{Published by the University of Waterloo administration on its website from June 1994 until the summer of 1998; published since July 2003 by Kenneth Westhues, Professor of Sociology, University of Waterloo, as part of the Documentary History of the UW Ethics Committee, 1982-1998.)

 

Following are unofficially obtained texts of three letters that
have become controversial in the Ken Westhues case.
Chris Redmond
Information and Public Affairs
credmond@watserv1.uwaterloo.ca
888-4567 ext. 3004
7 June 1994

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KEN WESTHUES TO GAIL GRANT

15 March 1994

Dr. Gail Paton Grant
Assistant Professor of Sociology
University of Guelph
Guelph, Ontario N1G 2W1

Dear Gail:

I deeply appreciate your concern for my situation here. At the same
time, I really hate setting down my personal troubles on paper.
Admitting weakness does not come easy for me. I also know that
normally the best defense against defamation of character is to
ignore it, for fear of drawing attention to the charges and lending
them credibility. But things here have gotten out of hand. My chair
and all my colleagues save one have taken it upon themselves to
judge me guilty of abuse, harassment, intimidation, subversion,
creating a chilly climate for women, and similar offenses, and to
impose serious penalties, including disbarment from working with
graduate students until 1998 or beyond. They took their action
mainly in secret, outside the context of university policy, and
without due process. What is more, I have done nothing to deserve
these punishments, which are about as severe as I can imagine,
short of outright dismissal from the university. I simply cannot
acquiesce, even at the risk of provoking further defamation.

Besides, as Mills would have it, my personal troubles are also a
public issue. I keep reading in the paper about the climate of
intolerance that seems to have descended upon universities all over
the place. In this morning's Globe & Mail, Saul Bellow, the Nobel
laureate in literature, writes that open discussion of major public
questions has become a taboo. "Righteousness and rage," he writes,
"threaten the independence of our souls." I do not claim moral
superiority to my chair and colleagues, and I certainly do not want
anything in this letter to be taken as a slur on anyone. But my
chair and colleagues are not so morally superior to me that they
have a right to collude in crippling my position and banishing me
from the normal work of the department. If a university means
anything, surely it means putting up with people who disagree, even
sometimes angrily, with the majority.

Ironically, I spent a lot of time last year through our faculty
association (FAUW) defending two different professors, one in math
and the other in one of our church colleges, on whom their
immediate colleagues had ganged up. I even made notes for an
article on the process of demonization and ostracization in
universities, drawing especially on an insightful article by Mary
Gallant in Sociological Quarterly entitled "Wayward Puritans in the
Ivory Tower." I never imagined that I myself would soon be cast in
the role of the witch. My own scholarship has gone well of late, I
am much involved in the local community, and my family is well and
joyful, thank God. My courses last fall were exhilarating, I had
three bright Ph.D. supervisees actively working with me, and I was
looking forward to the six-month sabbatical that began on 1
January. Having supervised to successful defense as many doctoral
theses as the rest of my colleagues combined, I counted myself an
asset to my department, especially its graduate programs. I had no
inkling that a kind of mob action was about to arise against me.

Background: the Ouster of a Ph.D. Student
=========================================
What set things off was a three-hour, oral comprehensive exam in
research methods taken by one of my doctoral supervisees last 11
November. He was unusual in lots of ways, notably in having already
published abundant evidence of his expertise in research methods.
But he was also distinctly anti-positivist, critical, and
policy-oriented in his approach, drawing on people like Schutz,
Mead, Mills, Marcuse, Goffman, Berger, and Gouldner.

