Having being exonerated in three of the main areas of competence expected of a University teacher, my Investigating Committee turned to the most evanescent and nebulous of considerations: conduct.
Observe, as Virginia Woolf suggests, a normal person on a normal day and if you are astute you will conclude before the end of the day that the ,normal' person you are observing is not that normal at all.
I fail to understand why 'conduct' should become an issue between the First and Second Investigation (i.e. June and October 1993) since, as I have stated above, I am on sabbatical this year and have only been on campus for a couple of hours on a few occasions. I realized, however, that my students would be the only ones competent to comment on my 'professional conduct', so in early November 1993 I sent out a Memo to about 70 of my former students during the last five years, formulating my question almost exactly along the lines of your directive to Principal Boyle last October: 'the review should address the question of whether Professor O'Driscoll has contributed to ensuring that the environment at the College is conducive to learning, and is free of discrimination that would create a hostile and intimidating atmosphere.' The question I asked the students was: 'Has Professor O'Driscoll contributed to ensuring that the environment at the College is conducive to learning, and is free of discrimination that would create a hostile and intin-ddating atmosphere?'
Unknown to me, at almost precisely the same time as I sent out my questionnaire, Professor Adamowski sent out one of his own to 140 of my former students. In the responses which are printed below, some are addressed to Professor Adamowski and some are addressed to me. I have avoided printing letters that have already appeared in The Newspaper, Varsity, Now magazine, The Toronto Star and elsewhere, for the simple reason that letters meant for the public eye usually are focused more on the writer of the letter than the subject he is addressing. As one student (Tom Sarantos) points out below: 'it seems to me that those who defend him [i.e. me] thus consider him not guilty only on the basis of inconclusive evidence.' In other words, they don't have first-hand evidence of the classroom situation. Tom Sarantos makes a profound point here: the implication is that students who have studied with a particular professor are best qualified to make a judgment with relation to a professor's professional conduct.
Teacher and student have been in the same four-walled room for at least 72 hours each during a particular year. At the end of the year I have had my opportunity to test and assess them and SO HAVE THEY. I, therefore, quote - and this is the central plank of my defence - some thirty or forty of the responses that I received (the rather remarkable thing is that none of those responses find their way into the 'Summary' before me). The responses also mark 'new material', for when I had collected them in the autumn I took them (plus my updated Curriculum Vitae) to the Office of the Faculty Association in December. I was advised not to pass the material on to the Provost's Committee and 'not to participate in this review, which has no precedent at the University'. I did as the Faculty Association advised which meant that the formulators of the 'Report' did not consider this material which surely is relevant to their deliberations. I therefore submit this first-hand evidence now:
I am curious to see what the outcome of this investigation into Professor O'Driscoll's actions will be. The very fact that this type of investigation can take place at an institute of 'higher' learning has solidified my decision to seek a life in another country other than Canada once my undergraduate studies are complete. If anything is being 'compromised' here, it is the liberty of individual Canadians. If a particular group takes issue with what Professor O'Driscoll has to say outside of the classroom, they are free to engage him in debate. To give them the right to silence him and discredit him wholesale, is a proposition I find extremely discomforting (Zena Ananjevs, Class of 92-3, letter to Professor Adamowski, 18 November 1993).
At no time did I find the climate of Professor O'Driscoll's lectures to be compromising or intimidating, particularly in regards to the specific question at hand; namely anti-Semitism. I found Professor O'Driscoll's to be quite stimulating and, if anything was lacking, it was the participation of the students themselves (Zena Ananjevs, Class of 92-3, letter to Professor Adamowski, 18 November 1993).
I was aware of attention you received from your work lately but had no idea you were being investigated. I am shocked! In the two years I studied with you I never felt you to be even remotely anti-Semitic or threatening. In fact, I found your Modern Drama class to be so stimulating that it led me to seek you out to be the advisor of my Senior Essay on Beckett. I am very proud of that essay and grateful for all your help and advice about Beckett's writing. Clearly you were an instrumental force in the lucidity of our thought! Although I have not read your books in question - edited or otherwise - I personally never found your conduct to be anything but professional. Moreover, with my background and a name which is identifiably Jewish I would have noticed anything remotely anti-Semitic in nature, whether in class or during our many one-onone meetings.
