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Compiled and published on the web by Kenneth Westhues, Professor of Sociology, University of Waterloo, July 2003; links updated 2004, 2007.


This site is for any professor, administrator, staff member, or student whose university has, or proposes to create, a special tribunal to adjudicate complaints of ethical misconduct. The documents gathered here chronicle the history of such a tribunal at a major Canadian university.

Waterloo's tribunal was called the Ethics Committee. The university announced plans for it in 1981, the same year the Seagram Distillery, an old and famous industry in downtown Waterloo, announced plans for a multimillion dollar, world-class exhibition of intoxicating spirits to be called the Seagram Museum. Both projects were launched with hope and confidence. Neither lasted until century's end. The museum closed in 1997. The Ethics Committee was abolished in 1998. Neither social experiment was judged to be worth continuing.

The goal of this webpage is that other universities may learn from the University of Waterloo's experience with its Ethics Committee. So that readers may draw their own conclusions, the historical record is presented here with minimal editorial comment. The conclusion I draw, as a professor much involved with the tribunal during its last four years, is in a separate section at the end.

During the sixteen years of its existence, Waterloo's Ethics Committee not only affected individual careers and lives, but it also shaped academic policies especially on electronic media. On the committee's recommendation in 1994, Waterloo banned several newsgroups from the campus network (see Jeffrey Shallit's account), thereby maintaining the leadership role in internet censorship Waterloo first assumed in 1988 (rec.humor.funny). Also in 1994, on an ethics tribunal's recommendation, Waterloo became the first university anywhere to use the World Wide Web, officially and purposely, to discredit a member of its faculty (CAUT Report, 1996).

Why was the Ethics Committee established? How did its tribunals work? What decisions did they make? Why was the committee abolished after sixteen years? For answering these questions, the documents gathered here are indispensable. Most are scattered around the web on sites maintained by the UW administration, other institutions, and individuals. Some documents have been retrieved from electronic and print archives. A number of documents referenced here were published as letters to the editor of the UW Gazette. Since most of these are not electronically available, brief summary quotations are included in the chronology. These letters may be read in full in the Gazette's print archives and on microfilm in Waterloo's Dana Porter Library. Articles from the Globe & Mail, Kitchener-Waterloo Record, and National Post that are referenced or quoted from herein may be read in their entirety in LexisNexis Academic or other electronic journal indexes commonly accessible in university libraries.

I will be pleased to receive (preferably by email) suggestions of any relevant links I may have missed, as well as suggestions for improving content and presentation, so that this site may be as comprehensive and useful as possible.



Here is the basic reference: the final, 1990 version of Policy 33, Ethical Behaviour, which differed little in substance from the initial one of 1982, and which served as the basis of the Ethics Committee's authority. Section IV of the policy describes the functioning of tribunals established to adjudicate formal complaints. The post-1998 version of Policy 33 is essentially the same, but with the previous Section IV and other references to an Ethics Committee deleted. Members of the university are now advised to bring complaints of ethical misconduct to line administrators (deans, department chairs, and so on), who handle such complaints as part of their jobs.

April 30, 1980

"Hands off my body" headlines the front-page story in the UW Gazette. Editor Chris Redmond leads off: "The professor who only gives A's to students who go to bed with him, or who pats their bottoms as he brushes past them in the lab, is the new villain of the academic world." The article is one of many at the time identifying sexual harassment as a social problem. Redmond cites a new book on the oppression of women by Constance Backhouse, at that time a law professor at the University of Western Ontario.

February 23, 1981

In response to concerns on campus about sexual harassment, discrimination, and abuse, President Burt Matthews appoints an Ad Hoc Committee to Recommend a Policy on Ethical Behaviour. The committee is chaired by philosophy professor Michael McDonald. (McDonald will move to the University of British Columbia in 1990, and become one of Canada's leading architects of ethics policies.)

February 1, 1982

The Report of the McDonald Committee is submitted to Douglas Wright, who had replaced Burt Matthews as president of Waterloo the previous July. The report is appended to the Ethics Policy passed by Senate and the Board of Governors in June. This policy brings the Ethics Committee into existence. Its members are charged with receiving complaints, resolving them informally if possible, but if not, by three-person ethics tribunals.
July 27, 1983
Classics professor Phyllis Forsyth, the founding chair of the Ethics Committee, reports in the UW Gazette that the committee handled eight specific complaints during its first year of operation: two resolved informally to the satisfaction of all parties, three "less successfully mediated," and only one subjected to a formal hearing. The Gazette speculates that "that last one sounds like the affair of Enginews, the engineering student tabloid which was accused of obscenity, racism and sexism, and which was disowned by the Engineering Society under pressure from UW authorities."
The Gazette article reports two minor changes in the ethics policy on the basis of the first year's experience: permission to the committee to abandon efforts at informal resolution "if, after a reasonable amount of time has been invested, it is clear that the complaint is either frivolous or incapable of solution at the informal level"; and an explicit statement that "Every person in the University community has a right to institute and participate in proceedings under this Policy without reprisal or threat of reprisal for so doing."
September 14, 1983
UW Gazette reports that Forsyth has stepped down as chair and left the Ethics Committee (she will become, in the 1990s, a leader of the women's movement on campus, first author of at least two major reports on women's issues, a candidate for university provost, and the provost's special advisor on women's issues). The new chair is Jake Willms, assistant to the dean of arts, with history professor David Davies as faculty representative on the committee.

