||The neutrality of this article is disputed. (August 2015)|
||This article may contain an excessive amount of intricate detail that may only interest a specific audience. (August 2015)|
Rancourt in his office at the University of Ottawa in 2004
March 23, 1957 |
North Bay, Ontario
|Education||Bachelor's Degree from University of Ottawa (1980), Master's Degree from University of Toronto (1981), Ph.D from University of Toronto (1984)|
Denis Rancourt is a former professor of physics at the University of Ottawa. Rancourt is a recognized scientist but is more widely known for his confrontations with his former employer, the University of Ottawa, over issues involving his dissidence and his approach to pedagogy. His conflicts with the university started in 2005 when, in what was termed "academic squatting," he changed a course to focus "not just [on] how science impacts everyday life, but how it relates to greater power structures". In June 2008 a labor law arbitrator sided with Rancourt and ruled that "teaching science through social activism is protected by academic freedom." Rancourt was removed from all teaching duties in the fall of 2008 because the dean of the faculty of science did not agree with his granting A+ grades to 23 students in one course of the winter 2008 semester. In December, the Allan Rock administration of the University of Ottawa began dismissal proceedings against him and he was banned from campus. This generated a province-wide (Ontario) and national (Canada) public debate on grading in university courses. The university's Executive Committee of the Board of Governors voted unanimously to fire Rancourt on March 31, 2009. Rancourt has expressed the opinion that the grading issue was a pretext for his dismissal. Canadian media reports have echoed that Rancourt's dismissal was political. Rancourt has grieved the dismissal and the Canadian Association of University Teachers is running an Independent Committee of Inquiry into the matter. The dismissal case went to binding arbitration where Rancourt's union took the position that the grading issue was a pretext to remove Rancourt and that the termination was done in bad faith. Arbitrator Claude Foisy ruled in a decision dated January 27, 2014, to uphold the university's dismissal of Rancourt. On March 10, 2014, Rancourt's union announced that it would appeal the Arbitrator's award.
- 1 Scientific research
- 2 Dissent – U of O Watch blog
- 3 Teaching conflict with University
- 4 Suspension, dismissal, and Foisy arbitration
- 5 Other campus activities
- 6 Climate change views
- 7 Book about racism
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Rancourt has published over 100 articles in peer reviewed scientific journals. As a professor of physics, he was a member of the Ottawa-Carleton Institute for Physics and member of the Ottawa-Carleton Geoscience Centre His most cited works are in the area of Mössbauer spectroscopy where he developed a spectral lineshape analysis algorithm. This formed a basis for a now commercial spectral analysis software developed in his laboratory.
His laboratory has worked on the iron oxide hematite and has been cited in recent works on the remote measurements of the soil mineralogy on Mars. He worked on the physics of Invar for twenty years and in his last papers on the subject he claims to have solved the 100-year-old Invar problem of identifying the mechanistic origin of the alloy’s thermal expansion anomaly.
Rancourt first described the phenomenon of polarized superparamagnetic fluctuations  which he named superferromagnetism. Scientific author Steen Morup introduced the same name for a similar phenomenon. His work on small magnetic particles was reviewed in the monograph series Reviews in Mineralogy
Starting in 2001, Rancourt led a research group in lake sediment early diagenesis and co-authored works in biogeochemistry about nutrient and metal cycling in aqueous environments. This allowed him to review cycling and recent historical changes in boreal forest lake sediments; which led him to write his essay about global warming and to post his views in public fora (see "Climate change essay" section).
In recent years, he has worked on reactive environmental Fe-oxyhydroxide nanoparticles and on iron cycling (see iron cycle) in soils. In 2008, his laboratory found evidence that the structure of ferrihydrite, which was first published in Science, is incorrect. In recent articles about soil formation, he helped explain how iron is fixed and mobilized.
Dissent – U of O Watch blog
Rancourt started an institutional watchdog blog entitled “U of O Watch” while he was a professor at the University of Ottawa and used this venue and other web sites to report various alleged malfeasance of administrators and of his colleagues. Many of the posts and web articles relate to incidents involving Rancourt that were reported in the media; such as a lawsuit in which students sued the University for not providing enough teacher assistants, a unilateral deregistration of two ten-year-old students (twins) from Rancourt’s SCI 1101 course that led to an Ontario Human Rights Tribunal lawsuit, a defamation lawsuit threat against Rancourt from Vice-President-Resources Victor Simon for posts on the U of O Watch blog, and an alleged University covert surveillance campaign (“UofOgate”) and cover up (see Covert surveillance section). The University used “copyright infringement” against the blog for using University web site images and disciplined Rancourt with a suspension that was grieved by Rancourt.