You were always my favourite Professor (Jon Finkelstein to Professor O'Driscoll, Class of 90-1 and 91-2, 1 December 1993).
Far from being 'hostile and intimidating' the atmosphere of your classes was unconditionally inclusive and supportive. Every student was encouraged to contribute, and all opinions and interpretations were accepted and discussed respectfully. I have never heard you utter a word that could be construed as prejudiced or discriminatory in any way (Elizabeth Marsh, Class of 88-9 and 92-3,12 November 1993).
I am distressed and dumbfounded to discover that the University is conducting this 'investigation' of your work. My first class with you was in fact my first English Literature course at the University level. At that time, I was nervous and unsure about pursuing my studies in this subject area despite my personal love of literature, for several reasons; one being that I was of an ethnic background other than Anglo-Saxon, even if I was born and raised in Canada. These uncertainties dissipated immediately thanks to you! You created an atmosphere that was peaceful and exciting, where everyone was encouraged to voice their opinions without fearing ridicule or being told that they were 'wrong'. What could be more conducive to learning than a teacher who is unbiased, open-minded, supportive, and is constantly encouraging his students to explore their minds and hearts to discover how the literature that they are studying applies to today.
If there are two evils that are not present in you, they are intimidation and discrimination! I am sorry to say that I have felt discrimination in other English courses because of my ethnic background but never in your classes. In your classroom environment I was challenged intellectually, motivated to learn and explore, and most importantly, I felt safe enough to voice my thoughts knowing that they would not be ridiculed.
I have learned so much from you Professor O'Driscoll. I went on and completed my 4-year B.A., with a specialization in English Literature in 1992.
Last year I obtained my Bachelor of Education with Honours, also from U of T, and this year I am teaching French as a Second Language to Grades 2,3, and 4. I hope that I am able to give my students the security and confidence to explore intellectual problems and the love of learning that you gave me! To directly address your concerns: was the atmosphere that you created in the classroom 'hostile and intimidating'? Most definitely not! Was it conducive to learning? Most certainly, without any shadow of a doubt! (Ann Marie Ricardo, Class of 80-90 and 90-91,16 November 1993).
I cannot believe that you have to go under 'investigation' for something that is totally false. I had you for a first-year English course and I thought you were an excellent Professor. Not only were your lectures fascinating but I enjoyed the atmosphere you created. I felt very comfortable and at ease and the manner in which you lectured was admirable. I looked forward to going to your English class because somehow you made me feel relaxed.... I cannot describe in words how comfortable I felt in your class and perhaps the fact that I recommended you to my younger brother demonstrates that I thought you were excellent. I never felt intimidated by your conduct; in fact I felt confident.
Not only were you friendly in the classroom, you always acknowledged me when you saw me in the cafeteria, outside of the classroom. I always felt special when you when you said hello to me because, as I already mentioned, you have many admirable qualities (Antonia Perrino, Class of 90-1).
Regretfully, it has recently come to my attention that the professional 'conduct' of Professor Robert O'Driscoll has come into question. Having been a student in Professor O'Driscoll's Modern Drama class last year, I believe that I, more than any committee or council, am uniquely qualified to assess the 'conduct' in question.
Though my contact with Professor O'Driscoll was reserved to in-class exchanges, I am both saddened and confused that such an investigation has been deemed necessary. Never was the conduct of Professor O'Driscoll anything but professional; his comments were reserved - exclusively - to discussion of modern drama.
Quite simply, I believe that Robert O'Driscoll is a fabulous Professor, and moreover, a decent person. I feel fortunate to have been a student of his. Should you need me to testify on your behalf or require anything that you feel I might be of assistance in providing, please feel free to contact me (John Flaim, Class of 92-3, to Professor Adamowski, 15 November 1993).
My recollection of your class is one of a challenging and instructive environment in which questions and exchange of views were encouraged.
I attended the class assiduously and recall no remarks of a discriminatory nature on your part. In other words, the atmosphere in your classroom was conducive to learning and not hostile and intimidating (Elizabeth Paupst, Class of 91-2,14 November 1993).
