"The Westhues Case"
Self-Study and Documents
Kenneth Westhues, University of Waterloo, 2007
Many different factors lead researchers to their respective fields of study. Availability of research funds is a powerful draw. So is the need for approval by academic supervisors and peers — and by the hiring committees of prospective employers. Passion for scholarship on this or that is contagious, sometimes transmitted from teacher to student. Such passion can be traced in some cases to a childhood fascination that the researcher, thankfully, never outgrew.
Puzzling personal experience of some problem often sparks interest in explaining and understanding it. The problem may be anything from allergies to war to tooth decay. Anything that causes pain or frustration easily awakens curiosity about it, eagerness to study systematically its nature, incidence, causes, and consequences.
It is altogether fair to ask a scholar how he or she got into research on a given topic. The answer shows the human context of the researcher's work and sheds light on its coloring. The most important questions, of course, are how much evidence supports the researcher's ideas, how reasoned they are, and what they might be good for. But the question of what prompted the researcher's initial interest is also relevant.
Journalists often ask me this question with respect to my studies of workplace mobbing. What first drew me to this area, I answer, was puzzlement over my own and several colleagues' bizarre experiences in my home university in the mid-1990s. Most of the inquiring journalists (John Gravois, Ann Kerr, and Vicki O'Brien are examples) then include my answer in their articles. They correctly state that I myself claim to have been mobbed.
The purpose of this webpage is to gather in one place the essential information and documents that underlie this claim, so that anybody interested can inspect the data that pained and puzzled me, and that gave rise to my research program on mobbing in universities and other workplaces. Visitors to this website can then draw their own conclusions about my scholarship in this area, understand more fully its strengths and weaknesses, insights and biases.
My introduction to workplace mobbing
As late as 1990, I had never encountered a ganging up of hostile academics so intent on somebody's elimination that I felt a need to conceptualize what was going on as a distinct social phenomenon. Like other professors, I had witnessed and been involved in numerous conflicts during twenty years on university faculties, but none in the special class of conflict to which I would later apply the word mobbing. I was by this time well established in my career. I was a tenured Full Professor. I had chaired a major department, won a teaching award, supervised many M.A. and Ph.D. theses, served as visiting professor in New York, Newfoundland, and Austria, and authored or edited a string of books on youth culture, religion, community, and social theory, as well as a basic text.
I had also, since the early 1980s, been speaking and writing critically about trends in my home department and university that struck me as contrary to sound academic values, in particular the shift of power from the faculty to a separate cadre of administrators, and the latter's subservience to corporate interests. My 1985 public lecture is a good example of the priorities I argued for, which clashed in some ways with those entrenched at Waterloo. In 1988, I had been part of the founding editorial board of FAUW Forum, a little monthly magazine published by Waterloo's faculty association. Over the next six years, I published regular commentaries there on campus politics, generally in support of liberal education, democratic values, community engagement, and faculty involvement in decision-making.
Because I was known at Waterloo as a commentator and critic, colleagues in the math faculty contacted me in 1991, when the eminent combinatorialist Jack Edmonds was summarily ousted from his tenured position. As I gathered and studied the evidence of what had happened, I was struck by the extraordinary degree of craziness, hostility, intransigence, and herd mentality. It was the first time in my career that I noticed such virulent ganging up of colleagues and administrators against a professor (though I would later recall earlier instances I had failed to focus on). I tried to make sense of what came to be called "the Edmonds case," meanwhile joining hundreds of other professors in agitating for his reinstatement. When at last the administration caved in and gave Edmonds most of his job back in September of 1993, I sent President James Downey and Provost James Kalbfleisch a heartfelt letter of thanks, and published a conciliatory article in FAUW Forum.
From "Edmonds Case" to "Westhues Case"
Already by then, though I had no inkling of what was to come, a collective movement of colleagues and administrators had begun to form against me, a campaign they would wage for the next five years. From an active, involved member of faculty, I would be transformed with amazing speed into a beleaguered pariah. A campus court I barely knew existed would twice find me guilty of offenses against ethics and sentence me to many punishments. My performance would be deemed unsatisfactory in the annual review. I would be suspended from teaching graduate students. Provost Kalbfleisch would denounce me worldwide in a special "open letter." I would be shunned and shamed to such an extent that just setting foot on campus, let alone holding my head high, became a test of strength.