The student was failed on the exam by a three-person committee
chaired by a young feminist woman (I will call her Janes Jones)
whose appointment I had strongly supported in 1990, whom I thought
was sympathetic to critical kinds of sociology, and with whom I had
enjoyed altogether friendly relations. Finding his failure
unbelievable, the student requested a copy of the audio-recording
that had been made of the exam. His request was denied. His funding
was terminated. On 6 December, he initiated an appeal in terms of
university policy. On 13 December, the department chair informed
him of an unidentified professor's allegations of plagiarism in one
of his publications. The student asked to see the evidence and to
know who his accuser was. These requests were ignored, and the
department chair threatened to give the evidence to the associate
dean. In late January, the student went to the associate dean to
ask to register inactive for the term, and to obtain the plagiarism
evidence. His request for inactive status was denied. The associate
dean said she had passed the evidence on to another associate dean.
At this point the student dropped his appeal and withdrew from UW.
Three weeks later the "evidence" arrived in his mail. By my
reading, it consists of quibbles about citation format. I find no
evidence at all of intent to deceive. The student is now beginning
the process of rebuilding his life. He is the most recent in a
lineage of bright, decent, capable, hard-working, humanistically
inclined scholars for whom this department has proven to be quite
a hostile environment.

Just after being released from the 11 November exam but before
learning the examiners' decision, the student stopped by my office
to say the exam had gone well. Pleased and relieved, I left for a
meeting across campus. Upon my return three hours later, I found
the chair of the examining committee, Professor Jones, sitting with
the department chair on a bench on the terrace outside our
building. The latter left when I approached, and the former gave me
the news that the student had failed by unanimous vote. I was
overcome with anger and anguish. I told Jones that the system is
evil: "I'm not saying you're evil, Jane, but the system is." I did
not call her names, raise my voice, or threaten her. I did show
intense displeasure with the examiners' decision, and in particular
with her concurring vote. I said I was ashamed for having led the
student to expect that his expertise would be recognized. In our
brief conversation, I got the impression that Jones had not in fact
chaired the committee, but had followed the lead of the senior
member in formulating at the end the criteria by which the student
was deemed to have failed. The exchange was just between the two of
us, though several other people walked by on the terrace.

The next afternoon, a Friday, I was at home, just leaving the house
to pick up my son from school, when Professor Jones telephoned me
and inquired, in what seemed to me a condescending tone of voice,
about the student's well-being. I lost my temper. By my
recollection, her later recounting of my response is accurate

How the hell do you think he is? What do you want me to tell
you, Jane? That the man is okay? Well, the man isn't fucking
okay. Do you want me to tell you that I'm afraid the man is
going to have a fucking heart attack?

We shouted at one another over the telephone for 15 or 20 minutes,
until I said I simply had to go pick up my son. She told me she was
a "good Catholic girl" who had applied the department's criteria as
she was told to do. Referring to the Paul Newman movie, "The
Verdict," I told her that the jury is the law.

I also told her that given her own, qualitative orientation to
research, she herself should not feel overly secure in the
department. It was the angriest conversation I have had with a
colleague in some years. I think the reason was that I had thought
Jones possessed more sympathy for the student's approach, and more
strength and independence of judgment, than she seemed to have
shown at the exam.

The next Monday, in my role as the student's supervisor, I sent
polite letters to Professor Jones, the senior member of the
committee, and the department chair, inquiring about procedures
used in the exam and the criteria of evaluation. I also asked the
department chair for a copy of the tapes. All three declined to
answer my questions, and I never did receive the tapes. The
student, however, received them by order of the dean in mid-January
and passed his copy on to me. My personal judgment, on the basis of
having studied the tapes, is that I would sooner defend the student
than the examiners.

Professor Jones's Complaints
============================
Professor Jones took much greater offense from our conversations of
11 and 12 November than I realized. She apparently informed the
department chair of this, he asked her to give him a detailed
written report, and she obliged on 24 November with a 1 0-page
document. Neither she nor he gave me a copy, but instead (as I
learned later) shared the report with colleagues in the department.
I learned of the report's existence on 6 December, from the chair
of the FAUW Academic Freedom Committee, whose assistance I had
asked in obtaining the exam tapes. That same day, I chanced to see
Jones and politely asked her for a copy of the report. When I did
not receive it by the end of the next day, I asked the department
chair for a copy. He replied, "Don't try to bully me the way you
bullied Jane." l then asked the dean to get me the report, and I at
last received a copy on 10 December.