The atmosphere created in class was the only one that could be considered conducive to learning: an atmosphere of relaxed intellectual debate. Condescension, egotism or high handedness, traits possessed by many at the University of Toronto, were absent in Professor O'Driscoll's classroom as he was not only a fountain of knowledge, but also a friend who knew his students on a first-name basis and was always there when called upon.
This is only one person's short recollection of Robert O'Driscoll, butI know personally that he received nothing but the highest praise from the students in the courses in which I was lucky enough to have participated. If some of the other members of the University of Toronto would take a lesson from Professor O'Driscoll, maybe the whole university experience would be less daunting and, in the long run, more rewarding (John Richardson to Professor Adamowski, 10 November 1993, Class of 1987-8 and 1991-2).
NEVER in my four years in this institution have I ever felt more comfortable in a classroom than when I sat in yours from Sept. 90 to April 91. You always inspired me, as well as my peers, to aspire towards achieving our goals. Is that not the role of a skilled educator? Is that not the role of a competent teacher? The answer is an emphatic 'YES'! I never once felt intimidated by your teaching methods or your manner of expression.
Before I entered your classroom I was unsure whether or not I wanted to continue my study in English Literature. However, you allowed me to welcome English Literature with open arms. I have continued my studies in this field and I will have acquired a Specialist in English Literature by May 1994. You have made the most positive and most favourable impression on me. I enter each new class with the hope that the Professor will match your enthusiasm, your eagerness to teach, and your capabilities as a Professor. I have had nineteen different Professors in my four years here. You have been the best of them all!
You have definitely contributed to ensuring that the environment at the College was conducive to learning. Never did you create an atmosphere which was hostile and intimidating for the students in the classroom. Your classroom was always free of discrimination and you treated each student in a proper and professional manner. I have no reservations whatsoever about stating that, in my estimation, you are the best professor this University has to offer (Benny Perrino, Class of 90-1).
I am truly disgusted at what the University of Toronto is doing. I mean, here is an institution that not only allowed, but even invited members of the Heritage Front - a truly, well, let me say 'undesirable' group of people, who publicly distribute hate literature and the like - onto its campus last year ... yet the U of T decides to make an ENORMOUS stink about some professor whose outside-the-classroom activities, namely his writing, are ,questionable'.
I really don't see that it matters at all, so long as your in-class conduct is free of discrimination. I, who am forever looking for a good reason for argument, have certainly never felt an air of discrimination in your classroom, and I spent the better part of every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon there during my first year at U of T. No, not once did I even feel that I, or anyone else for that matter had reason to feel intimidated or discriminated against because of race, religion or culture. In fact you were one of the professors who really stood out, positively, in the doldrums of first-year classes (Vera Teschow, Class of 92-3,12 November 1993).
In my years as an undergraduate, which also included one year in a university in the United Kingdom, I have experienced many different teaching personalities and styles. As an instructor, Professor O'Driscoll was dynamic, knowledgeable, and passionate about his field. In short, Professor O'Driscoll's class, from beginning to end, was one of the best I had the pleasure of attending.
I have struggled through many forgettable lectures, and have faced professors who were unapproachable and uncommunicative - though I have no doubt that they were well-published and highly regarded in their fields, just as Professor O'Driscoll is. Yet his class was unforgettable, and as a teacher he was approachable and generous with his time - qualities I have grown to value in my instructors.
You also ask whether Professor O'Driscoll created an environment that was 'conducive to learning'. His was a challenging class in which the students were asked to participate and to interact constantly with each other and with him. I would say that this atmosphere was in fact extremely conducive to learning.
I am certain you know well that many distinguished academics and authors can read a lecture, cover course material, and mark papers. Yet only a dedicated and talented teacher will, in addition to this, interact with students in class, and constantly demand that they contribute in order to enhance their own learning.
I would like also at this time to voice my concern over one aspect of this 'investigation'. I now know that Professor O'Driscoll also researches and publishes material outside of his field at the University, and that it is this body of work which has attracted, recent scrutiny. As a student in his class, however, this was not brought to light until the cameras paid us a visit and we were suddenly thrust into this newsworthy controversy.
