By Renata D’Aliesio
A Ryerson photography professor has decided to go on sick leave after 10 years of complaints from students.
The decision was made three weeks ago after administration received visits from students unhappy with professor Don Dickinson’s performance.
“We didn’t hear any complaints this year until the dam bursts a couple of weeks ago,” said Hugh Innis, associate chair of film and photography.
According to Innis, Ryerson received sporadic complaints against Dickinson for 10 years. But students’ tolerance for the professor broke this semester.
A petition was launched by some third-year students in his class and a meeting was held with Brian Damude, the department chair.
“We received complaints that classes were being missed, that work was not being marked, they they were being flogged off with every inadequate comment on their work, alcohol on the breath, anything and everything,” said Innis.
Damude, who has been chair for a year and a half, said he discussed the complaints with Dickinson immediately. The professor chose to go on sick leave, citing family stress as the reason behind his decision.
“He agreed to go on sick leave because he was under normal stress from a family situation,” said Damude. “We, in order to help him, allowed him to go on sick leave.”
If he hadn’t chosen to take the time off, Dickinson would have been suspended if complaints continued, Damude said.
Dickinson has taught at Ryerson for about 30 years. He is liked and respected by many students, he added.
“He has been an excellent teacher in the past. There were students who came to us who were completely stunned that he was gone,” said Innis, who has been at Ryerson throughout Dickinson’s tenure.
It took four days to find a replacement for Dickinson and Damude hopes students are happy with the resolution. But many in the photography school are unwilling to comment on the situation because they fear hurting their reputation with other professors.
Innis gives many reasons as to why administration did not take greater action against the professor earlier. He cites Dickinson’s tenure contract and a hope his condition would improve as the two main obstacles.
“Inertia is the greatest force at Ryerson,” said Innis. “I think if this happened at a plant or office much the same thing would go on,” he added.
Innis believes the Ryerson Faculty Association contract forced administration to wait until the complaints reached a crisis point.
“I can’t see how anything else could have happened with my knowledge of the RFA contract and the kind of evidence that has to be put forward to actually penalize an instructor,” said Innis.
“The thing you have to watch for again is tenure which I am frankly very much against. I don’t think tenure makes any sense in the modern world because it makes instructors really untouchable,” Innis said.
Approximately 480 professors are part of the Ryerson Faculty Association and nearly 85 per cent are under tenure contracts, said Dr. Michael Dewson, VP of faculty and staff affairs.
Dewson believes tenure faculty members have better job protection than other employees, but it should not mean they are free from reprimand or suspension.
“There are ways to deal with complaints that are in place but they are probably not used as often or as well as they should be and that is true of most organizations,” said Dewson.
Innis and Damude hope Dickinson can return to teaching in September but that will not happen until his problems are rectified,
The professor is in Bermuda this week conducting a series of lectures and could not be reached for comment.