The University of Alberta issued a statement outlining its response to the controversy surrounding assistant lecturer Dougal MacDonald who said the Holodomor is a “myth.”
MacDonald made a Facebook post on November 20 at 12:55 a.m. where he said the Holodomor is a “lie” and perpetuated “myth.” The Holodomor is recognized by most Canadian legislatures, the federal government, and 16 United Nations member states as a genocide against the Ukrainian people created by Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union from 1932 to 1933.
On December 6, the U of A issued a statement signed by President David Turpin, dean of the faculty of education — MacDougal’s home faculty — Jennifer Tupper, dean of the faculty of arts Lesley Cormack, and director of the Canadian Institute for Ukrainian Studies (CIUS) Jars Balan. In it the university outlined its response to MacDougal’s comments. This will include:
- launching a Rapid Research Response project (hosted by the Kule Institute for Advanced Studies) — which will result in a website designed to educate students and the public about the Holodomor;
- hosting the Holodomor Bus at the earliest opportunity and facilitating opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students in the Faculty of Education to engage with the exhibit;
- displaying materials in the Faculty of Education for teaching about the Holodomor; and
- holding an annual Holodomor Lecture.
The university said in the statement that MacDonald’s views are his own and do not represent the institution. Additionally, the statement made no mention if MacDonald was to face any reprimand or punitive measures for his comments.
“The Holodomor — the deliberate starvation of millions of Ukrainians by the Stalinist regime in 1932–33 — is a fact established by scholars, many of them working here at the University of Alberta,” the statement said. “Research conducted by CIUS and its Holodomor Research and Education Consortium (HREC) has been in the forefront of uncovering the archival evidence that demonstrates that the Holodomor was an act of genocide.”
MacDougal responded to a request for comment from The Gateway with a statement affirming his belief that the Holodomor was “nature-made, unintentional, and ethnicity-blind.”
“Scholars continue to debate whether the Holodomor was (on one extreme) man-made, intentional, and genocidal and (on the other) nature-made, unintentional, and ethnicity-blind,” he wrote. “The Government of Canada takes the first position. I take the latter position, as do a number of other academic researchers such as Mark Taugas.”
Ukrainian Students’ Society “ultimately disappointed” by U of A response to Holodomor-denier
In a statement on behalf of the Ukrainian Students’ Society (USS) at the U of A sent to The Gateway, president Megan Brownlee said while the group “appreciates” increased awareness and education they are “ultimately disappointed” by the lack of disciplinary action taken against MacDonald.
“We commend the Dean of Arts and the Dean of Education for emphasizing that the existence of the Holodomor is a fact based on evidence and years of academic research,” Brownlee said. “While we are pleased to see the University’s commitment to educating and promoting awareness of the Holodomor, we are ultimately disappointed with the lack of disciplinary action against Mr. MacDonald taken by the University.”
“Freedom of speech and freedom of expression are not limitless,” she added. “We believe that Mr. MacDonald’s statements cross that limit and he is using these freedoms to defend his comments that are equivalent to hate speech, defamation, and libel.”
Additionally, Brownlee thanked all students, faculty, and community members who came together to condemn MacDonald’s denial of the Holodomor, especially Akanksha Bhatnagar, Students’ Union president.
Bhatnagar is facing controversy for a statement published where the Students’ Union condemned MacDonald’s comments. The statement, signed by Bhatnagar, called on “MacDonald to take back his statements or resign.” On December 2, a letter signed by 43 professors in the faculties of art, education, medicine and dentistry, business, Campus Saint-Jean, science, nursing, Augustana, and law, was published condemning Bhatnagar’s statement.
The Students’ Union declined to comment about the university’s response to MacDougal’s comments.