CAUT/ACPPU Bulletin Online
A $3.5 million lawsuit by British and New York-based academic book publisher Edwin Mellen Press against a librarian and his Canadian university employer has shocked the academic community.
Dale Askey, associate university librarian at McMaster University since 2011, is being sued along with McMaster for comments he posted on his personal blog in August 2010, when he was employed by Kansas State University.
The suit, filed in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice last June, accuses Askey of defaming the plaintiff via a post called “The Curious Case of Edwin Mellen Press” together with “statements made by others” (a lengthy series of comments posted by readers of the blog). It names McMaster as a defendant vicariously liable for the same, because the post remained up until March 2012.
Askey is also named as sole defendant in a second $1 million suit filed by press founder Herbert Richardson.
Askey’s post is repeated in its entirety within the court documents. The post, and comments following it, discussed various aspects of Mellen publications including cost of books, quality of binding and the scholarship of editing.
“At the time I wrote the post, the work I was doing in libraries was directly related to assessing materials for potential inclusion in the library collection. It was, as such, my job to assess the quality of books,” Askey said.
“As budgets decrease, the necessity to be more discerning increases, yet libraries have reduced their qualified staff numbers over the years. As a qualified and experienced librarian, I was sharing a professional opinion for consumption by peers.”
McMaster recently affirmed “the right of the academic community to engage in full and unrestricted consideration of any opinion,” and stated it will defend itself, but said nothing about defending Askey.
CAUT executive director James Turk calls the university’s lack of support for Askey “truly disappointing.”
“McMaster University has an obligation to defend its librarian,” he said. “If McMaster’s statement of principle is to mean anything, the university must step forward to cover the legal costs of Askey’s defence.”
Turk notes that the effect of such a suit can be to silence a critic and discourage others from exercising their academic freedom to share their professional judgments.
No court dates have been set for the suits, nor has either defendant yet filed an answer.
This isn’t the first time Mellen has gone after critics. In 1993 it sued Lingua Franca magazine, but lost. Oddly, it then published a book in 2006 — The Edwin Mellen Press vs. Lingua Franca: A Case Study in the Law of Libel — detailing accusations that are strikingly similar to those made by Askey.
Word of the case has spread rapidly, with several respected academic bloggers openly condemning Mellen Press, reiterating points originally discussed by Askey, and calling for McMaster to finance Askey’s defense.
A petition on Change.org calling for discontinuation of the lawsuits, has already garnered more than three thousand signatures.