April 20, 1988

UW Gazette reports that provost Robin Banks has appointed a committee "to discuss sexual harassment and see whether anything new needs to be done about it at Waterloo." Pure mathematics professor Ralph Staal, current chair of the Ethics Committee, is a member of Banks's committee.

February 23, 1989

In response to concerns about offensive jokes on USENET, the holding of the Miss Oktoberfest beauty pageant on campus, and misuse of academic freedom, President Douglas Wright appoints an Ad Hoc Committee to consider possible amendments or alterations to the Ethics Policy. The five-member committee is chaired by librarian Lois Claxton, who will later become the university's corporate secretary. Two professors are on the ad hoc committee, Ralph Staal of pure mathematics and Frank Thompson of religious studies.

January, 1990

Frank Thompson resigns from the Ad Hoc Committee to amend or alter the Ethics Policy. His Minority Report refers to "the long history of codes as the instruments of authority or as the means of imposing the requirements of superiors upon inferiors in hierarchically-ordered relationships." It is included as an appendix to the Ethics Policy.

February 16, 1990

The Report of the Claxton Committee is submitted to President Wright, and included as an appendix to the revised Policy 33, Ethical Behaviour, approved by Senate and the Board of Governors later in the year.

October 29, 1993

A story on the front page of the local section of the Kitchener-Waterloo Record begins: "Sex-based" computer bulletin boards will be reviewed by the University of Waterloo's ethics committee and a lawyer to see if they break the law." The story reports that complaints have arisen from the UW Women's Centre, and quotes accountancy professor and lawyer Sally Gunz, chair of the Ethics Committee, as saying "the committee has investigated the computer pornography issue 'generally' over the past year. But until now, it didn't have the authority to do anything further, she said."

January 31, 1994

On the recommendation of the Ethics Committee, president James Downey rules that complaints about obscene newsgroups will be handled by that committee, and accordingly, on February 1, provost James Kalbfleisch bans five newsgroups from the university's computers. Protests over infringement of rights to free expression propel UW to the front page of the Globe & Mail the following week (see Bulletin, February 7). UW computer science professor Jeffrey Shallit will cite the ban as a major reason for his co-founding, with David Jones of McMaster University, an organization that becomes a major bulwark against internet censorship in the following years, Electronic Frontier Canada.

February 15, 1994

Ethics Committee chair Sally Gunz is one of four panelists at a public forum on the ban of newsgroups from the campus network. The other panelists are provost Kalbfleisch and computer science professors Jeffrey Shallit and Prabhakar Ragde. Two hundred people turn out for the event.

March 9, 1994

A story by Rose Simone on the front-page of the local section of the Kitchener-Waterloo Record is headlined, "Complaints not reported : Sex-harassment victims fear repercussions, UW forum told." The article reports on a UW event marking International Women's Day, and says UW Ethics Committee chair Sally Gunz told the group that "there is a great fear among women of repercussions if they complain about harassment."

March 25, 1994

Sociology professor Adie Nelson files formal complaint under Policy 33 that sociology professor Kenneth Westhues has attacked her competence and character. Ethics Committee accepts complaint and appoints tribunal consisting of Sally Gunz as chair, former science dean Don Brodie and student Patti Haygarth as members. When the hearing begins on April 15, Nelson extends her complaint to a letter Westhues wrote on March 15 to Gail Grant, a sociology professor at the University of Guelph, which Grant subsequently distributed to Westhues's colleagues and friends.

May 4, 1994

UW Gazette publishes news article, "Sociology professor at centre of dispute." Sociology chair Ron Lambert is quoted as saying Nelson has filed ethics complaint against Westhues. Nelson confirms that this is so. Article includes quotations from Westhues's letter to Gail Grant.

May 9, 1994

In a confidential decision, the Gunz tribunal finds Westhues guilty of ethical misconduct and recommends that he be required to write a public apology and mail it to recipients of his letter to Gail Grant. Provost James Kalbfleisch accepts the tribunal's decision.

May 11, 1994

Political science professor Sandra Burt, Nelson's academic colleague in the ethics proceeding, publishes letter in UW Gazette headed "Story on Westhues case only told one side." Burt quotes advice of Constance Backhouse that campus men should learn to listen, and concludes, "In this dispute, which concerns a senior tenured male professor (also a former Chair of the department and member of the executive of the Faculty Association) and a junior untenured female professor, you would be well advised to heed Connie Backhouse's advice, once the issue has been resolved by the adjudication committee."