In Jones's account, it "was a very fair process until the exam was
over." Then, she said, I treated her in a "hostile and abusive
manner" and intimidated her. She reported our conversations in fine
detail, including her claim to being a good Catholic girl. To me,
the report came across as the work of a frightened junior professor
caught in the cross-fire between me and the departmental
authorities, now seeking the chair's protection against the
legitimate questions the student and I had raised. I was led to
conclude that it had been unfair not only to the student but to
Jones that she, an inexperienced, untenured Assistant Professor,
had been appointed to chair the exam. Along with Jones's report
came a letter from the department chair, stating his intention to
act upon complaints against my conduct, mainly that I had subjected
Jones to "unacceptable pressure and abuse on three occasions, both
before and after the examination." He summoned me to appear before
the department's promotion and tenure committee, "to explore the
foundation of these complaints."

With the agreement of FAUW's Academic Freedom chair, who declared
his "abhorrence" of the proceeding, I declined to attend the
meeting until I was shown what rules I had violated. I responded in
writing to each of the chair's complaints, and apologized for
having addressed Jones "angrily, reproachfully and offensively."

In a separate letter to Jones on 13 December, with no copies to
anyone, I repeated my apology to her. "I really am sorry, " I
wrote. "Life is too short to be spent lambasting other people. I
surely should not have caused such pain in you." Regrettably,
however, I coupled my apology with an explanation and defense of my
questioning the examiners' decision. I cited Ben Singer's article
in Sociological Inquiry, wherein he distinguishes between criteria
and standards, and argues that fanatic devotion to criteria is
sending standards down the drain. I also said I had given up a long
time ago trying to be a good Catholic boy. I cited from the
Canadian Journal of Sociology a reminiscence of Marcel Rioux, as
the kind of sociologist I would keep trying to make room for in our
university.

Aftermath of Letter of Apology
==============================
My letter of admittedly qualified apology offended Jones still
more. She did not reply to me, but instead (unbenownst to me)
circulated copies of my letter within the department and
university, along with a three-page denunciation of my
"sanctimonious, bullying and uncollegial behaviour." She wrote that
"over three recent occasions Professor Westhues has insulted my
ethical standards, my academic merit, interfered with my freedom to
execute my academic duties in the department and insulted me for
being 'a good Catholic girl.'" She said she would accept no further
communication, oral or written, from me, asking that any necessary
communication be conveyed through the department chair.

I managed to get a copy of Jones's second memo from the FAUW
representative on 20 December. By this time I had received from the
department chair a further letter, a six-page revised statement of
his complaints. This letter claimed that I had undermined the
department's examination process, behaved offensively toward Jones,
and "created in the department the 'chilly climate' that women
academics sometimes deplore." He said Jones had described my
conduct as "erratic and bizarre," and that she had missed the
department's Christmas party because "she was physically
intimidated by your volatile and hateful behaviour." He was
reviewing possible sanctions against me, since "redress and justice
should not be the sole responsibility of the aggrieved or
victimized party."

During those weeks before the Christmas break, I did not know that
all or nearly all of my colleagues in the department were being
kept abreast of my conflict with Jones and the chair, and so it
appears, incited to act. I was on speaking terms with all of them,
and exchanged pleasantries with those I met in the corridor. It was
the season for reading essays and exams.

Only on 2 January did I learn that on the previous 20 December,
four of my colleagues, including the graduate officer, had sent the
chair a collective 600-word memo, signing themselves "academic
citizens of the University of Waterloo." Copies had gone to the
higher officers of both the university and FAUW. The memo began:

As a consequence of (1) a series of verbal assaults (personal
denigrations, character assassinations as well as work-related
harassments and intimidations) from Ken Westhues, directed
toward members of our department (most recently some
particularly vicious verbal attacks on a junior, untenured
faculty member) who in good faith have been conducting
departmentally assigned duties involving the graduate program:
(2) subversions of the graduate examination process by undue
and inappropriate interference in examination and grading
practices; and (3) promoting preferential treatment for
certain students in the graduate program, we insist that Ken
Westhues immediately be removed from all duties and
obligations associated with the graduate program.