In June 2011 University of Ottawa law professor Joanne St. Lewis sued Rancourt for $1 million over two U of O Watch blog posts about her. There was a racism allegation in the statement of claim related to use of the term "House Negro", however racism was not an issue at trial (see paragraph 14 of ). The developments of the case were reported on the U of O Watch blog and in the media. The Law Times (Canada) did a feature about the case on August 29, 2011. In October 2011 the University disclosed that it was funding the St. Lewis litigation against Rancourt, to which St. Lewis' lawyer Richard G. Dearden responded to the media "it is a personal libel action and has nothing to do with it being a SLAPP suit at all". On entering mediation to settle the case Dearden further stated "It's one of the most egregious defamations of anybody that I've ever encountered in 32 years".
The action went to trial in May 2014, however Rancourt walked out of the trial in the first week citing "reasonable apprehension of bias" and a "kangaroo court", because the judge had struck out one of his defenses during his opening statement to the jury. After the walk-out, Cynthia McKinney petitioned the Canadian courts for a fair trial for Rancourt. In June 2014, the court found Rancourt had libeled St. Lewis, and awarded $350,000 in damages, plus court costs. The judge in the case also granted a permanent injunction against Rancourt, finding him "unapologetic" and stating that it was "more than probable that he will continue to publish further defamatory comments" against St. Lewis. Rancourt further faced charges of contempt of court for blogging about the trial during the trial. The judge later dropped the contempt changes finding "I am of the opinion upon further review of the law that a formal order prohibiting the defendant from publishing his comments during the course may be necessary for a finding of contempt. No formal prohibition order was sought by the plaintiff and none was made." (Paragraph 49 of ).
On June 26, 2015, Rancourt appealed the decision to the Court of Appeal for Ontario. On July 8, 2015, the Court of Appeal released its decision, dismissing Rancourt's appeal and ordering him to pay St. Lewis $30,000 in costs for the appeal.  The appellate court, in its ruling, did not reference Rancourt's Notice of Constitutional Question.
Teaching conflict with University
Academic squatting of PHY 1703
Rancourt describes his approach of "academic squatting" in which he took an existing course and changed the curriculum, using student input, without the approval of the university. In the fall of 2005 Rancourt squatted a first year course entitled Physics and Environment (PHY 1703). During the second class of PHY 1703, the Dean of Science, Christian Detellier, announced that it had been shut down. A single student had complained the course's content did not match the official description. Thirty students in the class who supported Rancourt's actions complained to the administration. The Dean backed down and allowed the course to continue for the rest of the semester. Rancourt subsequently filed a successful grievance against the university, although the university's actions were defended by members of the Faculty of Science.
Reprimand and Picher arbitration
At the end of the term, on 19 December 2005, the university inserted a letter of reprimand in Rancourt’s file for having published information pertaining to PHY 1703 on his personal website that they wrote contained inaccuracies about the course’s language, level, format and content. Rancourt responded by filing a grievance through his union, the Association of Professors of the University of Ottawa, and the matter went to arbitration in November 2007. On 25 June 2008, arbitrator Michel G. Picher released his ruling, upholding parts of the administration’s reprimand on the issues of language (agreeing that Rancourt should not have advertised the course as bilingual when it was only officially approved in French) and level (agreeing that Rancourt should not have characterized PHY 1703 as a graduate course), while directing parts to be removed. The university redrafted the letter of reprimand to reflect the arbitrator’s order removing all reference to course content, teaching method, and grading method. A published legal analysis of the ruling concluded that it protected teaching science through social activism under the purview of academic freedom.
The "Activism Course"
Following the conclusion of PHY 1703 at the end of 2005, Rancourt and student supporters campaigned to have the university approve a new Science faculty course that would be officially advertised as a pass/fail, student-directed course. The approval process – which spanned nine months and involved 16 committees - was significant both for its relative difficulty (i.e., length and number of committees involved) and the fact that it was heavily driven by undergraduate students. The course was officially approved in a special senate meeting in the summer of 2006 as SCI 1101, Science in Society. Although it would be offered by the Faculty of Science, courses with SCI prefixes do not count as science credits for students in that Faculty.