It is this five-year upheaval in my working life that the documents below describe, and that I consider an instance of mobbing in academe. In early 1994, I pulled out of my own head the term "mob action" to describe what was going on. In June of that year, I learned of the large, coherent body of research Heinz Leymann had produced on what he called "workplace mobbing." Since that time, I have regarded what happened to me as in the same class of phenomena as what happened to Edmonds earlier, and to the couple of hundred other mobbing targets I have analyzed since then.
No two mobbing cases are quite alike, but mine differed from most in a noteworthy way, in that I gained in the end a measure of redress. In 1997, President Downey bent to outside pressure and appointed the vice-president and former dean of law at a neighboring university, to adjudicate the charges against me. Downey pledged to be bound by this man's decision as if it were his own. The adjudicator held a hearing and reviewed a mountain of documents. In February of 1998, he handed down his lengthy decision. He officially declared me "an honest, credible person," found me not guilty of all the charges reviewed, lifted the suspension without pay and other punishments earlier imposed, and awarded me a six-month research leave at full salary. The region's daily newspaper gave the adjudicator's decision front-page coverage, headlining its story, "UW Prof Cleared...." The paper declared in an editorial the next week that "Westhues showed better sense than anyone else at UW involved in the case." President Downey announced he would step down. A few months later, the board of governors abolished the campus court that had twice put me on trial and convicted me.
Had the adjudicator not ruled in my favour, I would not likely have been able to pursue my research on mobbing these past ten years. As things turned out, I used the paid leave to study additional mobbing cases, and I returned from the leave to continue my research and teaching, much as before.
Peggy Brandt Brown, in her review of one of my books, wrote of me that "the reader does not know if he is an active, accepted member of his community again or if he exists at the edge of the academic world, still in limbo if you will, as were some of the Dr. PITAs in his case studies."
As of 2007, the truth of the matter is twofold. At Waterloo, my academic home, I remain "at the edge." The adjudicator was an outsider. His decision could hardly be expected to change the minds of the dozens of insiders who had come to think ill of me. Thus, even though President Downey was true to his word and accepted as his own the adjudicator's decision, I have remained on the periphery of the Waterloo academic community. No administrator here has been willing to talk about resolving the matters that the adjudicator, on grounds of lacking jurisdiction, left unresolved. Dozens of the Waterloo professors who took part in the campaign against me in the mid-nineties continue on the faculty. Some are senior administrators. I try to stay out of their way, and they generally leave me alone. I enjoy my undergraduate classes and community involvements, especially at the Working Centre. I steer shy of my department's graduate programs. That I can greet colleagues as we pass in the corridor and be greeted in return by nearly all of them is achievement enough, something to be grateful for. To the extent I am still shunned at my home institution, I continue to have a feel for what it means to be mobbed, and this enhances my ongoing research.
In the larger academic world, as this website bears witness, I am not at all existing at the edge or in limbo. On the contrary, I am constructively engaged with dozens of other researchers of mobbing, and with thousands of academics and others who count our research important and worthwhile. In truth, I am more involved in a scholarly community now than I was before my ordeal. This community revolves more around emails, blogs, telephone calls, and web publications than face-to-face contact, but it is no less real for that. In most respects, as I regularly tell my students, I have lived a scholar's dream these past ten years.
The main alternative conceptualization
Before listing the key documents, I should point out that mobbing is not the only label that has been proposed for making sense of the conflict that enveloped me from 1993 to 1998. More than one answer has been given to the question of what the "Westhues case" is a case of.
In this as in all mobbing cases, the main alternative conceptualization is that employees in a given workplace identified in their midst a fundamentally flawed character, an intolerable workmate whom they appropriately marginalized, punished, and sought to eliminate. In the case at hand, the intolerable workmate identified was me. Abuser, harasser, sexist, racist, and pig were among the specific labels applied. Adie Nelson, my chief accuser in the conflict, set forth her view in a letter published in the UW Gazette on February 21, 1996, restating it for a broader audience in CAUT Bulletin later that year. She described me as "a bully masquerading as a Full Professor."
Five years later, Nelson spelled out this view at greater length in an article co-authored with Ronald Lambert, another leader of the movement against me. Their article appeared in Qualitative Sociology (Vol. 24, 2001, pp. 83-106) under the title, "Sticks, Stones and Semantics: the Ivory Tower Bully's Vocabulary of Motives." Therein the authors conceptualize a type of professor they call the "ivory tower bully." They describe this type as "an exemplar of arbitrariness, coercion, nonrationality, humiliation, authoritarianism, compulsion, and dehumanization...," "anathema to the ideal of 'academic culture'." (p. 91) They offer two examples of the ivory tower bully. One is Valery Fabrikant, the engineering professor at Concordia University who murdered four colleagues in 1992. The other is me, unnamed but identifiable from dozens of references and quotations. They analyze in detail what they think are my motives. They do not disclose their part in the campaign against me, presenting themselves simply as observers. They claim to be analyzing also a third Canadian ivory tower bully, but provide no information about this person.
