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Fischer-Dieskau's own reflections, excerpted from "Conductor tells his side of the story," an article in The Record, Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, 4 September 2004, p. A15:

From the very beginning of this entire sordid affair, I have been convinced that there was a group bent on ousting me. This, in spite of the fact that the players had twice in 2003 endorsed my musical leadership. But by means of a campaign, some individuals were able to incite a substantial number of board, staff and orchestra members to turn against me.

In fact, their behaviour corroborates exactly what Prof. Kenneth Westhues referred to as "workplace mobbing" in his July 26 Insight page article in The Record.

All this would have been entirely unbearable were it not for the strong community support I have received. The groundswell of indignation and outrage at my firing and the massive display of affection for me which were so evident at the public meeting at Centre in the Square last February are something I shall never forget.



After his departure from Kitchener-Waterloo, Martin Fischer-Dieskau continued his distinguished career in Europe and Asia, notably with the Taipei Symphony Orchestra



firing was



Kenneth Westhues

The Record
, Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, 26 July 2004, Insight section, p. A9.


On 1 December 2003, The Record, the daily newspaper of Waterloo Region, a city of half a million in southern Ontario, reported that the Board of Directors of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony had suddenly fired its enormously popular principal conductor, Martin Fischer-Dieskau. The city erupted in protest. For the next ten months, conflict raged between Fischer-Dieskau's supporters and the board. Mass meetings took place. Many hundreds of news stories, editorials, and letters to the editor were published. Eventually, a new symphony board took charge, but it did not reinstate Fischer-Dieskau to his job. Instead, a "national study" was announced. Such was the context for the commentary below.

The Record reported on July 22 that the turmoil in the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony will "form the subject of a national study to help educate other Canadian cultural agencies."

The article said the symphony board has approved a request from Canada Council and the Centre for Cultural Management at the University of Waterloo to use the conflict as a case study.

No one can doubt that there is much to learn from the conflict. Thanks to coverage and debate in The Record and other media, most of the relevant evidence is publicly available for analysis, with or without the symphony board's approval.

Bright minds in this community have already drawn valuable lessons from the conflict. Political scientist Thomas Hueglin, psychologist Herbert Lefcourt, philosophers Jan Narveson and Scott Arnold, and timpanist Ron Brown have all published perceptive essays in this newspaper. Lefcourt's depiction of conductor Martin Fischer-Dieskau as a "tall poppy" that gets mowed down was especially perceptive.

The study described in Thursday's Record likely will not add anything to the reflections already published.

The reason is the basic premise stated by Bill Poole, director of the Centre for Cultural Management, that the "study authors have no intention of blaming former managers or board members." Similarly, current board chair John Spearn says the controversy over Fischer-Dieskau's dismissal "will form a small part of the review," and that "the larger part involves how the symphony overcame the problem."

These quotes make clear that the study will ignore in its basic design the key fact of the whole affair: that the former manager and board collectively screwed up. These good people made a wrong decision, a bad mistake. They fired without cause a conductor who excelled, a maestro appointed just two years earlier from an international competition of 125 applicants. Any study that disregards this essential truth misses the point.

If Poole and Spearn are quoted correctly, their planned study will treat Fischer-Dieskau's firing as if it had been a natural disaster, like a tornado blowing the roof off the Centre in the Square, an accident that fundraising can remedy. But the firing was no accident. It was a human tragedy.

A study that reduces it to a financial and public-relations crisis will hide more light than it sheds. To citizens who love music, who respect musicians, and whose appreciation of life extends beyond spreadsheets, the study will be a joke.

Serious future studies of the symphony meltdown may well draw on research done these past 20 years, mainly in Europe, on what is called "workplace mobbing." This is a distinct organizational pathology wherein managers and/or co-workers gang up on a target, normally some kind of exceptionally talented outsider, and get rid of him or her. The mobbers behave politely and without violence. Their object is to eliminate the target by clever manoeuvres, without breaking any laws, while appearing to serve the best interests of the organization.

It is an uncommon and bizarre pathology, almost unbelievable even to those who encounter it firsthand. Three to five per cent of workers are mobbed sometime during their working lives. The outcome is often disastrous. A Swedish study found that about 15 per cent of suicides had recently been mobbed at work.

The mobbing of Fischer-Dieskau was unusual in several ways. It was carried out hastily and clumsily. He could probably have been worn down gradually by insults and obstructions over a year or two, to the point of quitting voluntarily or suffering a breakdown of health.

This mobbing was unusual also in the courage, political skill and sheer number of Fischer-Dieskau's intended rescuers. Most mobbings succeed with less dissent. Relevant elites tend to close ranks behind the mobbers, no matter how unjust or stupid their actions are. Organizational stability is a powerful priority. For the sake of peace, the targeted individual is often sacrificed with little fuss.

In this case, however, Tony Martinek led a grassroots campaign of symphony patrons intent on serving not only peace but justice and music, and determined to bring the fired conductor back. The Record gave coverage to the dissenters, despite tilting toward the mobbers in editorials.

As more and more evidence of what really happened came to light, the grassroots campaign snowballed. Rather than reverse their wrong decision and move ahead, the manager and board responsible for the mess quit.

While unusual in some respects, the Fischer-Dieskau mobbing seems to have had the standard, predictable outcome. Heinz Leymann, the Swedish founder of research in this area, reported that he had not found a single case in which the mobbed worker was accepted back into the organization with an apology and compensation.

This is the strangest, saddest aspect of the pathology: that once an individual has been successfully eliminated, events somehow conspire to prevent reinstatement and reconciliation. Functionaries caught up in the mobbing frenzy and even their successors find it psychologically almost impossible to admit a mistake was made.

Viewing the symphony conflict from the sidelines as a researcher of workplace mobbing, I allowed myself to hope, when the new board was elected last March, that this case would be an exception to Leymann's rule. It no longer looks that way.

A serious future study of the symphony may also be broadened to include the similarly destructive processes this past year in two other local cultural organizations, the Waterloo Regional Children's Museum and Theatre & Company.

In today's world, the most common kind of workplace mobbing involves professional managers ganging up to get rid of star performers -- and not only in the arts. I have analysed dozens of cases in universities. A colleague in Australia studies how nurses who excel in patient care are harassed and humiliated by supervisors sitting behind desks. Other researchers observe similar patterns in schools.

Patricia Pitcher, a professor at McGill University, has written an excellent book on much the same destructiveness in business organizations. It is entitled Artists, Craftsmen and Technocrats.

As research continues, we will better understand why and how an organization, as it becomes more bureaucratized, sometimes loses sight of its purpose, turns in on itself, and crushes the people who serve its purpose best. Far from contributing to such understanding, the study announced last week is likely to detract from it.


Kenneth Westhues is a sociology professor at the University of Waterloo and has been studying "workplace mobbing" for the past 10 years. He is the author of Eliminating Professors: A Guide to the Dismissal Process (1998) and Administrative Mobbing at the University of Toronto (2004).