The first and only session of SCI 1101 was held during the fall term of 2006. The first three-hour-long class generated media coverage because of its controversial history and a guest lecture by Malalai Joya, an outspoken Afghan politician, then a member of her country’s Wolesi Jirga. In May 2007, Rancourt's course load for the fall of 2007 did not include SCI 1101. Rancourt responded on 18 May by filing a $10 million grievance against the university for not allowing him to teach the course, which he argued violated his academic freedom.
Two ten year old brothers were deregistered from SCI 1101 in January 2006. The University of Ottawa stated the students were deregistered because they did not meet the criteria for enrollment in the course, while the deregistered individuals' mother cited age discrimination. Rancourt publicly supported the mother's initiative to file a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, as minors must file a complaint to the tribunal through their parent or guardians.
On November 23, 2006, five students in SCI 1101 sued the University of Ottawa in small claims court, alleging that the workshop-based class needed more than the two teaching assistants (TAs) that had been assigned to the course. Rancourt publicly supported the lawsuit, saying a TA was needed for each workgroup, of which there were more than two.
Suspension, dismissal, and Foisy arbitration
On November 22, 2008, Rancourt was blocked from entering his physics laboratory in the MacDonald Hall building. In the student newspaper The Fulcrum, the University's Director of Communications, Andrée Dumulon, stated that “[a]ccess was prohibited because we found that there were some unauthorized individuals in the lab.” Rancourt complained that the administration did not justify or explain the action. Rancourt was then banned from accessing the laboratory.
On December 10, 2008, Rancourt was provided with two letters by administration officials. The first letter indicated that he was under administrative suspension and banned from campus, while the second indicated that the Dean of the Faculty of Science had recommended to the Board of Governors that Rancourt be fired. The stated reason for the University of Ottawa's actions was Rancourt's assigning of A+ grades to all students in his fourth-year physics courses in the Winter 2008 term. These courses include Quantum Mechanics (a required course) and Solid State Physics.
Rancourt states the administration's actions in general, and his dismissal in particular, are influenced in part by the Israel lobby and the military-industrial complex. He has stated that his dismissal may be related to his political views, specifically his position on the Israel-Palestine conflict, and wrote in his blog that university of Ottawa president (and former Minister of Justice) Allan Rock appears to be "a point-man of the Israel lobby at the University of Ottawa."
In June 2009 all charges against Rancourt in relation to his January 2009 campus arrest for trespassing were dropped. In July 2009 Rancourt received Employment Insurance (EI) payments after EI found that the university's position that he was dismissed with cause (thereby barring benefit payments) could not be upheld.
In December 2008, Rancourt's research associate of over 12 years Dr. Mei-Zhen Dang was locked out of the laboratory and fired without notice, explanation or compensation. In February 2009 she sued the university and in August 2009 she won a settlement. Two graduate students of Rancourt were also claimants on the lawsuit and alleged that they had been punished for being in Rancourt's research group. The graduate students stated they were intimidated with threats to their scholarships into dropping the lawsuit and their lawyer stated that a salient feature of the case is that "it has a very political nature."
In 2011, the dismissal case went to binding labor arbitration with Arbitrator Claude Foisy presiding. There were almost 30 days of hearings, with the last hearing day being June 26, 2013. The arbitration judgement is expected within a few months of the end of the hearings. During the hearings the University accused Rancourt of "inciting students to violence", and put a YouTube music video about anarchism into evidence. Following the conclusion of the arbitration hearings, The Chronicle of Higher Education characterized the case as "raising questions about academic freedom and its limits".
In January 2010 Rancourt released a public report about the University of Ottawa having practiced extensive covert surveillance of him and of several students in the period 2006-2008, based on information obtained via an access to information law appeal. The use of covert surveillance appears to be in contrast to the University position that "all procedures required by the collective agreement with the Association des Professeurs de l'Université d'Ottawa (APUO) in this matter had been properly followed." On February 4, 2010, student Wayne Sawtell openly called on President Allan Rock to intervene and suggested that the administration's silence amounted to a cover up. Following a February 27, 2010, investigative report by Canadians for Accountability, some further aspects of the covert surveillance campaign and its cover up were reported in the media on April 11, 2010, including the role of the student newspaper The Fulcrum. On January 27, 2010, the union representing student employees at the University of Ottawa, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE, Local 2626), filed a labour law grievance against the university for surveillance against several of its members. In October 2010 the union reported to its members that it had settled with the university. The settlement ensured that information gathered on students would not be allowed in the student employee files. At least one original student griever was displeased and went to the media.
