{Published by the University of Waterloo administration on its website from June 1994 to 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.)



Report of the Ethics Hearing Committee (94-3)

Nelson/Westhues, Department of Sociology

May 9, 1994


This report constitutes the recommendations of the Ethics
Hearing Committee that investigated a complaint brought by
Dr. Adie Nelson (Complainant) against Dr. Ken Westhues
(Respondent). Both are faculty members in the Department of
Sociology. Each party was accompanied throughout the
proceedings by an advisor (Dr. Sandra Burt for the
Complainant; Dr. Roman Dubinski for the Respondent).

The Hearing Committee had three members: Professor Sally
Gunz (Chair), Professor Don Brodie and Ms. Patti Haygarth.

On March 25, 1994, Dr. Nelson wrote that:

"My complaint is that Professor Westhues attacked my
professional integrity beginning with my work as chair of a
Ph.D. comprehensive exam committee which evaluated the
competence in sociological methods of one student, [referred
to hereafter as Graduate Student]. Professor Westhues'
conduct towards me, which has included verbal and written
assaults upon my personal integrity, my status as a scholar,
and my role within the department, has gone far beyond the
bounds of proper and allowable behaviour."

She asked that:

"(i) the ethics committee order that Professor Westhues
should cease his attacks upon my competence and character
immediately, and inform him that he must not interfere with
the exercise of my academic duties again;

(ii)the original sanctions put forward by Professor Lambert
be ordered to stand;

(iii)the grievances laid against my eleven departmental
colleagues and my chair by Professor Westhues, be set aside
as vexatious;

(iv)these matters be expedited as quickly as possible and
forever more laid to rest."

Dr. Nelson's complaint was received in the Secretariat on
the 28th of March. The Hearing Com- mittee met on March
30th to determine whether it had jurisdiction over the
complaint, and decided that it had jurisdiction over the
first item and, possibly, some aspects of the third. Dr.
Westhues wrote on April 6, expressing concerns about the
Committee's acceptance of jurisdiction; these were addressed
in a letter from the Chair dated April 12.

Because of the possibility of a joint tribunal with Faculty
Grievance, the 14-day time line prescribed by Policy 33 was
not met. When it became clear that a date for a joint
tribunal could still not be set and that the Complainant
wished to proceed under Policy 33, a hearing was scheduled
for, and held on, April 15. At that meeting, the
Complainant made a request to extend her complaint to cover
a recent letter (March, 15 1994) written by the Respondent
that was included in a mailing (March 24) by Professor Gail
Grant of the University of Guelph. The Committee accepted
this addition. The Respondent requested clarification of
jurisdiction, and the Complainant identified General
Principles I., A., B. and C. of Policy 33 as the basis for
her complaint. The Respondent continued to express concern
about overlapping jurisdiction and issues. The Committee
reaffirmed the Complainant's right to be heard in accordance
with provisions of Policy 33, and the Respondent's right to
present his grievances to a Faculty Grievance committee
under Policy 63. The balance of the April 15 meeting
concerned an exchange of evidence, discussion of witnesses
and setting of times for hearings.

One further issue concerning possible overlapping
jurisdiction was discussed. The Committee was concerned
that the same issues before this hearing might be
readdressed by another tribunal at a later time. While an
Ethics Committee has no right to tell another tribunal what
it can and cannot hear, the parties were informed that it is
within the jurisdiction of this Committee to include in its
recommendations a suggestion that its findings be provided
to another tribunal.

The Committee met to hear evidence on April 18 and April 25.
Both parties presented their cases and offered summarizing
arguments. The Complainant called two witnesses. An
additional witness (Graduate Student's wife) contacted the
Chair; she requested and received permission to address the
Committee, as parts of a letter she had written on December
4, 1993 had been presented in evidence. Professor Gail
Grant was asked by the Committee (and the Complainant) to
appear as a witness but did not attend. She offered to
present written testimony but was told this would be of
limited value because questions would not be possible. She
indicated that she might supply a copy of her mailing list
and, also, names provided by Dr. Westhues, subject to his
approval, but neither list was received.

During the proceedings, some additional matters bearing on
the scope of the enquiry arose. First, it was agreed by
both parties that, for purposes of this enquiry, the
Respondent was acting in a supervisory (of a doctoral
student) capacity in the exchanges concerning the oral
examination with the Complainant before and after that exam.
Second, that the enquiry was about the professional
relationship between the Complainant and the Respondent. It
did not extend to an enquiry of the oral examination itself,
nor did it involve a review of what might have happened in
recent months between other faculty members in the
Department of Sociology and Dr. Westhues, or between the
Department Chair and Dr. Westhues. While the Committee
considered it relevant to hear some evidence of motive for
actions, it was not prepared to extend the enquiry to
matters beyond its jurisdiction.