May 18, 1994

UW Gazette prints Westhues's response to May 4 article: "Since I described my grievances in a widely circulated letter to a colleague at Guelph, the sociology chair cannot be faulted for confirming my action to the Gazette. His statement should not, however, have included the news of a complaint more recently filed under the ethics policy, nor should it have identified either the accuser or the accused. A department chair has no business releasing the names of parties to complaints made under Policies 63 or 33. If names are to be released, it should be by the parties themselves. It has been impossible to defend myself against false accusations, unfair penalties, and slanderous gossip, without some reference to my detractors. I took pains not to identify them or cast aspersions on them in my letter to the colleague at Guelph. I referred to their collective attack as a 'lapse of right conduct and good judgment' not uncommon 'in stressful situations where herd instincts overtake independence of thought.' I shall continue to try to wipe away the mud that my chair and colleagues have collectively slung at me, but without throwing it back at them. Each of them, I repeat, is a respectable scholar with many talents and achievements."

UW Gazette also publishes a good word for Westhues in a letter from religious studies professor Frank Thompson: "I should like to put on record the admiration I have for him and wish him well in the strange proceedings reported in the Gazette of May 4. Given even a modicum, in all parties to the dispute, of the essential fairness I have seen in him, the reported difficulties should be easily resolved."

June 2, 1994

As directed by provost Kalbfleisch, who has approved in consultation with the Ethics Committee the wording of the apology to Nelson, Westhues mails the apology along with a cover letter to colleagues and friends.

June 6, 1994

Provost Kalbfleisch publishes on the internet an Open Letter to the University of Waterloo Community, denouncing Westhues for spreading misinformation in the cover letter. He also publishes on the internet the confidential Report of the Gunz Tribunal. His open letter, along with Westhues's apology, is the lead story in the UW Daily Bulletin of June 7 and is published in the UW Gazette of June 8. The UW administration also publishes under "Documents" on its website Westhues's letter to Gail Grant and his cover letter to colleagues and friends that accompanied the required apology.

June 22, 1994

Westhues publishes an Open Letter to Provost Kalbfleisch in the UW Gazette. The issue also includes long letters from Roman Dubinski (Westhues's academic colleague in the ethics proceeding), James Brox (president of Waterloo's faculty association), and geography professor Len Guelke, all raising questions about provost Kalbfleisch's release of confidential documents. Westhues asks the UW administration to publish his open letter to the provost, along with his longer document, Twenty Flaws in UW Ethics Hearing 94-3, with the other documents on the UW website. His request is refused. Both his letter and the longer document are noted in the UW Daily Bulletin of June 23.

June 29, 1994

UW Gazette publishes response to Westhues from provost Kalbfleisch, saying Westhues "continues to make public comments about Professor Adie Nelson, an untenured colleague in his department who chaired a comprehensive examination committee that failed one of his students. Professor Nelson does not deserve the treatment she has received over the past seven months, and continues to receive, and I deeply regret the pain that all of this is causing her." Kalbfleisch concludes: "Although I appoint its members, the Ethics Committee operates with complete independence from my office. I have no involvement in its hearings, and may not even know that a case is being considered until a final report is submitted to me. I have full confidence in the hearing process, and in the fairness and integrity of the committee members who undertake this difficult and thankless job on behalf of the university community."

The same issue of the Gazette includes a lengthy letter from political scientist Sandra Burt. "I was dismayed by your decision to give further voice to K. Westhues in the June 22 Gazette," Burt begins, and goes on to a vigorous defense of the ethics tribunal's decision. Burt concludes: "An Ethics Committee is the university community's best hope for an impartial, reasoned deliberation on disputes that cannot be resolved among the parties, or with the intervention of the Chair. In any community, it is essential to have in place a set of guidelines for ethical behaviour. And these guidelines must be enforced by adjudication panels that are fully aware of the elements of the disputes, but are at arm's length from them. This case was reviewed by such a panel. Westhues now refuses to accept its verdict, and is trying to build public support for his version of events. In the process, he continues to defame the character of Adie Nelson, who carried out her departmental responsibilities in good faith. It's more than time for Westhues to stop."

July 6, 1994

Westhues submits response to Burt for publication in the UW Gazette of this date, but his letter is refused on grounds that publication may contravene the ethics policy. He publishes the response to Burt in the October issue of FAUW Forum, newsletter of the local faculty association. In its November issue, FAUW Forum publishes a collective objection from anthropology professor and director of women's studies Harriet Lyons, economics professor Robert Needham, and English professor 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. ..."

