Former Concordia professor David Ketterer claims university diverted his emails; denied him the distinguished professor emeritus title
On Nov. 27, 2017, former Concordia English department professor David Ketterer received a letter from the university’s senior legal counsel, Melodie Sullivan. “The university is in receipt of your [emails] sent to various members of the faculty and administration,” Sullivan wrote in the letter sent to Ketterer’s home in Liverpool, England. “As I have indicated to you on numerous occasions, no reply will be provided to your communications unless, in our opinion, a reply is required.”
Sullivan’s warning came six years after a cease and desist letter she sent to Ketterer, and multiple emails—some of which seen by The Concordian—were sent to Concordia administrators, including provost Graham Carr, by Ketterer.
“First, you have been informed that, other than communication required in the context of the legal actions you have taken against Concordia, the university does not intend to reply to your emails,” Sullivan had told Ketterer on June 13, 2011.
The legal actions Sullivan referred to were three claims Ketterer made on three separate occasions in Quebec’s small claims court. In September 2009, Ketterer, now an honorary research fellow at the University of Liverpool, was the plaintiff in a case against Martin Singer—the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science at the time—Barbara Harris, Singer’s executive assistant, and three other Concordia administrators.
Ketterer requested $7,000 from the five individuals, and blamed their behaviour for why he didn’t obtain the distinguished professor emeritus (DPE) title from the university. The former professor said he has been nominated by English department chairs twice for the title “on the basis of [his] research and publications.”
In a recent email to The Concordian, Ketterer wrote that he wanted the DPE title because he was entitled to it.
Ketterer’s accusations against the five individuals, according to court records, were based on a May 2003 email written by Harris, which explained that the professor hadn’t been recommended by the Faculty of Arts and Science committee responsible for the DPE because “he had no department or university service here, nor had he ever supervised a single graduate student.”
Harris, who was the only defendant present at the September 2009 hearing, said the letter’s claim that Ketterer had no department or university service at Concordia was incorrect, and that there were other reasons Ketterer wasn’t recommended. According to Concordia senate guidelines, one of the three eligibility requirements for the DPE title is that the candidate “will have retired or will have chosen to retire from full-time service to the university.”
Instead, the decision not to give Ketterer the title was based on a decision made by the committee in 2008, according to court documents. The committee wrote that it had considered Ketterer’s dossier and, “in light of the criteria established by the senate,” did not forward it.
Judge Jacques Paquet, who presided over the hearing, sided with the defendants, writing that Harris’s mistake “had nothing to do with the committee’s decision.” A year later, in 2010, Ketterer was back in court, this time suing Concordia for an amount of $999.80, again referring to the Faculty of Arts and Science’s 2008 decision, contending that an award he received in 1996, “fulfilled the criteria of a ‘demonstrably outstanding contribution” to either teaching or research, one of the characteristics needed to obtain the DPE.
In her decision, judge Eliana Marengo wrote that the matter would not go to adjudication because that would require reviewing the committee’s work, which the court did not have the authority to do.
Ketterer’s Sept. 12, 2011 court appearance was his last. That day, judge David L. Cameron dismissed the proceedings, citing, among other reasons, Ketterer’s “series of small-claim cases.” Cameron condemned Ketterer to pay the university’s judicial costs— $194 for the 2011 case—but more importantly, prohibited him “from bringing proceedings in the Court of Quebec except with the authorization and subject to the conditions determined by the Chief Justice of the Court of Quebec.”
In a series of emails to The Concordian, Ketterer defended his actions, claiming the university diverted his letters to administrators and violated two academic rules in 2008.
In her Nov. 27, 2017 letter, Sullivan wrote: “Note that all communications received from you, such as letters and/or phone calls, are forwarded directly to me.” Less than three weeks earlier, on Nov. 8, Ketterer described the diversion of letters to Sullivan “as a human rights violation” in an email to Carr.
In an email sent to Sullivan on Dec. 17—in which Carr and Concordia ombudsperson Amy Fish were Cc’d—Ketterer claimed the “deliberate diversion” of his letters was illegal according to British law. “It is not just a matter of censorship; it is a violation of my human rights,” he wrote again.
In an email dated June 10, 2011—three days before the cease and desist letter was sent—Ketterer made a reference to the university’s Code of Rights and Responsibilities formal complaints system, and the reason why the system was created: the 1992 Concordia shooting. “The functionality of this recourse is particularly important because is [sic] a result of the Valery Fabrikant incident,” Ketterer wrote.
In response, Sullivan wrote in the cease and desist letter that, “the reference made in your email to the Fabrikant affair and the murders of four Concordia faculty members may reasonably be considered to be an implicit threat made against Vice President [Bram] Freedman and his colleagues. … Such threats will not be tolerated.”
“She simply invents the notion that I am making a threat,” Ketterer told The Concordian in an email. Ketterer argued he didn’t do more than “relate the Code of Ethics Formal Complaint procedure to the Valery Fabrikant incident.”
According to Ketterer, the motivation for “a couple of Concordia’s senior administrators” to create the DPE title “seems to have been some kind of public relations angle. [The title] is just a synonym for retired (and thus a title to be applied to all retired Concordia faculty unless he or she was a Fabrikant, etc.),” he wrote.
The Concordian contacted Concordia University, but did not get a comment by press time.
Photo by Takayuki Tatsumi