The Committee has now completed its deliberations.


The Committee is reporting on a set of facts over which
there continues to be no substantial disagreement, and which
pits two parties against each other who continue to claim
respect at least for each other's professional integrity.
The dispute arose because of conflicting inferences that
have been drawn from the agreed set of facts.

Core issues in dispute:

ù Phone call prior to the oral examination. The Complainant
was asked to chair what was clearly going to be a
controversial oral examination. The student had failed on
an earlier occasion, and the tone of a memo of December 3,
1992 from the Respondent suggests that the student was also
caught up in ideological disputes which existed in the
Department. The Respondent deemed the Complainant to be a
good addition to the examining committee (Ref: Page 9, Part
Two of Westhues' Statement of Grievances: "I had encouraged
Graduate Student in his choice of Nelson for the
committee"), as he did the external examiner.

The Respondent phoned the Complainant prior to the exam and
asked whether the exam was a "set up". While maneuverings
in committee selection are no doubt common in these
contexts, the Committee finds this query to be inappropriate
in any event, but particularly so because the Respondent is
a senior faculty member and was the student's supervisor.
It could be interpreted as an attempt to interfere with the
proceedings of the examining committee, although, at the
time, the Complainant did not view it in this light.

ù The two oral exchanges between the parties immediately
following the examination. These were clear evidence, in
the Committee's opinion, of a breach of normal rules of
ethical behaviour. No one would dispute the Respondent's
right to be upset or angry with the outcome of the
examination. However, the Respondent had no right to engage
in a personal attack upon the Complainant's academic and
administrative competence; this goes beyond normal academic
discourse. Even if this could be excused in light of the
Respondent's obvious loss of temper, there is no excuse for
his targeting the one area in which he had to know the
Complainant was clearly vulnerable, namely her security
within the Department. The Committee does not accept this
as helpful commentary or fair comment. It was meant to
hurt, it was certainly not relevant to the discussion, and
it violated provisions I., A., B., and C. of Policy 33.
Indeed, it seems from the way events were subsequently
described by the Respondent (Ref: letter of December 13,
1993 where he states, "But much to your credit, Adie, you
reported them truthfully." and "You must have been tempted
to lash back at me...") that he might agree with the
Committee's observa- ations.

ù The phone call (the second of the two exchanges). Did it
amount to intimidation, as the Complainant alleges? The
Committee believes it does. In his letter to Professor
Lambert dated December 13, 1993, the Respondent says "But I
am guilty of misjudgment, insensitivity, and rude behaviour
to a colleague, especially in the exchange over the
telephone. Adie Nelson deserves an apology from me, and I
am pleased to set it down in writing." These statements are
coupled with his observation that "I did not intend to
intimidate Nelson, and anyway I lack resources with which to
do so, since I hold no administrative position and am not
customarily elected to our Promotion and Tenure Committee."
Whether the Respondent could actually bring about her demise
is irrelevant. Clearly other members of the Department,
whose feelings he was supposedly reporting, could. Also,
the comments must be placed in the context of ones made by a
senior colleague to a junior, untenured one.

Further, the Committee does not agree with the Respondent's
explanation for why his words should not be interpreted as
intimidation. His observations need to be seen in context.
The Committee heard evidence that, when the Complainant was
first hired, the Respondent wrote to her telling her that he
was pleased she was hired, clarifying, for her benefit, that
this had occurred after the Department's first choice had
rejected the offer, and welcoming her as a colleague. He
also told her that it was the graduate students, not faculty
members, who supported her appointment. In light of this
earlier letter, the additional comments were deemed by the
Committee to be particularly intimidating and mean-spirited.

ù Letter written by Graduate Student's wife. Her December 4,
1993 letter states that, "...my husband's account of events
as they transpired during the oral exam and those of Dr. Ken
Westhues, my husband's advisor, who spoke with Dr. Adie
Nelson (chair of the oral exam) after the exam indicate that
she did not live up to the responsibilities of the chair as
dictated in university policy." This letter was presented
and the Committee was asked to infer that the Respondent had
made accusations about the professional competence of the
Complainant in chairing the examining committee. There were
conversations between the Graduate Student's family and the
Respondent immediately after the examination. Who said what
and how much of what was said was based in fact is, however,
impossible to gauge. Moreover, while this behaviour might
appear to be non-collegial when considered in hindsight,
there was clearly a very close relationship between student
and faculty member/supervisor and, also, a very high level
of emotion because of the exam failure. Whatever brought
this about was not an issue before this enquiry.