In November 2008, the Canadian Association of University Teachers announced that it would establish an Independent Committee of Inquiry (ICOI) with terms of reference to: 1) “examine the series of ongoing disputes between Rancourt and the University of Ottawa”; 2) “to determine whether there were breaches or threats to academic freedom and other faculty rights”; and 3) “to make any appropriate recommendations.” The Committee consists of three professors from York University, Wilfrid Laurier University, and Rider University. The Committee does not have a fixed time line to work with, but previous ICOI's have generally taken two years to complete their investigation and publish a final report.
Access to Information
On September 29, 2010, the Information and Privacy Commissioner (Ontario) released ruling PO-2915 in an access to information (ATI) case involving Rancourt and the University of Ottawa. It was shown that a letter dated September 6, 2007, sent to Rancourt by Rancourt's dean questioning Rancourt's "physical and mental well-being" was based entirely on emails exchanged with university high officials and the university Legal Counsel; suggesting "a broad plan to fire" Rancourt, as widely reported in the media.
Other campus activities
Rancourt has pursued other activities on campus, including a film series and the Five O'Clock Train radio program on CHUO-FM. Rancourt was the videographer for ACTivist Magazine's No Code short film documenting the riotous opposition to the Code on campus.
Rancourt hosted a film series, Cinema Politica, since 2005 until the university stopped providing space for the event in 2008. In the previous year, a deaf student had filed a human rights complaint against the University of Ottawa for refusing to pay the cost of sign language interpretation during Cinema Politica events, although these events are not sponsored by the University or part of any curriculum. Rancourt has contested this position and appeared before the Ontario Human Rights Commission in September 2008 to make his case that Cinema Politica should be recognized as part of his official workload. Rancourt continues to host the Cinema Politica event, renamed Cinema Academica, with the aid of another professor who books the room for him. While holding this event on January 23, 2009, Rancourt was arrested and issued a trespassing ticket for being on school grounds.
Climate change views
In February, 2007, Rancourt published a controversial essay disputing prevailing theories of climate change on his blog. Alexander Cockburn writing in The Nation called it "one of the best essays on greenhouse myth-making from a left perspective". On 26 October 2007, American Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) referred to the blog by Rancourt during a floor speech aimed at disputing evidence advanced by climate scientists. He noted that "Rancourt – a committed left-wing activist and scientist – believes environmentalists have been duped into promoting global warming as a crisis," and quoted several points from the blog. In July 2010 the Spectator (UK) reported that the Climate Depot web site had released a video interview in which Rancourt stated that the "global warming movement is nothing more than a 'corrupt social phenomenon'". On November 2, 2012, Rancourt participated in a Russia Today TV debate on global warming.
Book about racism
Rancourt is the author of the book Hierarchy and Free Expression in the Fight Against Racism. In the book, Rancourt states that he grew up as a French Canadian, and attended Catholic French schools in North Bay, Ontario.
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- Rancourt D. G., and Ping, J. Y., "Voigt-based methods for arbitrary-shape static hyperfine parameter distributions in Mössbauer spectroscopy", Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research Section B, Volume 58, Issue 1, p. 85-97 
- Recoil software page
- Rancourt D. G. et al., "Interplay of surface conditions, particle size, stoichiometry, cell parameters, and magnetism in synthetic hematite-like materials", Hyperfine Interactions, Volume 117, Numbers 1-4, December 1998, p. 271–319 
- Klingelhöfer G. et al., "Jarosite and Hematite at Meridiani Planum from Opportunity's Mössbauer Spectrometer", Science, 3 December 2004, Volume 306, Number 5702, p. 1740 - 1745
- Rancourt D. G., "Invar Behavior in Fe-Ni Alloys is Predominantly a Local Moment Effect Arising from the Magnetic Exchange Interactions Between High Moments", Phase Transitions, Volume 75, Issue 1 & 2 2002 , pages 201–209 
- Rancourt D. G. et al., “The superparamagnetism of very small particles supported by zeolite-Y”, Hyperfine Interactions, Volume 16, Numbers 1-4 / December, 1983, 653–656 
- Rancourt D. G. and Daniels, J. M., “Influence of unequal magnetization direction probabilities on the Mössbauer spectra of superparamagnetic particles”, Physical Review Rev B, Vol. 29, Iss. 5 (1984), 2410–2414 
- Rancourt, D. G., “Magnetism of earth, planetary, and environmental nanomaterials”, Reviews in mineralogy and geochemistry, 2001, vol. 44, pp. 217–292 
- van der Zee, C., Roberts, D., Rancourt, D.G., Slomp, C.P. Nanogoethite is the dominant reactive oxyhydroxide phase in lake and marine sediments. Geology 2003, vol. 31, pp. 993-996.