To be quite blunt, Professor O'Driscoll taught modern drama. That is all. He did not in his class refer to any opinions he held academically sound or dubious as they may be deemed, if ever such a consensus can be reached. I am distressed to see how what should be a healthy academic debate over his other work has invaded his classroom, and has put his very integrity as a professor and as a person at stake. I am concerned that a fine professor, who is an asset to this University for his teaching skills, dynamic classroom style, and unquestionable excellence in his field of English and Celtic Studies, may be unnecessarily damaged by these proceedings (Kristina Soutar to Professor Adamowski, 19 November 1993, Class of 92-3).
I found that the classroom situation greatly inspired both my interest and participation in the material we were studying. Contrary to the instruction in my other classes, the material here was presented in a way which showed a devotion and care to the thoughts and ideas of the students. The style of instruction showed a great deal of tolerance and insight into the opinions and differences which existed in the class. This meant that the classes were always challenging and rewarding. I wish that other instructors would offer this kind of dedication so as to remind me more often of the reason why I am here (Cecilia Barry, Class of 92-3, 24 November 1993).
In no way was the atmosphere in the classroom 'hostile and intimidating'! It was, in every way, enlightening,amicable, inspiring, definitely conducive to learning. I marvelled at your knowledge and your ability to impart it. As a mature student. I tried other seminars and courses, but the environment in your classroom was by far the best and the most 'conducive to learning' (Mary Keenan, Class of 92-3, 22 November 1993).
When it was first brought to my attention that a student of yours had accused you of being anti-Semitic, I was greatly disturbed by these charges. I have never seen any behaviour that could be considered anti-Semitic in any respect. Now that you are under investigation for your conduct, I will reaffirm my previous opinions. There are no circumstances in which the classroom atmosphere could be considered hostile or intimidating in any way. No remarks that could be considered discriminatory or racist were ever made by yourself. A classroom environment was created in which all the students were able to speak and express their opinions. It was a very interesting and enjoyable class. I learned a lot in that class and I was able to apply the knowledge that I gained to other English courses (Cynthia Furfaro, Class of 92-3, 15 November 1993).
As a student of yours during the 1992/93 school year, I thank you for your unending patience, good humour, and inspired teaching.
I have been involved in various areas of the education system for a number of years, and I think I can speak with some knowledge regarding the calibre of teachers I have met since I came to Canada. This experience has covered my children's education, up to and including high school, both in the public and separate systems, my own attendance at a local high school to upgrade my computer literacy, interest courses, many years involved in the Federation of Catholic Parent Teacher Associations of Ontario, and finally attending the University of Toronto as a mature student.
Amongst all these teachers I have never met one who has made it so clear that the reason for university is to teach students to think and reason for themselves as much as you have. The joy of being taught that one's own interpretations of readings have merit, the excitement when you managed to extract, from such a diverse group of people, the meaning of a particularly difficult passage or poem was wonderful. Never, at any time, did I hear you speak ill of anyone. The atmosphere in the classroom was warm and encouraging at all times (Susan Hennessy, Class of 92-3, 15 November 1993).
As a student who has known you throughout the past four years of my academic career, I can say with utmost sincerity, that you are the best professor I have come across at the University of Toronto. Your lectures are intellectually stimulating, and you encourage class discussion more than any other professor I know. Any question regarding your conduct as a professor is, as far as I am concerned, completely unjustified. The university has no cause for concern in regard to your professional conduct, and I should hope this is realized very soon, so that this ridiculous investigation can be put to rest. I also hope that this whole business has in no way affected your plans for returning to teach at the university, for I feel that you would be a great loss to its future students (Penny Giaouris, Class of 89-90 and 92-3,15 November 1994).
Quite the opposite of hostile and intimidating, I found your classroom to be a forum where the expression of student ideas about the works being studied was consistently encouraged and where students were challenged to explore the texts. You teaching was both interesting and valuable. I was actually disappointed at the beginning of the present school year to discover that my English classes are not as thought-provoking and interactive as yours.