Serious students of academic mobbing have to be glad that Nelson and Lambert published their long article, providing as it does a directly opposing alternative to the conceptualization offered here. What Nelson and Lambert see as the key reality in the conflict involving them and me is an ivory tower bully. What I see as the key reality is academic mobbing. These two conceptualizations are about as different as geocentric and heliocentric theories of the universe. One cannot easily hold both at once. There is nothing to do but pit each of the conflicting conceptualizations against the evidence and choose the better match. Does the Nelson/Lambert article square with the data, hit the nail on the head, or does it illustrate mobbers' fixation on an erroneous, demonized conception of their target? The documents below let visitors to this website answer these questions for themselves.
Following, in more or less chronological order, are 36 letters, memos, articles, reports and books (or in some cases, sets of documents) that report the facts from varied points of view, define what the conflict was about, and offer diverse interpretations — documents that chronicle the twists and turns of what looks to me like a mobbing case (but what looks to Nelson and Lambert like an ivory tower bully trying to escape punishment). Most items on the list are available online or in libraries. About half are also cited in the Documentary History of the University of Waterloo Ethics Committee, 1982-1998. I will be glad to receive (by email) suggestions of documents that should be added.
Westhues, letter to the Associate Dean of Arts for Graduate Affairs, 4 January
This letter was probably the single main action on my part that precipitated the collective movement against me. It asked an authority higher than the department to intervene on behalf of a Ph.D. student working under my supervision. Possibly because his achievements excelled those of many professors, he was generally disliked and had been flunked on an obviously irregular exam. In a sense, my letter amounted to blowing the whistle on departmental malfunctioning. Had I not written it, the student would likely have left Waterloo a year earlier than he did, and both he and I would have been spared a lot of grief. Still, I do not regret this letter. I thought then, as I do now, that acquiescing silently to unfair treatment of a capable student would have betrayed my responsibility as his supervisor.
Westhues, letter to the Associate Dean of Arts for Graduate Affairs, 8 March
The upshot of my appeal to the associate dean was a meeting on 8 March 1993, in the office of the Dean of Graduate Studies. Present, besides the two deans, were the sociology chair, the sociology associate chair for graduate affairs, the student, and me. The meeting turned out to be a collective tongue-lashing of the student and me by the four administrators. The hostility was so intense my mouth dried up and I had to ask for a glass of water before I could speak — a predicament I had never been in before. That evening, I wrote to the associate dean, objecting strongly. The student later described the occasion as "a meeting for animals."
(3) Adie Nelson, memorandum to Ronald
Lambert, 24 November 1993.
On 11 November, just after his second attempt at the exam, the student told me the exam had gone well. Later that same afternoon, Adie Nelson, the chair of the examining committee, informed me the student had failed. I expressed shock and anger at her, later wrote polite letters to her, to Lambert as department chair, and to James Heap, the external member of the committee, inquiring about the procedures followed in the exam, which had been conducted orally. I also requested a copy of the audiotapes. In these ways I continued the "offensive" begun by my letter to the associate dean ten months earlier.
Nelson's lengthy memorandum (ten pages single-spaced), written at Lambert's request, turned the tables and put me on the "defensive," where I remained for more than four years. Nelson made an issue of my anger and questioning, and described how insulted and intimidated she felt. Her memo provided the basis for further collective action against me.
(4) Correspondence between Westhues and
Lambert, 14 November to 17 December 1993.
My inquiries following the exam yielded few answers to my questions. The tapes of the exam were withheld until January. Meanwhile the department chair sent me letters saying he planned to take disciplinary action in response to complaints about my conduct. I protested, demanding to know what rules I had violated.
C. Prus, Audrey Wipper, John Goyder, and Robert Hiscott, memorandum to Ronald
Lambert, 20 December 1993 (with further exchange between these four and FAUW
president James Brox).
Unbeknownst to me, Nelson's complaints were discussed among nearly all the department's faculty, and a special secret meeting was held to discuss them in a building adjacent to sociology's on 17 December. This was the first of two collective memos that resulted from that meeting, in effect ousting me from teaching in the graduate programs. This was the stronger of the two memos, declaring that so far as these four professors (one of them the associate chair for graduate affairs) were concerned, I was "no longer a member of the graduate faculty, effective immediately."
