< < < Mainpage: Hector Hammerly
< < < Mainpage: Workplace Mobbing in Academe
The six parts of the essay:
My Case with the Administration
Suggestions for Surviving a Mobbing
Published on the web, November 2006, by K. Westhues as part of the site, Workplace Mobbing in Academe. The author sent me an initial draft of this essay in 2003. I hoped to include a polished version in my book, Workplace Mobbing in Academe (2004), or in the subsequent one, Remedy and Prevention of Mobbing in Higher Education (2006). But Hammerly held me off, saying repeatedly that he was making further revisions. The draft published here was found in his papers following his death in early March 2006. It was dated 6 February 2006. Since it is in a sense his last scholarly testament, I have edited it very lightly: mainly just corrected obvious typos and added a few links. KW
v t, to kill by pack
Hector Hammerly, Late Professor of Linguistics, Simon Fraser University
1. May I clarify that this is no attempt at scholarly lucubration but rather a personal story of why an Argentinian emigrated to the United States by way of Venezuela; chose an academic career hoping to realize his main values through it; emigrated later to Canada (there is hardly any place farther north to go); found university life – especially in recent years – rather different from what he expected; experienced bias in his profession (mostly from being in a minority of one, as sometimes we all are); was mobbed when he interrupted his quiet research as a highly successful, tenured full professor with an international reputation in his field when he saw it as his moral duty to speak up against a major administrative blunder that hurt thousands of students; had to persist for five months with emails until the university president finally acknowledged, through clenched teeth, that a problem had existed at all; had to endure repeated tricks, attempts at humiliation, and false accusations, including secret lies in court; spent an eye-opening night in jail; saw the phoney story about his “mental instability” and his “tendency to violence” planted by the Administration on the front page of Vancouver newspapers destroy his public reputation; experienced a mixture of redress and personal compassion when the university president had to resign his position because of mental illness (most of his blunders resulted from an obsession with sexual harassment, whether real or in his mind, a crime for which he proudly announced a policy of zero tolerance, always seeing the females as victims in these juicy sex stories, even in cases where the women made false claims and the men were clearly innocent); enjoyed the satisfaction of seeing his biography included in the University of Toronto’s Canadian Who’s Who beginning in 1998 (one year after being forced to retire four years early from his university); had to spend five very stressful years and a fortune in lawyers in vain attempts to wipe out the mud and worse thrown at him by the vice-president who then sued him for defamation; developed a limp when given an overdose of medication for his court-related stress; survived quite well through spiritual resources and by immediately going into the second career that should have been his from the start; yet had to endure the ultimate humiliation of being held in contempt of court because a reporter wrote a story with recent events – which he didn’t learn from the defendant and were supposed to be kept under wraps. (Sorry, that was indeed a long sentence. Former professors of linguistics occasionally write like that.)
2. I admire University of Waterloo sociologist Kenneth Westhues and his research on mobbing. I find his second book, the one on administrative mobbing at the University of Toronto, even better than the earlier one, Eliminating Professors. Westhues chose, in Professor Herbert Richardson, what must be without doubt the worst case of mobbing in Canadian history, complete with kangaroo court (I was spared that, appearing instead before pro-university real courts); Richardson didn’t, however, get a chance to enjoy a mobbing privilege I did experience – spending a night in jail and thereby learning firsthand about the sadism of guards and the utter leniency of our correctional system, with provincial prisons being so comfortable that no correction can take place. Westhues’s book is not only a prime example of fact-based scholarly publication but also shows more clearly its author’s excellent, very readable literary style, which brims with apt metaphors (my favorite is the one about the racoon) and many touches of humor. Westhues’s insights on parochial church-run colleges are perceptive, and confirmed by my own experience in colleges run by fundamentalist Protestant churches. The carefully chosen quotations from the mobbing victim display Herbert Richardson’s keen mind.
3. Edwin Mellen Press is performing an outstanding service to the academic world by publishing books on mobbing, but mobbing is found in North American organizations and institutions of all kinds rather than just universities; somehow the general public needs to be fully informed about this major problem in our society. Perhaps then mobbing will decrease, though given human nature it is unlikely to disappear altogether.