As for discrimination, I never once heard you make reference to beliefs you may or may not hold, nor did I feel that we as students were being exposed to anything other than intelligent teaching and discussion (Laura Jiminez, Class of 92-3, 15 November 1993).
Without question, the atmosphere created by Professor O'Driscoll in teaching this course was neither 'hostile' not 'intimidating'. Rather, I found it more conducive to learning than many of the other courses I have taken under both my three-year English B.A. as well as those courses taken towards my second degree in Environmental Science (B.Sc., also at U of T).
O'Driscoll's teaching methods were most 'conducive to learning' for the very reason that the classroom environment was free of any form of discrimination and, thus, friendly and inviting of class discussions. The professor was encouraging of student participation and open to any insights on the material covered. Furthermore, the curriculum was presented in a unique and thought-provoking manner while Professor O'Driscoll remained personally approachable and accommodating. Though the classroom I have just described is relaxed and friendly, it also remained productive and professionally conducted.
For all these reasons, I felt this academic atmosphere to be more conducive to learning than other classes where professors merely talk at students, creating an air of intimidation (Alison Maher to Professor Adamowski, 11 November 1993, Class of 92-3).
As a young first year, I was somewhat intimidated by the teaching style of my professors that seemed not to understand the struggles of a first-year student. Professor O'Driscoll not only tried to ease the transition from high school to university, buthe also made it enjoyable. He demonstrated to us what the real university process should be, the open exchange of ideas between people searching for a better understanding. He respected our opinions, and in fact encouraged us to fon-n them. Professor O'Driscoll will remain a courteous, understanding man who has enriched my university experience through his great passion for life. It really is a great tragedy to silence such a voice (Micol Marotti to Professor Adamowski, 19 November 1993, Class of 90-1).
In later years, I wrote an article for the St. Michael's College newspaper, The Mike, giving a critique of his book and later presentations of The New World Order. I had no previous knowledge that Professor O'Driscoll wrote books, let alone of the contents. Professor O'Driscoll never even mentioned his literary works in our class, the views expressed in those works, or even, material covered in his other classes.
His presentation of The New World Order received international acclamation, culminating in his successful presentations both in Dublin and in Toronto for a general public. His work also inspired several artistic representations that brought these artists international recognition (Micol Marotti to Professor Adamowski, 19 November 1993, Class of 90-91).
I wanted to see you before I graduated to thank you for the wonderful experience I had in your class in first year. I will also be thankful for the friendships made in your class, that I have maintained all through university. I hope that you are not going to let these institutions define what they consider 'normal conduct' apply to your passion for teaching. I read something interesting in Proverbs ten, verse ten which said: 'someone who holds back the truth causes trouble, but one who openly criticizes works for peace.' Please sir, keep working for peace (Micol Marotti, Class of 90-1).
I have just written to the English Department telling the Chairman that I found you a dedicated, inspiring, prompt and well-prepared teacher. I look forward to hear that you have been vindicated. Upwards and onwards! (Molly Sutkaitis, Class of 91-2).
I can honestly say that I personally did not feel that Professor O'Driscoll created an intimidating or hostile atmosphere. On the contrary, I feel that he tried to create a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere. I must add that he was quite knowledgeable in his subject area (Rose Pereira, Class of 91-2).
Lectures were always informative, imaginative and original. The language and actions presented in the classroom never crossed the line that separates the realm of professional from that which is derogatory or offensive.
The lectures were entertaining and in my opinion more educational because they maintained everyone's attention. If I were still enrolled at the University of Toronto I would not hesitate to enrol in another one of your courses. Horace once said that poetry should teach and delight and it is this concept that [animated] your class (Patricia Farrell, Class of 89-90).
I cannot say that I found your [classes] 'hostile and intimidating.' On the contrary, I found your class on the Celtic Renaissance to be extremely stimulating. It was a class that was not simply a lecture but a place where everyone could express their views on the material and ask questions. I believe it was a class that should set an example for other instructors.
With regard to anti-Semitism, it was never mentioned. There was only enthusiasm for Celtic writers and poets and their Celtic art.