December 1994

Robert Davies of Montreal publishes John Fekete's Moral Panic: Biopolitics Rising, which includes a 20-page, blistering critique of the Gunz tribunal's decision and related actions of the University of Waterloo against Westhues. Fekete concludes (p. 286): "At the centre of it all, everybody came to treat this whole thing as a case of sexual harassment, but without calling it that. In the midst of so much history, how could she [Nelson] have been allowed to think it was all about her? How could so many others outside the department join in this transparent delusion? Biopolitics. Conditions of moral panic." Fekete's book also includes a thoroughgoing critique of campus tribunals in many Canadian universities, with detailed analysis of about twenty cases.


Few if any activities of the Ethics Committee are reported this year. The Daily Bulletin of February 22 notes that at the invitation of the local faculty association, a fact-finding team from the Canadian Association of University Teachers is on campus to look into the actions of the Gunz tribunal and of the UW administration against Westhues, and to scrutinize the relevant UW policies.

January 25, 1995

Report of PACOHAD, the Provost's Advisory Committee on Harassment and Discrimination, is released (see Imprint, Nov. 24, 1995). The committee, appointed the previous spring, was chaired by Greg Bennett, chair of UW's Faculty Grievance Committee. Ethics Committee Chair Sally Gunz is listed as a resource person to the committee. The committee recommends "one common adjudicatory body to deal with all grievances for all members of the campus, with provision that an individual would be judged by a panel of her/his peers, according to principles of natural justice," this body to replace four separate existing bodies, the Ethics Committee and the Faculty, Staff, and Student Grievance Committees. This recommendation was noted on the Daily Bulletin of February 13, but does not appear to have received further attention.

May 5, 1995

The Daily Bulletin reports that Sally Gunz's term as chair ended on April 30, and that former science dean Don Brodie is acting chair.

November 15, 1995

In a statement published in the UW Gazette, environmental studies professor Sehdev Kumar complains that in his case and in the case of one other professor accused and found guilty of ethical misconduct, and punished for it, the UW administration acted directly, without any kind of formal hearing, instead of referring the accusations to the university's Ethics Committee, which "conducts its hearings in accordance with the principles of natural justice."

February 7, 1996

The UW Gazette publishes two letters that draw renewed attention to the Nelson-Westhues dispute and the decision of the Gunz tribunal. Harriet Lyons recounts how she has "tried from the beginning to encourage AF&T to avoid appearing to give support to one faculty members's view of highly contested events" in "Affaire Westhues." Sociology chair Ronald Lambert describes the Gunz tribunal as an impartial inquiry, and says faculty members may obtain from him or the department secretary copies of the "document on the Westhues case" that he prepared for CAUT.

February 14, 1996

UW Gazette features a long, front-page article that begins, "UW's ethics committee has a new chair, and is launching a new effort to make sure that people on campus know what it does." With the article is a photo of the new chair, kinesiology/sociology professor Nancy Theberge, who is quoted as saying that "flexibility is the key, and the complainant determines how far the issue should be taken. A committee member will not be your advocate, and will only recommend an action which is in your best interest." Former engineering dean Bill Lennox, staff member Debbie Dietrich, and research ethics manager Susan Sykes are also named to the committee.

February 21, 1996

UW Gazette's attention to the Nelson-Westhues dispute and Gunz tribunal continues with publication of two letters. Adie Nelson reports her advice to "someone who has the misfortune to come across a bully masquerading as a Full Professor...." Her letter is essentially the same as she will publish in CAUT Bulletin in the fall, as her response to its report. The other letter, by sociology chair Ronald Lambert, criticizes CAUT and the local faculty association: "Conflict between colleagues, at least for FAUW, is less a problem to solve than a political opportunity to exploit." Lambert concludes: "Following Gannon's sage advice, imagine how Professors Brox, Dubinski, and Macdonald might treat a patient suffering from migraine headaches. These good doctors would 'have to find a way of seeing' the affliction as something else, say hemorrhoids, and would treat the patient accordingly. A dismal prognosis."

April 9, 1996

Ethics Committee receives new complaint against Westhues, this one from an undergraduate student: "I am writing this letter and filing a complaint because of the issues that have surfaced during Professor Westhues' class. On two occasions, Mr. Westhues made racist and unbalanced arguments regarding the theory of Bio-Politics." On April 9, Committee Secretary Emily Barnes informs Westhues that the complaint has been lodged, that the student has refused an attempt at informal resolution, and that a three-person tribunal has been established consisting of Bill Lennox as chair, Susan Sykes and student Tim Blair as members. On April 23, Lennox informs Westhues that the tribunal will proceed to a formal hearing. Neither these nor any other records of the proceeding are public at the time; they become so only in February 1998, upon release of the Mercer decision.

April 24, 1996

Ethics committee chair Nancy Theberge and member Debbie Dietrich serve on a five-member tribunal (joint with the committee on staff grievances) that upholds the dismissal of a staff member charged with sexual harassment. In July, Waterloo president James Downey accepts the tribunal's decision. In August, the staff member files a claim of wrongful dismissal against the university in provincial court. The university requests that the court dismiss the staff member's claim on grounds that his case has already been fairly adjudicated by the university tribunal. The judge refuses the university's request. The university settles with the staff member for an undisclosed sum of money in June of 1997. This case was not publicized in campus or city media; the above information is obtained from records of the provincial court, Kitchener, Ontario.

