A number of colleagues and students of ecologist David Lesbarreres at believe he should retain his job despite accusations that he had made race-related remarks that struck many as tone-deaf, according to the Sudbury Star.
Lesbarreres lost his job as dean of graduate studies at Laurentian University after he reportedly made insensitive remarks on Twitter.
Lesbarreres, responding in a thread about racial issues, said: “And shockingly enough on our campuses, even white males receive racist comments about their past. Why can’t we all see that we were once a monkey, let alone bacteria?”
Lesbarreres quickly took down the tweet and issued an apology shortly after. “Last night, I issued a tweet that hurt many people,” he wrote. “I apologize for my words and understand that I must educate myself further about #BlackLivesMatter and Tweeter.”
Lesbarreres made matters worse for himself when he signed off the original tweet with "#AllLivesMatters," though he denied knowing that the phrase held a certain connotation.
He responded in reference to the hashtag: “I did not know that # existed and now realize it is rooted in values I do not hold and that I strongly condemn,” he wrote. “I pledge to continue to educate myself, continue the fight for inclusivity and against racism, and I apologize to all people I have hurt.”
After Laurentian President Robert Hache called Lesbarreres' original tweet "inappropriate and offensive," Lesbarreres stepped down from his post as dean of graduate studies.
Three fellow professors of Lesbarreres decided to stick up for their colleague through an op-ed.
"To lobby to damage the reputation, career, or family livelihood of people who disagree with you is not a particularly magnanimous instinct and mode of human behaviour,” the op-ed read, which was penned by professors Guy Chamberland, Mery Martinez Garcia and Jason Lepojarvi.
“It is even less honourable when the person simply made a human error; worse still, if they felt deeply sorry and immediately apologized for the mistake, but the unforgiving mob still persisted in its cheap performative ‘justice’.”
A petition spearheaded by students at Laurentian has also taken effect, with these students suggesting that Lesbarreres being deprived of his role in the department is one step too far.
“We feel that this reaction was unnecessary given Dr. Lesbarreres’ reputation of being inclusive and respectful to all students, as well as the fact that his apology and regret was swift, once he realized he had unintentionally used a hashtag that he didn’t know was racist in nature, and that his tweet hurt people,” the petition states.
The petitioners also wrote that the professor has “worked tirelessly and repeatedly to better the experiences of international students since his arrival at Laurentian,” who point to “canoe expeditions and snowshoeing treks” as examples of activities the professor has went out of his way to do in an effort to make students feel more at home.
“We believe that Dr. Lesbarreres’ words were not intended to be malicious or in any way hurtful,” they write. “We believe that he was sincere in acknowledging his mistake, and that he regrets the hurt he unintentionally caused others.”
The online reaction to the professor's behavior has been disproportionately negative, with those defending him saying it is a product of "callout culture" or "cancel culture."
“We try to teach our children to apologize sincerely for honest mistakes – but not to grovel, especially if they are being pressured,” the trio of professors wrote in the op-ed piece. “When that happens, they should stand their ground. Why? Because what sensible people want is your apology, not subjugation. And insensible people will ultimately accept neither because what they want is blood under the guise of ‘deconstruction’."
“To go after innocent scapegoats like this comes across as a diversion, a mockery of justice, and is painfully divisive,” they write.
“We are setting them up to a life of fear, fragility, and pathological grievance by erecting these puritanical perfections that no-one can live up to,” they write. “False perfection will kill us all. We must be better than this. We must be better than falsely perfect.”