Theberge, Peter Carrington, Lorne Dawson, Alicja Muszynski, Jim Curtis, R. C.
Helmes-Hayes, and Keith Warriner, memorandum to Ronald Lambert, 5 January 1993.
This was the second and milder of the two memos, asking the department chair only to "cut back" on my graduate involvements "for some extended period." Even so, the long collective denunciation and its origin in the secret meeting are persuasive indicators, in this as in many cases, that an academic mobbing was underway.
(7) Ronald Lambert, letter to K. Westhues,
14 February 1994.
This six-page letter laid out the department chair's charges against me: that by sending the external member of the examining committee a letter, along with a copy of a book by the student, I had tried "to create a favourable impression on behalf of the student and thus to influence the outcome of the examination"; that I had subjected Adie Nelson "to undue pressure both before and after the examination"; and that I had been "demonstrably uncollegial" toward Nelson, contributing to "the 'chilly climate' that women academics are sometimes asked to endure." By way of punishment, Lambert said I would "not be assigned further graduate responsibilities in this Department until 1 July 1998, after which you may apply for resumption of these duties." He said his letter "should serve as a warning that more severe sanctions may be required, should there be a recurrence of the offending behaviour."
(8) K. Westhues, Statement of Grievances
against the Chair and Eleven Members of the Sociology Department at the University
of Waterloo, 41 pp., 18 February 1994.
During the first weeks of 1994, I spent most of my time putting down on paper the conflict over my student's exam and my colleagues' actions against me. This was mainly to sort out in my own mind what had happened, but also to prepare a grievance for submission in terms of university policy. Once Lambert had officially imposed discipline, I submitted this statement of grievances to Greg Bennett, the statistics professor serving as chair of the grievance committee. Later I would submit additional statements, with supporting documentation.
In keeping with the policy, Bennett appointed two committee members, biologist Jack Pasternak and kinesiologist Fran Allard, to attempt informal resolution of my grievances.
Peter Carrington, Lorne Dawson, Rick Helmes-Hayes, Rob Hiscott, Ronald Lambert,
Robert Prus, Nancy Theberge, Keith Warriner, and Audrey Wipper, written submissions
in response to Westhues's grievances, spring 1994.
None of the respondents to my grievances was willing to meet with me toward resolving them informally. Pasternak and Allard reported to Bennett on 19 April that their informal efforts had not produced any resolution. Nearly all the respondents, however, sent Bennett written arguments for removing their names from the case or for dismissing my grievances altogether. Numerous procedural objections were raised. The submissions ranged in length from one to twenty pages. Eventually, to make things simpler for the grievance committee, I dropped the eleven signers of the petitions from the list of respondents, leaving but a single respondent, Ronald Lambert, the department chair.
K. Westhues, letter to Gail
Grant, 15 March 1994.
Meanwhile, in the midst of learning about the grievance policy and preparing my case in terms of it, I learned that gossip about my supposed misconduct was circulating not only at Waterloo but also among sociologists elsewhere in Ontario. I therefore set down a factual account of events in a letter to a former student who had done her Ph.D. under my supervision, Gail Paton Grant, then on the faculty of the University of Guelph. I understood that Grant intended to circulate my letter. This might counter, so I thought, the defamations that more than a dozen of my colleagues had signed their names to, and that were clearly no secret. Waterloo's ethics committee would later scrutinize my letter closely and require me to correct publicly any errors (see Document #14 below). There were no errors of any significance.
Henshel, letter to President James Downey, 21 April 1994.
In response to Gail Grant's circulation of my letter to her, about 75 professors from other universities in Canada and abroad wrote to President Downey, urging him to facilitate a fair resolution of the conflict. Nearly all sent copies of their letters to me. The moral support these letters gave me is beyond words. Henshel's letter is noteworthy because it reported his independent investigation of the conflict.
professor at centre of dispute," UW Gazette 4 May 1994.
Although Waterloo's university newspaper had earlier published letters about our debates in sociology, this was the first news article about the conflict involving Nelson, Lambert, and me. In the issues of 11 and 18 May, the Gazette published letters in response from Sandra Burt and me.
Gunz, Don Brodie, and Patti Haygarth, Report of the Ethics Hearing Committee
(94-3), 9 May 1994.