July 16, 1996

In response to the complaint by Kenneth Westhues about disciplinary actions against him in 1994, including the decision of the Gunz tribunal, the Canadian Association for University Teachers releases a lengthy report that says he was not fairly treated and that sharply criticizes UW's ethics and grievance policies. In November, CAUT publishes the full report as an eight-page insert in its national newspaper, CAUT Bulletin. The report criticizes policies and faults ethics hearing 94-3. It ends with invited responses from UW president James Downey, sociology chair Ronald Lambert, sociology professor Adie Nelson (complainant in the case), and Westhues. When the report is published in CAUT Bulletin, Provost Kalbfleisch adds to the existing denunciations of Westhues (his Open Letter and the Report of Ethics Hearing 94-3) on the administration's website the longer document, "The Westhues Case: a Statement of Fact," distributed by Lambert earlier in the year. And the UW Gazette of November 20 carries a detailed summary of the Nelson-Westhues dispute.

August 23, 1996

Tribunal chaired by Lennox on the racism complaint against Westhues releases its decision to the parties. Its hearings have taken place in Westhues's absence, since he refused to attend on grounds that the Ethics Committee had not attempted informal resolution of the complaint as required by Policy 33. The decision finds Westhues guilty of ethical misconduct, and recommends that provost Kalbfleisch impose a list of penalties, including mandatory counselling, a written apology to the student, an apology to Ethics Committee chair Nancy Theberge, and attendance at a workshop conducted by professor Lennox. In response to the tribunal's decision, Westhues asks CAUT and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association to intervene. According to Policy 33, Provost Kalbfleisch should make a decision on the tribunal's decision within a week, but he makes no decision for six months.

December 16, 1996

Provost Kalbfleisch appoints Susan Sykes, research ethics manager in the Office of Research, acting chair of the Ethics Committee, replacing Nancy Theberge. Sykes's appointment is to run until September 1, 1997.


Available documentation provides no information on activities of the Ethics Committee, if any, during its final full year of existence. The year begins with the confidential decision of the Lennox tribunal still awaiting action by provost Kalbfleisch. The Canadian Association of University Teachers and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association have both urged president Downey to dismiss the case against Westhues. Kalbfleisch is reappointed to a second term as provost on February 19, 1997.

March 4, 1997

Westhues receives conciliatory letter from president Downey saying restrictions on his teaching have been lifted. Westhues reports this in a letter to UW Gazette wherein he calls for revision of the UW Ethics policy. His letter is reported on the UW Daily Bulletin, and published at his request with the documents about the 1994 conflict on the UW administration's website.
March 11, 1997
Provost Kalbfleisch makes his decision on the Lennox tribunal's finding and recommendations of the previous August 23 (Kalbfleisch's memo is reprinted at the beginning of the Mercer decision of 1998.) Kalbfleisch declines to accept the Lennox tribunal's report, saying the statements Westhues is alleged to have made are within the bounds of what must be tolerated in classroom discussions. Kalbfleisch decides to suspend Westhues for one month without pay, however, on three grounds: that he refused to cooperate with the Lennox tribunal, that he circulated confidential documents that identified the student complainant, and that he quoted from her without permission in his booklet, Risks of Personal Injury in Liberal Education: a Warning to Students. Kalbfleisch concludes: "Under Policy 33, either party may appeal this decision to the President within three weeks."

April 2, 1997

Westhues sends letter of appeal to president Downey, asking that the suspension without pay imposed by provost Kalbfleisch be overturned. Westhues also requests "a full, external, public, independent, impartial review of the actions taken against me in relation to Policy 33, Ethical Behaviour, over the past three years."

June 11, 1997

President Downey entrusts Westhues's appeal to Peter Mercer, vice-president (administration) and former dean of law at the University of Western Ontario. He writes to Mercer: "As President of the University, I undertake to be bound by your determination of the appeal as if it were my own. The University will be responsible for your fees and expenses. Because it is in the interest of all those involved in this matter to have the decision as soon as possible, we would ask that you provide a written decision to me, Professor Westhues and Dr. Kalbfleisch by not later than August 1, 1997. I appreciate your willingness to undertake this task."

August 7, 1997

Having met privately with Westhues on July 11, and with Kalbfleisch on July 21, Mercer holds a one-day hearing at Waterloo with only Westhues, Kalbfleisch, and a tape recorder present. A transcript of this hearing will accompany Mercer's decision in February 1998. Kalbfleisch mentions in the hearing that during his four years as vice-president and provost, there have been "about four" ethics tribunal hearings.

