Senate Postpones Appointment of Controversial Professor to Tribunal Pool

Senator Stephen Brown works at the CSU Advocacy Centre and brought up the issue of professor Michael Lipson at Senate on Friday. Photo Nikolas Litzenberger

A professor’s appointment to be in a faculty tribunal pool was postponed after a claim emerged that up to 50 per cent of his students in 200-level courses are accused of plagiarism at Concordia University Senate on Friday.

Senator Stephen Brown, who is also the Concordia Student Union Advocacy Centre Director, brought the issue forward, saying that Professor Michael Lipson of the political science department would create an “inconsistency” within the tribunal pool.

Lipson was one of five appointments to the faculty representatives that would be selected for tribunals called by the Office of Rights and Responsibilities. He would have served for the 2015-2016 academic year if appointed.

The political science professor was not at Senate to defend his teaching practices. However, in an email, Lipson—who had no knowledge of what happened on Friday—says that he has never accused half of a class of plagiarism.

“To the best of my recollection, every plagiarism charge I have filed in the past decade has been upheld,” he wrote.

He continued by expressing his disappointment that a student leader would make “blatantly false” statements at Senate.

After deliberation between senators and university President Alan Shepard—who also acts as chair of Senate—a motion passed to have his specific appointment postponed and re-evaluated by the nominators from the School of Graduate Studies, which includes its Dean, Paula Wood-Adams.

Brown clarified that his intention to discuss the problem at council was not to “besmirch” Lipson and added that an example of the professor’s standards of defining plagiarism included students accidentally citing the wrong year and edition of a class textbook.

Some senators expressed discomfort that such allegations were brought up directly at Senate without any prior notice. Shepard made the recommendation to postpone the appointment and commented that he wants to avoid a culture of “gotcha” moments at Senate in the future.

He added that he doesn’t know Lipson very well but imagined he would not like his reputation discussed without his knowing.

Senator Patrice Blais said at the meeting that it was the first time in years that senate debated an appointment.

A part-time faculty member in political science, Blais acknowledged that Lipson has a “rigorous” reputation in regard to his work but that he is fully capable of knowing what plagiarism is or isn’t.

Blais, along with student senator Benjamin Prunty, initially suggested tabling the appointment until further evaluation.

Tim Shaw, a student from John Molson School of Business, took Lipson’s Introduction to International Relations 200-level course last year but withdrew following an “unsatisfactory” grade on a midterm.

“It sounded interesting from the outside, but he ruined it for me,” Shaw told The Link.

He called the course challenging—while clarifying that professors aren’t always to blame for a course’s difficulty—and added that Lipson taught the intro class like a 300-level, while making no effort to provide proper resources to succeed.

He continued that Lipson wouldn’t answer questions and became frazzled when students did pose some in class.

After receiving the poor marks on his midterm, Shaw said he formally withdrew from the course—which means a “W” appears on his transcript—because he heard about Lipson’s reputation of grading papers “severely,” which meant he probably couldn’t salvage a better grade.