ù Has an adequate apology been tendered? The Committee
believes not.

ù The initial attempt at apology did not occur until December
13, some four weeks after the comments were made and after
the Complainant had made her initial report to her
Department Chair. This apology, by everyone's agreement
(see, for example, Westhues' letter to Grant, March 15,
1994, page 3: "Regrettably, however, I coupled my apology
with an explanation and defense of my questioning the
examiners' decision."), was not unequivocal.

Westhues' December 13, 1993 letter to the Complainant states
that, "I had no right to speak so angrily to you. I think
the reason I did so is that somehow or other I had formed a
wrong impression of the kind of sociologist and professor
you are. It never occurred to me that, in the kind of
questions you would raise and the judg- ments you would make
in Graduate Student's methods exam, you would simply follow
the criteria of evaluation that have been commonly applied
in our department for the methods comp. I thought you would
apply higher and broader standards." It also states that,
"As I see it, the attitude you described with the phrase,
'good Catholic girl,' captures what is essential to 'making
it' in our department. In combination with your ample
publications, that attitude will win you tenure, promotion,
and all kinds of rewards." The Committee believes that this
letter certainly could be read as a continuation of the
attack upon the Complainant's character and competence.

ù In a later discussion, the Respondent notes (Ref: Part
One, Statement of Grievances, page 3) that "In a meeting on
7 January 1994 with Harriet Lyons, Nelson's representative,
I invited Nelson or Lambert to draft the kind of apology
they would wish me to sign." In the Committee's opinion,
this was inappropriate. If the Respondent had made these
comments after already providing an unequivocal apology,
they might be seen as a legitimate expression of
frustration, but that would be to take them out of context.
At this time (some two months after the original remarks),
no clear apology had been provided. However aggrieved the
Respondent might feel because of intervening events, he had
still not done the one thing that might resolve the dispute
with the Complainant, namely apologize. Disciplinary action
against the Respondent by his Chair should not be considered
as alleviating the Respondent from such an obligation.

ù On March 3, an apology was finally forthcoming. Given the
timing and the phrase with which the Respondent prefaced his
apology ("Since my personal letter to you of 13 December
came across, contrary to my intention, as nothing more than
'pious justification' of my own behaviour ..."), the
Committee believes it legitimate to interpret the apology as
reluctant at best.

ù The Respondent's Statement of Grievances (February 18, 1994
to the Chair of the Faculty Grievance Panel). The
Complainant has argued that the attacks upon her have
continued in this Statement. The Committee is mindful that
the Respondent is exercising his legitimate rights to have
his own complaints heard elsewhere. Moreover, it might be
expected that the complaint will favour his own position.
It is also noted that the document has a relatively limited
circulation and that the Faculty Grievance tribunal is
governed by rules of confidentiality.

With one exception -- an allegation of sexual harassment --
the Committee chose not to consider the Statement of
Grievances for the purposes of its deliberations. In Part
Two of the Statement, pages 17, 18, the Respondent writes,
"In the current climate of campus life, any male professor
who learns second-hand that a female colleague has written a
ten-page report alleging improprieties so grave that the
department chair is planning disciplinary action, begins to
sweat. I had already learned, by her behaviour after the
exam, that Nelson was a different kind of scholar than I
thought she was. I also knew that she was angry at me.
Might she have falsely accused me of sexual harassment?"

The Committee finds this language gratuitous and

ù The Respondent's March 15, 1994 letter to Professor Gail

ù The Respondent states (Ref: Westhues' April 17, 1994
letter to the Chair of the Ethics Committee) that he wrote
this letter "in the knowledge that she would probably make
copies of it for distribution to others". It is not known
to whom Professor Grant ultimately distributed the letter.
There was evidence, however, that the Respondent had
provided some, at least, of the names and addresses on the
mailing list.

ù The Respondent claims that he attempted to disguise the
Complainant's identity. The Committee does not accept this
position. The Respondent takes pains to describe the
Complainant as "a young feminist woman...whose appointment I
had strongly supported in 1990..." and later clarifies that
she is untenured. The Complainant is the only untenured
female faculty member appointed to the Department of
Sociology in 1990.

ù The Committee has read the letter carefully. It has also
read it in conjunction with the written summary statement
provided by the Respondent.

There are statements in this letter that clearly attack the
Complainant's academic and personal reputation; for example:
"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." (page 2); "...given her own,
qualitative orientation to research, she herself should not
feel overly secure in the department." (page 3); "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." (page 3).

