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University hires ‘girlfriends’ of faculty as it ditches experienced instructor, he claims

New instructors have ‘ZERO classroom teaching experience’

Universities sometimes promise a job to the spouse of a sought-after academic they are trying to woo, but Roy Jensen is alleging a wholly unsavory arrangement in his department.

The University of Alberta chemistry instructor was let go after five years of teaching large first-year classes, a decision he claims had nothing to do with merit and everything to do with sex – in both senses of the word.

The chemistry department chair hired “the girlfriends and recent graduates of research faculty — seven new people in total, all with ZERO classroom teaching experience at the UofA– over an experienced award-winning instructor,” Jensen wrote in emails to students who asked him for reference letters, according to a student who received the email and posted it in two parts on the university’s Reddit page. (Later Jensen dials back the “zero” experience claim, saying the new hires haven’t taught classes of 200-500 students. All have PhDs, though.)

The student who posted on Reddit encouraged others to avoid the classes of the new inexperienced instructors:

Jensen is an excellent instructor. What happened?

If your instructor is bad, don’t mess around with the chair of chemistry. Tell the President of the University to fire the girlfriend and get a good instructor.

Jensen claims he was given exemplary reviews and told by the chair in June his “employment situation would probably stay the same.” (Student newspaper The Gateway reports that Jensen was told by his chair July 25 his contract wouldn’t be renewed.)

He was much more than an instructor, serving as faculty adviser for several science groups, “involved in numerous outreach activities” on his own time, and even the subject of a student “fan club,” Jensen wrote:

I started at the UofA in 2012. At the time, I applied and interviewed, and have since taught successfully for five years without having to reapply or reinterview. This turn of events came with no notice, no job posting, no hiring competition. These new instructors were simply handed jobs because they are the girlfriends and recent graduates of UofA faculty, and because they haven’t gotten jobs elsewhere through open competitions. …

This has the potential to be disastrous for the ~3600 students these instructors will teach this year.

Besides the girlfriends-and-recent-grads theory, Jensen suspects he might have been let go because he was outshining the research faculty with his accomplishments, including authoring an “increasingly popular textbook.”

He plays down the possibility that he’s a victim of reverse sexism: “I have noticed that all the new hires are female. Surprising — yes. A factor — I don’t know.” Jensen encouraged his students to contact the provost and forward him employment opportunities.

Other students in the thread debated why Jensen might have been let go, from simply being “expendable” as an adjunct who hasn’t published in years to more nefarious rumors that he had “weird vibes”:

I’m a grad student in another dept at the u of a and I have heard that he has made really disgusting and sexually aggressive comments to female students in the department. His misogyny even comes out in his letter.

The provost’s office is investigating Jensen’s complaint, according to The Gateway:

He claims that the new instructors are “associated individuals,” which the policy defines as “an individual whose employment by a staff member would have the appearance of being a conflict of interest including consensual personal relationships and business relationships.” However, the policy also states that “family members or associated individuals may apply for positions but the staff member involved will not be included in the recruitment process or decision.”

Chemistry Chair Rik Tykwinski released a statement saying he can’t discuss a “private, personnel issue”:

As far as I understand, a complaint from Dr. Jensen is working its way through the formal channels at the University, which have been set up to address issues such as this when they arise. I have every reason to trust these procedures and the people that are associated with them. The Department of Chemistry is one of the top in Canada, and in the top 50–100 internationally. We hire the best people we can to our department based on merit – period.

Read the Reddit posts and Gateway coverage.

IMAGE: chattanongzen/Shutterstock

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