Before my case was taken up by Bennett's Grievance Committee, another quasi-judicial campus tribunal, the Ethics Committee, took up a complaint against me by Adie Nelson, dispensed with the stage of attempts at informal resolution, and moved directly to appoint a tribunal. Hearings took place in April. This is the report of that tribunal, which Provost James Kalbfleisch later made public. For further information on Waterloo's Ethics Committee, see the Documentary History, 1982-1998.
K. Westhues, public apology to Adie Nelson, 31
Provost Kalbfleisch accepted the ethics tribunal's report and recommendations, and required me to make a public apology to Adie Nelson. The wording of it had to be approved beforehand by him and the ethics committee. This is the text of the apology, as it appeared in the UW Gazette of 8 June 1994.
K. Westhues, letter to colleagues and
friends, 2 June 1994.
I was also required to send a copy of my public apology to Nelson, though without naming her, to all the recipients of my letter to Gail Grant of 15 March. This is the cover letter I sent with it.
James Kalbfleisch, Open Letter to the University
of Waterloo Community, 6 June 1994.
On Friday, 3 June, Provost Kalbfleisch telephoned me, saying Adie Nelson had appealed the Gunz tribunal's report to President Downey and that I should not send out the public apology to the recipients of my letter to Gail Grant. I replied that it was too late, that I had already posted the letters. On the following Wednesday, 8 June, the Gazette published not only my public apology to Nelson but a lengthy "open letter" by Provost Kalbfleisch, denouncing me for spreading misinformation in my cover letter of 2 June to colleagues and friends. The university administration published all these items on its website, along with the heretofore confidential report of the Gunz tribunal.
K. Westhues, Open Letter to Provost Kalbfleisch, 22 June 1994.
My response to Kalbfleisch was published as a letter in the Gazette of 22 June. I also requested its publication on the university's website, where the Gunz report and Kalbfleisch's open letter were already available worldwide, but without success.
K. Westhues, "Twenty Flaws
in UW Ethics Hearing Committee Report No. 94-3," 20 June 1994.
In May, when I received the report of the Gunz tribunal, I found it to be a fanatic piece of writing, an embarrassment to the university. I was dismayed that Kalbfleisch accepted it. Even so, I did not expect it would ever be made public. I decided to comply quickly with the requirement of public apology, since my multiple apologies to Adie Nelson were already public in my widely circulated letter to Gail Grant of 15 March. I was eager to be done with the Gunz committee so that the Bennett committee could begin hearings on my grievances. But once Kalbfleisch made the Gunz report public, I hastened to write a public critique. I requested its publication on the university's website, alongside the Gunz report. My request was ignored, though the UW Daily Bulletin of 23 June 1994 mentioned that I had written this document. Years later, I published it on the web myself; it now forms part of the Documentary History of the UW Ethics Committee, 1982-1998.
Greg Bennett, Bruce Mitchell, and Lee Dickey, Final Report of the Grievance
Hearing Committee, 25 November 1994.
Bennett himself chaired the three-person tribunal appointed to hear my grievances formally. The first hearing took place on 20 June 1994, but only procedural matters were discussed. Since Lambert was getting advice from the university's law firm, the tribunal got its own counsel, law professor Charles James from the University of Windsor. For my part, I was getting advice through Waterloo's faculty association (FAUW) from the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT).
The hearings never got beyond procedural issues. A particular sticking point was the tribunal's insistence on strict confidentiality — a moot point in my view, since the university had already published the ethics-tribunal documents worldwide. In addition, the tribunal was not satisfied with the wording of my grievance statements. The tribunal suggested I might want to reposition at least some of my grievances as a complaint to the ethics committee. Still further, Sandra Burt and Adie Nelson registered concerns about security, and Nelson told Bennett she was "re-thinking her own status as a witness to the Committee's hearing."
On 26 July, the Bennett tribunal quit. President Downey then invited Bennett, Mitchell, and Dickey to a meeting with him, where he asked them to "re-start the hearings." On 6 September, the tribunal quit a second time. Its final report simply recounted the procedural wrangles and recommended that no action be taken on my grievances unless I would clarify the grounds for them and restate them, and unless I, along with my faculty-association advisor, Roman Dubinski, would agree to the tribunal's rulings on confidentiality.