Toward the end of their memo, they specified the sentence to be
imposed:

Consequently, we recommend that Ken Westhues immediately be
removed from all duties and obligations associated with the
graduate program and that this condition remain in effect for
a period of 5 (five) years. We do not propose that this ban be
automatically lifted after a five year period, but rather
insist that Ken Westhues not be eligible for reconsideration
of these duties until at least five years have passed, during
which time he would have opportunity to show members of this
department (the people who have to work with him on a day to
day basis and who have to face these problems in a direct
personal manner) that he is endeavouring to become a good
departmental citizen. So far as the undersigned are concerned,
Ken Westhues is no longer a member of the graduate faculty,
effective immediately. None of us will serve on a graduate
student thesis committee chaired by Ken Westhues.

By the time I learned of this memo on 2 January, the FAUW president
had already replied to these four sociology professors, stating his
"grave concerns over the tone of your memo and the actions that you
propose":

I have no idea who is responsible for the problems currently
affecting your department. However, as President of the
Faculty Association, I strongly reject your call for action
against Professor Westhues without due process.

It was heartening to find a copy of the FAUW president's reply in
my mailbox when the university re-opened on 5 January, but the same
mail brought a copy of a second collective memo to the chair, this
one an 800-word document signed by seven additional colleagues.
This memo was more temperate in tone, reminding me of the muted
cheers of the less aggressive people who tag along on the fringes
of a lynch mob. These colleagues urged the chair

to impose upon Westhues some proper sanctions for the
misconduct as soon as possible. We say as soon as possible
because Westhues' document shows that he sees it as
appropriate to continue abusing Jones. Something must be done
to stop this immediately. Regrettably, it appears necessary,
too, for your sanctions to be substantial."

The sentence handed down by the second seven colleagues echoed that
of the first four:

Our analysis of the situation also suggests that you should
undertake to, for some extended period, cut back on your
assignment of duties in the graduate program to Westhues--for
graduate courses, work on Ph.D. comprehensive examination
panels, and for advising new Ph.D. students. We are very sad
to have to make this recommendation. However, it seems
necessary because Westhues continues to reject some of the
Ph.D. program regulations and insist others should ignore
them.

These colleagues conclude that "these actions should be taken
because they are likely to reduce conflict between Westhues and
others involved in the graduate program. After a period of time, of
course, the department should try to determine whether Westhues has
changed his mind about practising intimidation and interference
around the graduate program."

Not one of the eleven colleagues who signed these memos so much as
telephoned me in the final weeks of 1993, to let me know the (I
hate to use the word) conspiracy that was afoot. At last, on 14
February, I received from the department chair a six-page letter
repeating his earlier complaints in yet another revised form. The
letter says I am "known as the author of many insulting memoranda
and letters which you have used to bully colleagues who do not
conform to your expectations."

The chair's letter concludes by officially imposing three penalties
on me: (1) the letter of reprimand to be placed in my personnel
file "as a warning that more severe sanctions may be required,
should there be a recurrence of the offending behaviour"; (2) no
"further graduate responsibilities in this Department until 1 July
1988, after which date you may apply for resumption of these
duties"; and (3) an unsatisfactory assessment in my 1993
performance review.

I filed grievances against the chair and eleven colleagues in late
January, and declared myself eager to meet with each of them, in a
spirit of healing and mutual respect, to try to resolve my
grievances informally. No meetings have yet taken place, though I
am hopeful that some at least can be arranged. I expect that in
coming weeks the case will go to formal hearings before a Grievance
Panel, which will then make a recommendation to the university
president.

Reflections and Conclusion
==========================

Like any account of a conflict, this one could be longer, detailing
additional accusations by my chair and colleagues against me, and
by me against them. In setting down this brief factual account, in
an effort to resist the vilification process, I realize that I
invite accusations of having glossed over the heinousness of my
misbehaviour. A battle against a dozen organized detractors, all
the regular faculty in my department except one (he is nearing
retirement), is hard to win. Indeed, the more aggressive I become
in defending myself, the more I seem to be exactly the bully I am
portrayed to be. The fact remains that apart from my rudeness to
Jones over the telephone, I have not done anything outside of
university policy or standard academic practice. And for the
rudeness I have apologized.