Fall 1997

While awaiting Mercer's overdue decision, Westhues writes a book that will be published by the Edwin Mellen Press in late fall of 1998: Eliminating Professors: a Guide to the Dismissal Process. The book is organized as a diary commencing on September 28 and ending on December 11, and quotes verbatim the exchanges of correspondence between him, Mercer, and Kalbfleisch during this period.

February 1, 1998

Mercer sends a one-sentence fax to president Downey, with copies to Kalbfleisch and Westhues: "I expect to send you my decision, with copies to Dr. Westhues and to the Provost, by courier on February 10, 1998."

February 11, 1998

President Downey announces to Waterloo's Executive Council that he will step down as president at the end of his current term, in 1999. Kitchener-Waterloo Record headlines its story the next day on the front page of the local section: "UW president won't seek 2nd term: Timing of announcement leaves some questions unanswered on Waterloo campus "

February 14, 1998

Under the headline, "UW prof cleared in racism complaint," the Kitchener-Waterloo Record's gives front-page coverage to the Mercer decision: "The report exonerates UW professor Ken Westhues involving a 1996 complaint by a student, which adjudicator Peter Mercer dismissed as groundless. The whole process in which Westhues was suspended for a month without pay, in part for refusing to appear at a hearing investigating the racism complaint, was flawed, concluded Mercer, who is vice-president of the University of Western Ontario in London. 'The university owes it to itself to take a good look at its policies,' Mercer said in his report. He said he will send suggestions about how to change the policies to UW president James Downey. Downey is out of town and could not be reached for comment. This week, one day after Mercer completed his report, Downey surprised colleagues by announcing he won't seek a second term as UW president."

February 17, 1998

Editorial in Kitchener-Waterloo Record, "Keep our universities open for free thought," lauds the Mercer decision: "In saying this, Mercer rejected the findings of the university's ethics committee tribunal which ruled against Westhues, ordered him to apologize and take counselling. But Mercer went further and said UW was wrong to suspend Westhues for a month without pay, partly because the professor refused to co-operate with the tribunal. Considering how botched the whole procedure was, Westhues showed better sense than anyone else at UW involved in the case. In a withering indictment of UW, Mercer said the university violated its own policies by not trying to get the student and professor together to try to solve the complaint through mediation before going to a hearing. 'The university owes it to itself to take a good look at its policies,' he concluded. Fortunately, the university is doing this."

February 18, 1998

UW Gazette headlines its story on the Mercer decision: "No discipline against sociology prof for words student called 'racist.'" In a letter published the following week, Jeffrey Shallit calls on Kalbfleisch to either apologize to Westhues or resign, and goes on, "If past experience is any guide, the Ethics Committee cannot be depended upon to distinguish valid charges from preposterous ones." In a letter published in the Kitchener-Waterloo Record on February 21, Roman Dubinski (Westhues's academic colleague in the Gunz and Lennox proceedings) writes: "Perhaps it is appropriate to suggest some administrative heads at UW should roll, and the long-delayed and long-resisted policy reforms should take place immediately, before other individuals become casualties." The April 1998 issue of the Newsletter of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship publishes harsh condemnations of the Waterloo administration by Jeffrey Shallit and John Furedy.

March 4, 1998

UW Gazette publishes interview with president Downey in which editor Chris Redmond asks him if his decision to step down had anything to do with the Mercer adjudication: "No connection, he said firmly: when he wrote his letter, 'I didn’t even know about the Mercer report.'"

Gazette also includes letter by recreation professor Susan M. Shaw, which begins: "It is unfortunate that the ethics case and the resultant disciplinary action against Professor Ken Westhues have been 'tried' and 'determined' in the local media. This is particularly unfortunate when many of the details about this case remain confidential, and the information used by the media appears to have come from one side of the case only. As the faculty support person for the student who brought the initial charges of unethical behaviour against Prof. Westhues, I feel compelled to make some observations on this issue, and on the ethics policy at the university. Complaints of unethical behaviour, such as sexual harassment, abuse of supervisory authority, or racial discrimination are always difficult and emotionally charged situations. Thus, a clear and precise policy is needed which spells out the procedures to be followed. The policy currently does require an attempt at informal resolution, but obviously both parties have to agree for this to proceed. The policy also requires the respondent to attend a formal hearing to answer directly any complaints against his or her behaviour. However, there does not seem to be a way to ensure compliance with this procedure if the respondent chooses not to participate."

March 18, 1998

In a letter published in the UW Gazette, mathematics professor Jack Edmonds responds to Shaw: "Her letter never hints that Westhues has been exonerated. It never hints at the existence of the 33-page report, plus appendices, by Peter Mercer, former Dean of Law and now VP at the University of Western Ontario, based on his elaborate hearings and study of all pertaining documents (1100 pages), secret until its public release on Feb. 11. ... Misguided political correctness is such a well-known controversial subject that it obscures the even more common phenomenon of morally impaired people in high places using popular ideology to assert their power. When this happens most people learn to be supportive or discreetly silent. Silence and confidentiality are crucial tools of the morally impaired."