K. Westhues, article in FAUW Forum, October 1994.
Publication of Kalbfleisch's open letter in the Gazette in June of 1994 had prompted a number of letters to the editor. I submitted a reply to one from Sandra Burt, Nelson's academic colleague at the Gunz tribunal hearings, since it included false accusations against me. To my amazement, editor Chris Redmond refused my letter on grounds that the Gunz committee might deem it unethical. Thankfully, FAUW Forum was willing to publish my response to Burt. This drew a collective objection, published in the November issue, from three professors (Harriet Lyons, Robert Needham, and Ellen Shields): "We were disappointed by your decision to publish Ken Westhues' letter in the October issue of the Forum, not because Ken does not have the right to express his opinions on university matters but because Ken, having been invited to write a column on procedures, took the opportunity instead to reopen his much publicized personal dispute with other members of his department and with other members of the university community. It is unfortunate that the Forum did not follow the example of the Gazette which, back in July, refused to publish Ken's letter. ..." This letter confirmed my consignment to the doghouse. These three authors, all veterans of FAUW's Academic Freedom & Tenure Committee, apparently considered my "personal dispute" a closed issue. Lyons was chair of women's studies. Needham had been a brave and vocal defender of Jack Edmonds. If even these professors thought I should acquiesce to the actions against me, I was indeed outside the circle of respectability at Waterloo.
John Fekete, Moral Panic: Biopolitics Rising (Montreal: Robert Davies, 1994,
383 pp., paperback).
John Fekete, Distinguished Research Professor of Cultural Studies and English Literature at Trent University, was the first academic outside Waterloo to publish commentary on the actions against me. I had never heard of him. He contacted me in late summer of 1994, asking me to send copies of the ethics and grievance documents. I did so. When his book appeared in December, it included a 20-page chapter analyzing the campaign against me in fine detail, calling it "a case study in the breakdown of an institution's ability to regulate and resolve its internal disputes." Fekete had gotten the facts straight. He called my situation astonishing, bizarre, kafkaesque, said it had spiralled out of control.
Savage, memo to Ian MacDonald, 8 September 1995.
This memo from the executive director of CAUT to the president of FAUW marked escalation of the dispute to the level of the national professors' organization. Until this point, CAUT had worked quietly through the local faculty association to try to achieve a resolution, first through Waterloo's grievance committee, then (after the grievance tribunal quit) through mediation. When President Downey called off the attempts at mediation, on account of opposition from my colleagues in the sociology department, CAUT prepared to challenge the University of Waterloo publicly.
Roman Dubinski, "CAUT will report on Westhues grievance," FAUW
Forum, October 1995.
English professor Roman Dubinski was chair of FAUW's Academic Freedom & Tenure Committee during the first three years of the movement against me. He spent untold hours advising me and accompanying me to the endless tribunal meetings as my "academic colleague." Over and over he proposed mediation and compromise. When all his efforts failed, and when CAUT decided to make an official inquiry into my troubles, Dubinski wrote this article, chronicling what had occurred so far. He also turned back an attempt by FAUW's Committee on the Status of Women and Inclusivity to prevent the article's publication.
Roger Gannon, Patrick Grassick, Glenna Knutson, Patrick O'Neill, and Gail Storr,
Final Report of the Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee in the Matter
of a Complaint by Professor Ken Westhues, Department of Sociology, University
of Waterloo, insert to CAUT Bulletin, November 1996.
In the spring of 1996, CAUT sent an initial draft of its lengthy report for comment by parties on both sides of the dispute. The professors and administrators at Waterloo who had joined in the campaign against me were outraged. CAUT's AF&T Committee was itself divided, and the final version published that fall was hardly unequivocal in defending me. Even so, that CAUT invested so much time and money in writing the report and then sending it to virtually every professor in Canada, was a powerful assertion of something gravely wrong in how I had been treated at Waterloo. President Downey's, Chair Lambert's, and colleague Nelson's furious disagreement with the report is evident in the responses from them that CAUT published, along with an appreciative response from me. CAUT also published the report on its website, where it served to balance Kalbfleisch's open letter denouncing me on the University of Waterloo website.
Ronald D. Lambert, The Westhues Case: a Statement of Fact, University
of Waterloo, 58 pp., 1996.
In his response to the CAUT Report published in CAUT Bulletin, Lambert wrote: "To correct the flawed analysis and special pleading contained in CAUT's final report, my document, The Westhues Case: A Statement of Fact, has been placed on the Internet at http://www.uwaterloo.ca under documents." Printed copies were also sent anonymously across Canada. The document is an extended defense of the discipline imposed on me, including recitation of my alleged offenses, citation of support from university authorities, in particular Graduate Dean Patricia Rowe, consultations with numerous administrators, and views on the grievance proceeding, mediation proposals, and the conduct of FAUW and CAUT. Lambert's document generated harsh responses from two members of the FAUW AF&T Committee, Roman Dubinski and Jeffrey Shallit. Their responses were published on Shallit's website, but then removed in 1998, when the Waterloo administration ceased publication of Lambert's document on its own website.