So far as I can see, my offensiveness toward Jones is but the
pretext for purging the department's graduate programs of a
professor whose orientation is at odds with that of the chair,
graduate officer, and most of the other professors, and who defines
sociology more broadly than they do. With the departure over the
past 10 years of Ed Vaz, Susan McDaniel, Harold Fallding, Luiz
Costa-Pinto, and other professors with broader sensibilities, the
department has become a narrower milieu than formerly. Most of
those, like Jones, with nonpositivist orientations are still quite
junior.

I want to emphasize that all my colleagues are respectable
scholars. I have worked constructively with each of them in the
past, and look forward to doing so again. I have not named them in
this report, lest their reputations be tarnished by their, as I
perceive, lapse of right conduct and good judgment. Their attack on
me has not at all destroyed my faith in people's basic goodness.
But good people can behave badly, especially in stressful
situations where herd instincts overtake independence of thought.
Our discipline, as well as the university itself, is indeed under
stress, as commentators on all sides agree. That is the context in
which mob actions and witch hunts easily occur. We have played out
here the roles of villain, victim, moral entrepreneur, and so on,
much as Goffman, Garfinkel, Becker and others have described in the
textbooks we ourselves assign.

As to whether this effort to render me impotent in the department's
life will succeed, only time will tell. I have never heard of this
kind of incursion on a professor's work. Neither, however, have I
heard of a university president taking on a whole department for
the sake of one professor's rights. Mills said it best, that
sociologists should not only predict the future but help decide it.
That is what I plan to do. I will not recant the classic traditions
of sociology I have been privileged to represent in this department
since 1975. I am proud of the work I have done here, and proud of
the students who have worked with me, learning from me and teaching
me at the same time. I know I am not easy to live or work with, but
I do not think I ought to be. As I understand our place on this
planet (you and all my former students have heard this too many
times) we are most human when we brush our respective selves
against one another, at once respectfully and abrasively, risking
the friction that enlivens us and keeps history moving.

A little sap flowing and some other very early signs of spring have
appeared in our garden and the woods. It is the easiest time of
year to have hope for our world. I will close with a wish that this
spring will bring surprising new life to your garden as to ours,
and to our own lives.

Sincerely yours,


K. Westhues
Professor

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GAIL GRANT TO "COLLEAGUE"

24 March 1994

Dear Colleague and Friend of Ken Westhues:

I am writing to solicit your support for Ken Westhues who has
become enmeshed in a rather nasty situation at the University of
Waterloo. I am enclosing a copy of the letter that Ken sent to me
after I had heard rumors of these problems.

After first discussing, then reading about, Ken's situation, I was
profoundly saddened and disturbed. My sadness was both personal
and collective: Ken's intellectual generosity and fierce loyalty
(and, yes, his occasional "prickliness"), which many of us enjoyed
as his graduate students and colleagues, were denigrated and to be
denied to future graduate students. A great loss. My concern was
more specific: after reflecting on the particular situation, I felt
strongly that the suggested reprimand was draconian. These
measures would effectively halt Ken's career in mid-stream; the
personal and academic consequences would be immeasurable.

Hoping to somehow repay my own large debt to Ken, I decided to
attempt to mobilize support that would neutralize the negative
impact of his colleagues' intransigence. This letter, then, is
written to engage you in this undertaking.

Please take the time to write to the President (or fax him at 519-
888-6337) in support of Ken (a mailed copy to Ken might be a
morale-booster during this "worst of times"!). While the end-of-
term timing may be inopportune, it would be most effective if these
letters could reach the President before the end of April.

I realize that each of us has enjoyed a unique association with
Ken; yet our various experiences have been marked by the fine
intellect, the humanity and the unwavering support of excellence
and justice -- the integrity -- that characterize all of his
relationships. Ken may be an imperfect human, but perhaps you, as
I, have found him less imperfect than most! As you know, Ken has
written passionately of the principle of reciprocity in human
relationships; this has been the active principle in his
professional and personal involvements. Your support is an
opportunity to commit to reciprocity.

Sincerely,


Gail Grant
MCKN 607, University of Guelph

P.S.
An ironic postscript: as this problem is being processed, Ken is
to be honored for his Distinguished Teacher Award (April 7th).
Life is fraught with contradictions! Please write.