- Katsev, S., Rancourt, D.G., L’Heureux, I. dSED: A database tool for modeling sediment early diagenesis. Computers & Geosciences 2004, vol. 30, pp. 959-967.
- Rancourt, D.G., Thibault, P.-J., Mavrocordatos, D., Lamarche, G. Hydrous ferric oxide precipitation in the presence of nonmetabolizing bacteria: Constraints on the mechanism of a biotic effect. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 2005, vol. 69, pp. 553-577.
- Thompson, A., Chadwick, O.A., Rancourt, D.G., Chorover, J. Iron-oxide crystallinity increases during soil redox oscillations. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 2006, vol.70, pp. 1710-1727.
- Katsev, S., Tsandev, I., L'Heureux, I., Rancourt, D.G. Factors controlling long term phosphorus efflux from lake sediments: Exploratory reactive-transport modeling. Chemical Geology 2006, vol.234, pp. 127-147.
- Génin, A., Grenèche, J.-M., Tournassat, C., Brendlé, J., Rancourt, D.G., Charlet, L. Reversible surface-sorption-induced electron-transfer oxidation of Fe(II) at reactive sites on a synthetic clay mineral. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 2007, vol. 71, pp. 863-876.
- Rancourt, D. G., and Meunier, J-F, “Constraints on structural models of ferrihydrite as a nanocrystalline material”, American Mineralogist, August 2008, v. 93, no. 8-9, p. 1412–1417 
- Thompson, A., Rancourt, D.G., Chadwick, O.A., Chorover, J. Iron solid-phase differentiation along a redox gradient in basaltic soils. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 2011, vol.75, pp. 119-133.
- U of O students sue for tuition refund - University failed to deliver teaching assistants, complainants argue, The Ottawa Citizen, November 27, 2006.
- Ten-year-olds claim age discrimination after university de-registers them - Twins Sebastian and Douglas Foster are taking their complaint to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, claiming the University of Ottawa violated their right to equal treatment, The Ottawa Citizen, January 29, 2007.
- Twins, 10, cry foul over U of O expulsion - Registration a mistake, university says, Ottawa Sun, January 30, 2007.
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- Jugé derrière des portes closes, La Rotonde, September 15, 2008.
- Endorsement - Whether the words complained of in exhibits 3 and 4 are reasonably capable of defamatory meaning, Joanne St. Lewis v. Denis Rancourt, 2014 ONSC 3209 (CanLII), May 27, 2014
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- Former colleague sues fired Ottawa professor for libel, Vancouver Sun, June 24, 2011.
- Calling black colleague ‘House Negro’ not racist: ex-professor, National Post, July 27, 2011.
- U of O law prof suing colleague over ‘house negro’ remark - Racial reference in a blog post by Denis Rancourt at the centre of lawsuit, Law Times, August 29, 2011.
- University of Ottawa has ‘moral obligation’ to support professor’s lawsuit: lawyer, The Ottawa Citizen, October 28, 2011.
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- CHUO=FM schedule
- No Code by ACTivist Magazine on YouTube
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- "Inhofe reveals how scientists and activists believe global warming has ‘co-opted’ the environmental movement," US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, 26 October 2007 
- Phillips, Melanie, The pathological hierarchy of humbug, Spectator (UK), July 26, 2010.
- Lavelle, Peter, host of Cross-Talk, CrossTalk: Franken-Climate on YouTube, Russia Today, November 2, 2012.
- Rancourt, Denis G., Hierarchy and Free Expression in the Fight Against Racism, Stairway Press, 2013.