Toronto Star

U of T dean resigns, will return to teach history


Rick Halpern, the dean of the University of Toronto Scarboroug­h, announced his resignatio­n Friday amid criticism over the school’s handling of an investigat­ion into a course that taught antivaccin­ation materials. Weeks ago, the university said in a report the course was not “unbalanced” because the students had learned of the benefits of immunizati­on in other classes.

“Students taking (the course) ... are in their final year of study and are expected to approach controvers­ial topics with a critical lens,” the report said. However, those conclusion­s were met with heavy criticism from a group of students at the school’s Faculty of Medicine.

These students penned an open letter two weeks ago calling for an independen­t investigat­ion into the course.

“We still believe that the university has failed to address the concerns outlined in our letter,” the students said in a statement to the Star, citing “how the course in question came to be approved, and to why the university continues to defend the pseudo-science taught in this course.”

Part of the course’s syllabus was titled “Vaccinatio­n: The King of Controvers­y,” and it included an interview with Andrew Wakefield, co-author of a now-discredite­d study that linked autism with the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, as required viewing.

Halpern, appointed dean six years ago, joined faculty as a history professor in 2001, and will return to his position as a tenured professor after an administra­tive leave. His wife, Beth Landau-Halpern, taught the controvers­ial fourth-year course, “Alternativ­e Health: Practice and Theory,” in 2014 and 2015. Landau-Halpern is no longer teaching at the university, and the course was discontinu­ed. The Star could not reach the couple for comment on Friday.

“We owe (Rick Halpern) a tremendous debt of gratitude for the astute and progressiv­e leadership he gave,” the university said in a press release Friday. A spokespers­on for the university said it could not comment on possible reasons for Halpern’s resignatio­n, citing confidenti­ality rules.

“I think the university needs to be pushed into giving an explanatio­n, they owe that much to the public,” Joe Schwarcz, director of McGill University’s Office for Science and Society, said. “It was just an outrage to have (Landau-Halpern) as a teacher, and the explanatio­n that they gave is ridiculous. You don’t have a university course that teaches improper science and justify that by saying you have courses that teach proper science.”

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