For a painter like myself, who was born in Ireland, this class made me think a great deal about who I am and what my art is about, how my Celtic heritage is manifested in my work (Janette McDonald, Class of 92-3).
Professor O'Driscoll contributed to ensuring that the classroom environment was conducive to learning, and was free of discrimination. The classroom environment was not hostile and intimidating in any way. Rather Professor O'Driscoll created a pleasant academic environment (Lina Fallico to Professor Adamowski, 15 November 1993).
I have been asked to note whether Professor O'Driscoll's teaching style was 'intimidating or coercive' or whether it was conducive to learning. In my opinion, Professor O'Driscoll was in no way intimidating or coercive in his teaching methods. On the contrary I found him to be quite open and receptive.
His inviting manner of teaching was refreshing in a university that is known for its impersonal style. Professor O'Driscoll challenged his students to excel and brought to the classroom a vibrancy and vitality that in my academic career has yet to be equalled (Rene Zanin to Professor Adamowski, 17 November 1993).
Having studied under Professor O'Driscoll during both the 88/89 and 90/91 academic terms, I can readily attest to the good nature of his character and high quality of his teaching. Not once during either of those periods did I witness any actions, statements, or behaviour by him which could be remotely construed as discriminatory or which would contribute to a hostile and intimidating atmosphere.
On the contrary, Professor O'Driscoll is one of those rarest of individuals: a free thinker who is as fair and open minded within the class room as he is without. His were the most dynamic, creative, and challenging courses that it was my fortune to attend during my entire undergraduate studies at the University of Toronto.
In addition to being a skilled and knowledgeable instructor, Professor O'Driscoll possess an infectious enthusiasm for his subject matter which I consider the hallmark of all truly great teachers. One never had to be coaxed to attend his classes; rather, it was a pleasure one looked forward to throughout the school week. I found myself having keener discussions, more interesting and enthusiastic debates, and more profound insights during his classes than in any others at the U of T - without exception.
On a more personal level, I have always known Professor O'Driscoll to be exceedingly gracious and well-mannered individual - a true gentleman. He has a great sense of humour, is always polite and attentive towards his students, and treats each person as an equal, regardless of race, sex, or nationality. In regard to his academic credentials, in my opinion they are beyond reproach. I have faith that the obvious merits of his character and work will confound the spurious accusations being levelled against him, and that he shall quickly resume the position of respect that he commands at the University of Toronto (Michael Wray to Professor Adamowski, 16 November 1993, Class of 89-90 and 90-1).
During the whole term, it never occurred to me that the atmosphere you created in the classroom was hostile and intimidating or not conducive to learning. Therefore, I was really surprised to learn that your conduct in the classroom was [being] questioned. Here again, I ascertain that the atmosphere and environment was free of discrimination of any sort, and I really enjoyed the lectures delivered by you (Michelle Tang, Class of 92-3).
My recollections of your class three years ago are certainly not of a hostile and intimidating atmosphere. On the contrary, your use of round table discussions created a friendly atmosphere which encouraged learning through the participation of every student (Marilyn Murphy, Class of 89-90).
While my comments may only be limited to the teaching environment that existed under the guidance of Professor O'Driscoll, I believe they are pertinent given the University's 'obligation to ensure that the learning environment is free of discrimination that would make this environment hostile and intimidating,'as indicated in your letter. You also stated that the University is 'dedicated to fostering an academic community in which the academic freedom of each individual, in both learning and scholarship, may flourish.' In either case, I assure you that during the classes I had with Professor O'Driscoll I never even felt him to threaten to breach the aforementioned university policies.
Indeed, I believe that Professor O'Driscoll actively encouraged and promoted the challenging of ideas whether they be his, those of the writers we studied or those of our peers. His classes were interesting, informative and conducive to the pursuit of knowledge. This environment was a corollary of Professor O'Driscoll's pedagogical skills which can only be described as entertaining, enlightening, encouraging and challenging.
Hence, in response to your request, I submit to you that I did not find Professor O'Driscoll's teaching 'problematical' and the classroom 'environment was conducive to learning' (Andre Moniz to Professor Adamowski, 28 November 1993).