4. The undoubtedly bright university administrators who mobbed me were not lacking in foresight; they obtained a court injunction forbidding me from making any comments about “anything mentioned in the mediation,” an illegal phrase as wide as a Mack truck which I objected to, for in the mediation a great many things, old and new, and without relevance to this particular case, had been mentioned. Any lawyer worth his or her salt would have objected strenuously to this encompassing phrase, but mine accepted it. Dire threats of penalties were uttered by a B.C. Supreme Court judge if I ever violated this injunction. When a newspaper reporter who interviewed me by telephone went on to give recent details I had not shared with him, I was declared to be in contempt of court and punished financially (NB, mobbing target: Don’t avoid the media, whose support can help you, but it is best to prepare in advance for a reporter’s possible questions and not agree to an interview unless it can be tape-recorded).
5. A professor may become a sort of campus fixture while at the same time watching an unending, variegated parade of university administrators. Having taught for 36 years (four in the United States and 32 in Canada), I have come to know many top administrators, though I did not meet all of them in person. With university administrators as with any other occupation: they range from excellent to poor. The excellent ones can lift the spirits of a whole university and prompt professors thus encouraged to outstanding achievement. The poor ones – with their always ready and unfortunately much-too-efficient acolytes – hover on the institution like a dark cloud whose unpredictable peals of thunder cause general anxiety and whose occasional, carefully aimed flashes of lightning bring professional and personal tragedy to some and paralyzing fear to the rest.
1. I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1935. My Swiss-born father was a workaholic Protestant evangelist and writer, the author (typing with one index finger on an old Underwood) of 30 books and hundreds of articles on many subjects, not just religion. His denomination was very legalistic – it could be called “the Church of the Thousand No-Noes” – and offered little in terms of God’s grace and love, the key themes of early Christianity.
At age ten, I saw from a boarding house terrace long lines of descamisados (“shirtless” ones, though most were wearing shirts and many were barefoot) marching from outside the capital city to the Plaza de Mayo (“May Square”), massing in front of the Casa Rosada (“Pink House,” the presidential palace) to demand that Colonel Juan Perón be freed from his cell in the Martin Garcia Island prison and placed in power. The wily Perón and his wife Evita had played most of their cards right. As Minister of Labor he bypassed the unions, through which he was expected to work, and he and his evil Robin-Hood wife showered gifts on the poorest workers, thus winning their hearts. Evita extracted funds for her Fundación Eva Perón by asking businesspersons for major contributions by a given deadline; those who did not cooperate saw their licenses revoked (several businesses were forced to leave the country). Perón misplayed an ace of kings when he attempted a coup, and that’s how he was put in prison. Perón was a charismatic speaker – and an admirer, as was Franklin D. Roosevelt, of fascist Benito Mussolini. Further, Perón was very nationalistic, anti-American, and pro-Nazi. Economically and politically, Perón and his wife ruined Argentina, a country with enormous natural resources that near the end of the 19th century enjoyed the third-highest standard of living in the world. Politically, this evil couple institutionalized electoral fraud by buying support with favors. Economically, by the end of World War II, Argentina’s coffers were bulging with gold from having sold grain and meat to both sides of the conflict. At that point, Perón’s nationalism overwhelmed any common sense he may have had and he made the first of his obtuse economic decisions by buying, in gold, the extensive railway system built and run by the British. He could then trumpet, “Ahora los trenes son nuestros” (“Now the trains are ours”). Just one little problem: The British ran an efficient, punctual system and managed to have a small profit. Argentine railways, on the other hand, became another political tool to reward supporters with jobs; each train was manned by a large number of descamisados. It was in every way a disaster: the trains that were nuestros lost all sense of punctuality – maybe the descamisados lacked not only shoes but also watches – and the nationalized railway system became a financial drain worth millions of pesos a day. Further preposterous projects of that nature brought a rapid devaluation of Argentina’s currency. When Perón seized power in 1945, four pesos would buy a US dollar; but by the time I left that country eight years later, Argentina was well on its way to bankruptcy, and twenty pesos were required to get a US dollar.