There are also omissions and inaccuracies; for example: the
second conversation between the parties, in which very
clearly the Respondent acted inappropriately, is described
as "...I was at home...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."
(page 2). The evidence before the Committee (Ref:
Respondent's December 13, 1993 letter to his Chair, page 2)
was that "...I telephoned Nelson the next day to apologize,
as she notes in her report, but when she inquired about
Graduate Student in what seemed to me a patronizing tone of
voice, I am afraid I lost my temper all over again." The
Committee heard that, while the Complainant had phoned the
Respondent, she was, in fact, returning his call.

Inevitably, because the primary purpose of the letter is to
describe events other than those between the present
parties, the reader is provided with an abbreviated version
of events. Such editorializing is, in this case,
particularly damaging because what results is a picture of
an academic whom the Respondent thinks has acted
incompetently ("My personal judgment, on the basis of having
studied the tapes, is that I would sooner defend the student
than the examiners." (page 3). "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 10-page
document." (Page 3). The reader is informed that "neither
she nor [the Chair] gave me a copy [of the statement], but
instead...shared the report with colleagues in the
department." The Complainant starts being painted as a
person who is a willing participant in an attempt to destroy
the Respondent academically. Evidence before the Committee
was that the Complainant provided the statement to her Chair
alone, and upon his request, and that the Chair had provided
it to a small Department committee that was expected to give
him advice. Further, the Chair advised the Complainant that
he would give a copy of the report to the Respondent; he did
so on December 10.

ù The Committee finds that there are sufficient continuing
statements in this letter to constitute a breach of Policy
33. Specifically, these statements can legitimately be
interpreted as an attack on the Complainant's competence and

ù There is and remains no chance for the Complainant to
correct the inaccuracies and the damaging false impressions.
Even should the mailing list be provided, it is hard to know
how the damage that has been done can be corrected. Who
knows to whom each copy of the letter was shown; already it
has found its way to the UW Gazette (May 4, 1994).

While it might be hoped that most readers will recognize
that any document such as this is inevitably biased, this
cannot be presumed. There is one other important factor;
the Complainant is in the early stages of her academic

ù "Cut and Thrust". In his March 15, 1994 letter to
Professor Gail Grant, the Respondent states (page 1) that,
"If a university means anything, surely it means putting up
with people who disagree, even sometimes angrily, with the
majority." His Summary Statement to the Committee includes
the following (page 1), "A university is a loose, rough-and-
tumble, intellectual fray, a laboratory of experimentation,
innovation, inquiry, research, and debate. Mutual fault-
finding and questioning of judgments are intrinsic to
academic life." On this particular matter, Committee
members are committed to the same principles and would agree
that the Respondent's November 13, 1993 letter to the
Complainant fell within that guideline. However, the
attacks made in the two conversations surrounding the exam
and some subsequent activities, in particular the March 15,
1994 letter, fall outside the bounds of acceptable academic


The Committee finds that:

ù The Respondent was in violation of Policy 33. His
behaviour constituted an attack on the Complainant's
competence and character in a number of ways.

ù The Respondent's attack on the Complainant's security
within the Department amounted to an interference with her
ability to perform her academic duties. ù To date, no
apology that would be appropriate or acceptable in the
context of the dispute has been received by the Complainant.

ù The distribution of the March 15, 1994 "Dear Gail" letter
to be a further attack on the Complainant's competence and
character. Its effect, whether intended or not, may well be
to damage her ability to perform her academic duties at the
University of Waterloo or elsewhere. That letter also put a
new spin on this matter; it served to extend the
misinformation to the broader academic/professional

ù The Respondent's case that the interactions were part of
the normal "cut and thrust" of academic life is not


The Committee recommends that strong measures be taken to
alleviate and counteract this harm; specifically, the
Committee recommends that:

ù Professor Westhues be required to accept the findings of
this Committee and that he be required to write an apology -
- including a correction of any misleading or incorrect
statements -- to be distributed to recipients of the March
15 letter, to the Gazette and via the Internet. Prior to
its distribution/circulation, the response would be vetted
by this Committee.

This should not be interpreted as limiting Professor
Westhues from presenting his case in a legitimate and
truthful manner to a Faculty Grievance hearing committee.

ù Professor Westhues cease -- privately and publicly -- from
making any further attacks, directly or indirectly, upon
Professor Nelson.

ù The Provost consider passing the findings of this Committee
on to any other tribunal of this University that might have
to evaluate the same issues in the course of other
grievances or deliberations.

Sally Gunz,


May 9, 1994