April 23, 1998

Western News, newspaper of the University of Western Ontario, publishes lengthy commentary on the Mercer decision by psychology professor Heinz-Joachim Klatt. Klatt concludes with a call "to disband all offices that serve the function of a thought or language police. It is the deans' responsibility to assure that policies and especially academic freedom be respected."

June 3, 1998

UW Gazette reports that the Waterloo faculty, by a vote of 388 to 26, have approved a new Memorandum of Agreement (here is the updated, 2006 version) between the university and the faculty association. As a side effect, the article says, "UW’s ethics committee is being abolished, along with the sections of Policy 33 that deal with it. Complaints that UW’s ethical rules have been violated will be dealt with, instead, by those with academic and supervisory authority, such as department heads and deans, with assistance from the human resources department and the ethical behaviour and human rights office. Grievances can then be filed if necessary — by faculty members, under the provisions of the new Memorandum; by staff, under Policy 36 (which is currently being reviewed); by students, under Policy 70." The new provisions are approved by the Board of Governors at its meeting on June 1.

Summer 1998

At the request of the Academic Freedom & Tenure Committee of FAUW, the UW administration removes from the "Documents" section of its website the provost's Open Letter to the University of Waterloo Community, the Report of the Gunz tribunal, the letter from Westhues to Gail Grant, and the letter from Westhues to Colleagues and Friends, all of which it had published there since June of 1994, as well as Westhues's letter in the 1997 UW Gazette, which he had requested be added to the other documents in March 1997. The provost's open letter continues to be published by the UW administration as a file from the UW Gazette of June 8, 1994.

September 1998

CAUT Bulletin publishes a summary of the Mercer decision by its Academic Freedom & Tenure Committee.

June 1, 1999

Waterloo's new president, David Johnston, takes office. Former principal of McGill University, Johnston is a lawyer by profession, an expert on legal aspects of electronic media, and senior author of Getting Canada Online: Understanding the Information Highway (1995).


Canadian Scholars' Press publishes The New Anti-Liberals by A. Alan Borovoy, General Counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. The book details (pp. 96-100) CCLA's intervention on Westhues's behalf in the ethics case of 1996-97. Borovoy suggests that "the disciplinary decision of the provost and the effective abdication of the president strengthen the apprehension that these officials could have become hostages of political correctness." He concludes: "In view of what Professor Westhues was forced to endure on the basis of material so obviously devoid of substance, other faculty members can be expected to be exceptionally circumspect about expressing opinions that they believe their students will find controversial."


Sally Gunz, chair of the Ethics Commitee during its most contentious period, 1993-1995, publishes an article about her work: "Service: an Overlooked Aspect of the Academic Career?" Journal of Legal Studies in Education (Vol. 17, Issue 2, pp. 151-160). Gunz describes the context of her tribunal responsibilities, an administrative priority on "a much more decisive management style," and she reviews both the opportunities and risks for career advancement when a business law professor assumes a leadership role in "high level committees or tribunals." She reports that none of her decisions was overturned. She highlights the "extraordinarily burdensome" workload, how it infringes on time for research, and she advises colleagues in business law to seek release time from teaching when asked to perform service functions like hers at Waterloo.

December 20, 1999

In response to a request to UW president Johnston by computer science professor Jeffrey Shallit, co-founder of Electronic Frontier Canada, provost James Kalbfleisch lifts the ban on newsgroups that had been imposed on the recommendation of the Ethics Committee in 1994. As Shallit points out, lifting the ban represents the end of internet censorship by the UW administration.

March 11, 2000

The National Post publishes a multi-page spread entitled, "Professors Meet Their Waterloo," by investigative journalist Philip Mathias. Articles detail cases of apparent mistreatment of professors by the UW administration. Donald Savage, who headed the Canadian Association of University Teachers for 25 years, is quoted as saying, "The series of teaching-staff grievances at Waterloo was a serious matter for CAUT in the latter part of my time as executive director." Computer science professor Jeffrey Shallit is described as "hopeful that top officers may be starting to listen." The new president, David Johnston, is quoted: "You'd be hard-pressed to find any institution that would have more open, more transparent ways of dealing with its colleagues."


From the University of Waterloo's 16-year experience with its Ethics Committee, I draw a simple, practical lesson for colleges and universities everywhere: do not establish any such tribunal, and abolish any that currently exist.

Two bodies of evidence support this conclusion. First is the history chronicled above, a history of enormous investment of administrators', professors', staff members' and students' time and talent in writing policies and procedures for the Ethics Committee, in hearing and deciding cases, and in defending tribunal decisions against critics. In the end, the Ethics Committee's two most celebrated achievements—censoring the internet and punishing a sociology professor—were judged to have been mistakes. The one other tribunal decision that was publicly disputed failed to survive a challenge in court. The history of the UW Ethics Committee, so far as is publicly known, is a history of misjudgment and waste. Any wise judgments the committee's tribunals may have made are not publicly known (I will of course include links to documents about such cases if anyone points them out to me.)