Bill Lennox, Tim Blair, and Susan Sykes, Report of the Ethics Hearing Committee
(96-1), 11 pp., 23 August 1996.
In April of 1996, while CAUT's report on the 1994 proceedings was being revised and prepared for publication, the collective campaign against me took a new turn. A student who had a cordial relation with Adie Nelson charged me with making, in one of my classes, "racist and unbalanced arguments" that caused her "undue stress, humiliation, embarrassment." Guided by department chair Lambert and other administrative officers, this student took her complaint to the ethics committee, which summoned me to appear before a tribunal on 17 May. I declined to attend the hearings. The tribunal proceeded in my absence, recreation professor Susan Shaw serving as support person for the complainant. In its final report, the tribunal found me guilty as charged and recommended a list of penalties. This ethics case then lay dormant for six months. According to the policy, Provost Kalbfleisch was supposed to decide promptly whether or not to accept the report, but it was not until 11 March 1997, after he had been re-appointed to a further term as provost, that he sent me his decision. While rejecting the Lennox tribunal's report, Kalbfleisch said I would be suspended for one month without pay for more recent misconduct, including a booklet I had published entitled The Risks of Personal Injury in Liberal Education.
K. Westhues, letter to President Downey, 2 April 1997.
Like many mobbing targets, I had doubted myself since the movement against me began. Maybe my adversaries were right, that there was something fundamentally wrong with me. Maybe the conflict was all my fault. The Lennox report and Kalbfleisch's subsequent letter eased my self-doubt. These were wild attacks, far outside university policy. Both CAUT and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association condemned these attacks as wholly unreasonable and inexcusable in letters to President Downey. It was as if the picture of what was going on had at last come into focus. I wrote my long letter of appeal to President Downey with firm conviction and confidence.
Downey, letter to Peter Mercer, 11 June 1997.
This was the letter by which President Downey made his fateful decision to delegate the handling of my appeal to Peter Mercer, Vice-President of the University of Western Ontario. A Cambridge-educated lawyer and former Dean of Law at Western, Mercer had credentials that would give his eventual verdict a lot of clout.
Peter Mercer, In the Matter of an Appeal by Professor Kenneth Westhues under
University of Waterloo Policy 33 from the Decision of the Vice-President Academic
& Provost, Dr. James Kalbfleisch, Dated March 11, 1997, Arising out of the
Report of the Ethics Committee, Dated August 23, 1996, dated 24 November
1997, released 12 February 1998.
This is the document that rescued my name from the disrepute inflicted by my chair and colleagues, the ethics committee, and the provost four years earlier. The rescue consisted partly in the decision itself, which overturned the provost's findings of my guilt, cancelled his intended punishment (one-month suspension without pay), and gave me a reward (six-month fully paid research leave). Equally important was the favourable publicity Mercer's decision received in the Kitchener-Waterloo Record and other newspapers, and on TV. Most important of all was that Mercer's decision led to abolition of Waterloo's ethics committee in June of 1998, as part of an overhaul of the university's governance. This last outcome was more than I had dared to hope for. My role in extinguishing the ethics committee is my single main contribution to the structure of decision-making at Waterloo.
Transcript of a Hearing involving Professor Kenneth Westhues, Appellant,
Dr. James Kalbfleisch, Respondent, and Dr. Peter Mercer, Adjudicator, held on
August 7, 1997, in Room 123 of the Humanities Building at the University of
Waterloo, 38 pp.
In February of 1998, Mercer sent along with his decision a transcript of this hearing, at which Kalbfleisch and I had presented our respective cases orally. No one else had been present. Mercer also sent a list of all the documents he had reviewed.
AF&T Committee, "Adjudicator Finds Flawed Procedures at Waterloo,"
CAUT Bulletin, September 1998.
Since CAUT had sharply criticized the Lennox tribunal's findings against me and Provost Kalbfleisch's imposition of discipline, it appropriately included this fact in its summary of the Mercer decision published that fall.