As a former student of Professor Robert O'Driscoll, I found him nothing but professional in his teaching. Professor O'Driscoll succeeds in creating a relaxed, comfortable atmosphere in the classroom. I found him amiable and encouraging and available outside lecture hours. I enjoyed my course with Professor O'Driscoll and would not hesitate to take another course with him (Sean Monaghan, Class of 90-1).
As a concerned student, I feel I have responsibility to voice my dismay and unhappiness concerning your investigation of the teaching conduct of Professor O'Driscoll. I am a 4th year student of St. Michael's College at the University of Toronto. As a student working towards a Joint Specialist in English and History, I have found Professor O'Driscoll to be one of the best English professors that I have had in my undergraduate studies. It is also worth noting that I had the pleasure of being one of Professor O'Driscoll's students in my lst and 3rd year. During that time, I have found Professor O'Driscoll to be extremely competent and an excellent scholar.
Furthermore, with regard to his 'conduct,' I would say that the atmosphere that he promotes in the classroom is one that is intellectually stimulating and one that is conducive to academic learning. To say that Professor O'Driscoll is intimidating is completely and utterly false. I am sure that you will find out that I am not the only one who will voice their dismay with regard to the investigation (John Gerardo to Professor Adamowski, 12 November 1994, Class of 90-1 and 92-3).
The last letter I quote is a rather lengthy one, but it evokes rather vividly something of the atmosphere one student felt I created in the classroom. The letter was not solicited by me but was sent by Thomas Sarantos to Professor Adamowski shortly after the Investigation was announced in the public press:
12 October 1993
Dear Professor Adamowski:
I am a fourth-year English major at Victoria College. I am sorry for the length of this letter, for I know you must be a very busy man. But as you will see, this letter deals with a matter of immediate concern, and which also touches upon the function of our university.
I started at the University of Toronto in September of 1990, and my professor in Introduction to English Studies (ENG 102) was Robert O'Driscoll. Before the first class, yet after choosing his course section, I had heard rumours about him: that he believed a group of bankers had financed both sides of every major war in the past three hundred years, and still continued to control the superpowers; that he believed NASA had tucked away its Star Wars programme in the libraries' felix computers; and even that he was a paranoid schizophrenic. I had chose his course section only because it was held at an hour convenient for me, and also because he was the only professor to put a glossary of literary terms on the course outline. It never occurred to me to be alarmed at what I heard. I had not yet met the man.
Recent events have indicated the sincerity of Professor O'Driscoll's political beliefs. I repeat that the reported condition of his mental health was, and still is, for me, a rumour .This is a residue from the 1990 incarceration, since it came from students in no way qualified to know this for certain. And as I hope to show in this letter, I never had any cause to believe it was any of my business.
However, for the sake of argument, I will assume that it is true, for I strongly believe that even under such scrutiny, Professor O'Driscoll's professional conduct, as I have observed it, is beyond blame.
The course he taught in 1990-1 was Introduction to English Studies, which concentrated solely on twentieth-century literature. Allow me to state, as many already have, that Professor O'Driscoll's teaching never once deviated from the course outline. I myself, having looked at his book, Nato and the Warsaw Pact Are One, tried on two occasions, prompted perhaps by a playful sense of mischief, to coax him into a discussion of the book. On both occasions, he would not be coaxed.
The Varsity has published several letters from students who defend him as I have just defended him. It is a point that has been made several times, and it seems to me that those who defend him thus consider him not guilty only on the basis of inconclusive evidence. I have not yet seen anyone come forth to speak more rigorously in his defense, not simply to disprove any accusation, but rather to attest to his virtues as a teacher.
When I sat down at my desk that first morning of class in September, I looked and recognized in the faces of those around me a look of the same apprehension I was feeling. We were nervous, wide-eyed students with little idea of what we could realistically expect from university. There had been rumours of endless lists of difficult books to read, aloof professors who knew more than we could ever imagine, and who resented that we should interrupt their hours of research in our pursuit of some of that knowledge. We had been told that each of us would become yet another drop in a river of nameless faces, and that meeting people was out of the question. To put it simply, we were ripe for Robert O'Driscoll.