The other evidence supporting the conclusion drawn above is what has happened at Waterloo since 1998, when the Ethics Committee was abolished. By the time of this writing (mid-2003), five years have passed. The absence of a campus tribunal for adjudicating allegations of ethical misconduct has had no discernible ill effects. So far as one can tell from press reports and campus scuttlebutt, the university's deans, department chairs, and other administrators have done just as good a job, probably a better job, of resolving complaints of ethical misconduct as they did when a tribunal was available to receive and handle such complaints.

The failure of the UW Ethics Committee should not be attributed to its members or to the administrators who appointed them. They should not be considered more "morally impaired"—to use Jack Edmonds's pungent term—than the rest of us. The problem was not that the individuals appointed to the Ethics Committee were less "sensible and sensitive" than the McDonald Committee called for in 1982. The problem is that a campus ethics tribunal, as a quasi-court, invites chutzpah and the authoritarian exercise of power. It is a structure that too easily lets moral impairments surface. The tribunal member gets to play at being judge, but the accused lacks the basic protections, like presumption of innocence, provided in criminal courts (where misjudgment is common enough even so). Sooner or later, as occurred at Waterloo, a campus ethics tribunal becomes a censor, an inquisition, a kangaroo court. The way to avert this probability is to do without the tribunal, as Waterloo has done successfully for the past five years.

The same conclusion is recommended by other universities' experience with similar tribunals. To anyone with serious doubts about the conclusion drawn above from Waterloo's experience, I recommend

  • David Finley's The Trial of Liam Donnelly: Conviction by Prejudice, which dissects the tribunal at Simon Fraser University that almost wrecked the swim coach's career, and that brought a premature end to the presidency of John Stubbs;
  • The entirety, but especially the first chapter of Alan C. Kors and Harvey Silverglate's The Shadow University, which describes tribunal foolishness at the University of Pennsylvania that led to the creation of FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education;
  • The file at FIRE on the persecution of a brave and brilliant student, Carlos Martinez, by the Judicial Affairs Office of the University of Colorado and by its tribunal (search the FIRE site for similar cases at other American universities);
  • John Fekete's analysis of tribunals at Dalhousie and other Canadian universities in Moral Panic: Biopolitics Rising (Montreal: Robert Davies, 1994);
  • A carefully reasoned book by Jonathan Rauch (a columnist for the National Journal), Kindly Inquisitors: the New Attacks on Free Thought (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993);
  • My 2001 essay on two great novels, Francine Prose's Blue Angel (2000) and Philip Roth's Human Stain (2000), in both of which campus tribunals play a part—or better yet, the novels themselves;
  • A splendid novel published in 2002, Never Fade Away by William Hart, in which a campus tribunal plays a central role;
  • Helen Garner's nonfiction book on a case of alleged sexual harassment at the University of Melbourne, The First Stone (Sydney: Pan Macmillan, 1995);
  • Brian Martin's "Advice for Dissident Scholars" and other of his writings on suppression of dissent;
  • And perhaps most important, the history of the Star Chamber in England in the 16th and early 17th centuries, to which campus tribunals have often been likened.

It may be objected that Waterloo's Ethics Committee and most of the tribunals in the sources listed above fell prey to serious misjudgment only under the influence of the late-twentieth-century moral panic over sexual harassment and related ills, that the important problem was the panic, not the tribunals that got caught up in it. There is truth in this argument. At Waterloo, the Ethics Committee had little if any part in the most egregious cases of false accusation and wrongful punishment during the 1990s. There is ample evidence in this university as in others that under the influence of the passions of the day, administrators can make horribly wrong decisions without the assistance of campus tribunals.

My contention here is that, nomatter what panic is raging at a given time and place, campus ethics tribunals increase rather than diminish the likelihood of horribly wrong decisions in universities. If a professor or student appears to have committed an offense against the criminal code, the place to turn to is the police and public prosecutor, and if the individual is charged, the case should be heard in a public court, with all the procedural safeguards of criminal law. Run-of-the-mill complaints of offensiveness or ethical misconduct should be handled creatively, constructively, and dialogically by line administrators—who are then held accountable for their decisions to the faculty and to the governing board.

Administrative and collegial resolution of disputes as suggested here, the actual practice at Waterloo these past five years, takes time, intense effort, and skill, and it does not guarantee a fair outcome. But the odds of a fair outcome are higher than from adversarial proceedings of almost any kind (see my article, "Arbitration, Litigation, and Snowball Fights," in FAUW Forum. March 2001, p. 9). Any court or quasi-court, I conclude, should be the very last resort.

A quote from Nietzsche is an apt conclusion to this documentary history: "Distrust all those in whom the impulse to punish is powerful."