It’s affecting her credibility in this role.”

The Voice reached out to the college for comment but it would not speak further on Knight’s dismissal. The Voice has also reached out to Knight for comment throughout the week but has not received a response.

Many instructors have been reluctant to participate in the debate over Knight’s dismissal.

“My only thoughts are Langara tried to be fair to her and they just had to make a decision about what happened afterward,” said Deland Jessop, an instructor from Langara’s school of management.

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