He began the school year leaving his desk at the front of the classroom and sitting amidst the students, and speaking to us from there. He did not begin by lecturing, but by having a conversation with us en masse, explaining in an easy manner what he expected from us as students. He did not, as others did, attempt to calm us and assure us that we would find it all very easy in no time. Rather, he recognized our uncertainty as an opening for attack. He was a professor that taught by transforming his students. What meagre foothold we had, he - with great charisma kicked out from beneath us, so that we tumbled into a place where we could take nothing for granted. Presumption and confidence were crushed early in the year, and there was a strong feeling of fellowship in the class. No one could claim any intellectual superiority, no matter how much he or she had read before the course. We were sceptical of every first thought to enter our head, and yet comfortable enough to speak out what we had thought carefully. He taught us to assume that we knew nothing. He taught us to think.
I should add that my class in particular seemed to have felt a great affection for him. At the end of the year, two separate groups of students, gave him a bottle of Irish whiskey. One group decided to let though we had not paid for it. Professor O'Driscoll was quite moved, and said that in his twenty-five years of teaching, such a thing had never happened to him.
Although his course outline made no mention of any thematic focus, one clearly came out in class. From all the novels, plays, and poetry we read, Professor O'Driscoll tried to instill in us, apart from a critical understanding of the books, an understanding of the power of the unfettered intellect and imagination. He taught us that we live in a world where the forces of everyday modern life work to restrict the mind and soul of a human being. He taught us to think critically about whatever we read or were told, and in effect - and here is the great irony of his present situation - he gave us the tools with which to read critically such books as he himself has written.
What I have heard of his latest book does not surprise me. It was all there in Nato and the Warsaw Pact Are One, but since that was poetry, no one read it. Beneath his conspiracy theories lies, I believe, a fear of those forces in the world that annihilate the intellect and imagination. I can say that I find Robert O'Driscoll's political theories ridiculous without compromising my respect and admiration for the man as an educator. And this brings me to my final point.
The debate regarding censorship is such a complex one that most people shy away from any discussion of it. We live in a time when much effort is made on the part of one group to prevent another group or individual from speaking or publishing something they have written. When the government seizes books in customs, it is called censorship. When it happens in a university, or a picket line, the word is avoided. If one were cynical enough, one could make the claim that the general public, reading newspapers and magazines, might need to be protected from any writing that it was not prepared to read critically. But when university students need to be protected from ideas rooted in ignorance, confusion, or hatred, we must admit that the educational institution is failing miserably. For what service does a university offer its students but the liberation of intellect and imagination, that we may explore ideas without bias and consider all evidence as objectively as we can, within the historical context of human thought? If someone bases his theories on unfounded principles, and with no evidence, do we not have the instruments and the power to combat those theories and render them harmless? And if the theories are supported by evidence, what then have we to fear? Do we mistrust ourselves so much? Censorship protects the ignorant, and keeps them ignorant.
If I read Robert O'Driscoll's book, I am in no greater danger of hating Jews than I am in reading Samuel Johnson and hating the Scots. As a university student, I am angered and insulted by the lack of confidence shown by some people. A student that is denied access to any idea whatsoever is a student unprepared to deal with it. The student mind is to be guided, not regulated. I have confidence in my ability to think critically and intelligently, and I have confidence in my fellow students to do so, as well. Otherwise, I would not be here.
I hesitate to send this letter, for fear that I preach to one whose job it is to teach people like me, but I felt I could not remain silent and unsupportive at a time when a man who has done me a great service, and whom I admire, is attacked unreasonably. You may think of my letter as the grounds I give for urging that Professor Robert O'Driscoll be permitted to continue teaching at the University of Toronto. Let this letter also indicate by what criterion I base my judgements. It is important that those students that have benefited so much from being in his classroom be heard. I know you will agree with me - I am saying nothing new. It is an old idea, but so many seem to be forgetting it. In a spirit that seems so foreign at times, Thomas Jefferson, speaking of those whose opinions were thought to be harmful to the state, once urged people to 'let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated, where reason is left free to combat it.' These words apply nowhere so appropriately as they do to the university.
The letter was not acknowledged by Professor Adamowski or the Provost's Office.