A. Alan Borovoy, The New Anti-Liberals (Toronto: Canadian Scholars Press, 1999,
Besides CAUT, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association was the other national body that had strongly defended me in the Mercer adjudication. Borovoy, CCLA's General Counsel and main public spokesperson since 1968, summarized the case on pp. 96-100 of this book, a blistering indictment of political correctness among people on the left. Borovoy's treatise is the more powerful because here, as he writes on the first page, he devotes a whole book to disagreeing with his traditional allies.
K. Westhues, Eliminating Professors (Lewiston, NY: Mellen, 1998, 218 pp. hardcover).
This book was written over four months in the fall of 1997, after Mercer had completed his investigation but before his decision was received. It is the first book-length report of my studies of academic mobbing, written in part as satire and in part as a factual journal during the period of waiting to learn my fate. The book reprints the extraordinary exchanges by memo and telephone between Mercer, Kalbfleisch and me during the four-month period, and ends with Mercer's fax to President Downey on 1 February 1998: "I expect to send you my decision, with copies to Dr. Westhues and to the Provost, by courier on February 10, 1998."
Robert Needham, review of Eliminating Professors, in University
of Waterloo Gazette, 1999.
I had little or no contact with Needham, an economics professor and director of Canadian Studies at Waterloo, between the time of his published letter about my troubles in 1994 (see Document 20 above) and this book review five years later (for an excerpt, click here). The review's contrast with the earlier letter was glaring — and gratifying. In 1994, I would never have anticipated such favourable publicity in Waterloo's university newspaper.
(35) K. Westhues, "A Test
of the Biopolitics Hypothesis," Sexuality & Culture (Vol. 3: Politics
of Sexuality, 1999), pp. 69-100.
This article interprets my troubles at Waterloo, and the more serious troubles of professors who were formally dismissed, in light of John Fekete's hypotheses (see Document 21) of moral panic over sex and race, and of the ascendancy of these factors as bases of academic decision-making. The data analyzed include aspects of the conflict not treated in the documents above, in particular the investigation by classics professor Phyllis Forsyth and fine arts professor Ann Roberts of conditions for women in sociology — an investigation that documented the extent and character of gender politics at Waterloo in 1995.
Augustine Brannigan, Erin Gibbs Van Brunschot, and John A. Baker, Restorative
Justice, Social Relationships and the Adjudication of Conflicts Arising from
Complaints of Professional Misconduct and Harassment at Canadian Universities.
Report to the Law Commission of Canada, 2001, 124 pp.
This research report analyzes three well-publicized cases of accusation and punishment in Canadian universities, among them (pp. 68-81 et passim) my case at Waterloo. Much like the CAUT Report (Document 24) and the Mercer Decision (Document 29), this one puts the blame on bad policies. In the actions against me, the authors write, "there appears to have been a procedural vacuum that permitted action to be taken against Westhues with little regard for procedural fairness" (p. 69).
The purpose of this webpage has been to assemble documents on a chain of events involving me at the University of Waterloo from 1993 to 1998, so that anybody interested can see what drew me initially to research on workplace mobbing. Mainly, it was my own and several colleagues' experience at Waterloo. Better than any other concept, the one Heinz Leymann introduced to social science made sense of the swirl of events, made them intelligible, less puzzling.
For the first year or so after the University of Waterloo published documents about my troubles on the web, the heading used was "The Westhues/Nelson Controversy." Then some official changed the heading to "The Westhues Case." The change was apt. This was more than a personal dispute between colleagues. It was a passionate, collective, five-year effort by about forty professors, administrators, and students, with dozens more whispering on the sidelines, to punish me, curtail my scholarly work, and destroy my credibility. It was an institutional attack, backed by the university's highest authorities.
Two further conclusions of this self-study should be pointed out. First, as mobbing cases go, this one was relatively mild in both content and consequences. I was not formally dismissed, nor did I succumb to fatal or disabling illness. I was required only to taste the hemlock, not drink it, and Mercer later served me an antidote. Compared to what other mobbing targets have undergone, my humiliation was a piece of cake — even something to be grateful for, as an opportunity to gain and share insights into human social life that might otherwise have eluded me.
Finally, I conclude that the fellow academics who ganged up on me at Waterloo are humans like me, no better, no worse. They "drew a circle that shut me out — heretic, rebel, a thing to flout," in the words of poet Edwin Markham, but my circle, like his, takes the excluders in. I wrote in the Twenty Flaws document in 1994: "I have high regard for every single one of the participants in the mob action against me. History is full of examples of good and decent people being caught up in fanatic movements that do a great deal of harm." True then, true now.