I left Argentina as an idealistic 18-year-old in search of the freedom, truth, justice and love (no less), which neither that country nor my family could provide. Such values were often referred to but seldom practiced. Sadly, in Latin America hypocrisy is the grease that keeps the wheels of society turning.
2. Canadians and Americans believe that a country is democratic if it has a “clean” election day every few years. This is very naïve. Democracy either happens or does not between elections. During its years in power, a dictatorial government may invalidate any election-day results by stacking laws against opponents, disbanding open political meetings by sending contingencies of mounted police to hit participants with the side of their sabres, plastering every wall with posters in praise of the government candidate, punishing dissident speech, directly or indirectly controlling the media, and so on. In a country that is not democratic, institutions such as universities can be oases of freedom, and vice versa.
When a country is run by a leader and a small coterie of friends/advisors/ sycophants; when its laws are abetted by unelected judges appointed by the same leader without needing confirmation from anyone; when members of the upper house are also appointed by the same leader; when members of the lower house who happen to have a mind of their own decide to follow their conscience or the perceived needs of their constituents rather than the instructions of their party leader and as a result are removed from their party into the political limbo of being “Independent”; when issues that will affect the whole nation in major ways are decided by unelected judges rather than via a binding national referendum; and when the Ethics Counselor is appointed by the leader to investigate the behavior of the leader or any of the leader’s associates and then is expected to report in private to the leader – that country is not a democracy. I just described the way Canada is governed. It is at most a very limited democracy, for the press is still largely free. Canadian institutions, including universities in particular, are hardly likely to be run democratically when the government as a whole is not.
3. Westhues’s book reveals the identity of the president of Simon Fraser University before and during the early stages of the mobbing against me, the fact that that president had to resign his position due to mental illness, and some of the details of my case – events that were a matter of public knowledge, at least in British Columbia, as they happened. However, certain key details of the mobbing that led to my early retirement in August 1997 are unclear or missing in Westhues’s book. While I consider it my moral duty to clarify them, especially for the benefit of other professors who may become victims of mobbing, whatever I may say will focus primarily on what the SFU Administration did and – in an attempt not to cause any further embarrassment to other people – I will not use anyone’s name.
4. The administrators who led the mobbing were determined to gag me completely about everything that occurred since the beginning of the difficulties in September 1996. When I didn’t quietly submit to their expectations on campus, a lawsuit was started against me soon after my retirement, which through a series of legal manoeuvres changed an action by a university administrator into an action by an individual (so ruled the court), “separate and apart” from the earlier doings of the SFU Administration against me, even though my only contacts with the “personal” plaintiff were in her function as an SFU administrator. (This was a clear favor done by the Court to the SFU Administration in order to spare it from having to reopen the older can of worms and risk having to pay me major damages.) With only a couple of minor exceptions, the Courts and the police gave the university whatever it wanted, including a vague, broad injunction phrase designed to muzzle me (“...no mention of matters referred to in the mediation…”), a phrase that no competent lawyer would have allowed. Then the Court applied that phrase to cover everything related to the SFU events that had affected me, and finally to a finding of contempt of court based primarily on what a reporter had written, which included incorrect statements and went far beyond anything I said in a brief telephone conversation. The end result is that I could be penalized if I ever said anything further about what happened to me at SFU, not only following my retirement but also preceding it.
However, I strongly believe that the biased, very broad interpretation of that phrase is a completely unjustified attempt to gag me on matters that I have the right to comment on. Such an unwarranted, broad interpretation covering everything is a severe violation of my freedom of speech.
5. Throughout these events both before and after my retirement, neither the SFU Administration nor any of the courts involved showed the least interest in anything I might be able to provide, whether in the form of documents or statements. Given that the “establishment,” from the courts to the police to many others, believed and supported, instead, the large institution that had access to the bottomless pockets of taxpayers, it seems justified to assume that justice is not a level-playing field, at least in Canada, and that the average individual cannot succeed against the government forces arrayed against him.
6. My system of values developed largely in reaction to the sociopolitical situation in Argentina and that in my childhood home. It included, first, freedom, followed by truth and justice, then faith, love, learning, service through work – that is, the typical accoutrement of an idealistic young man. I soon concluded, however, that my values could only be minimally realized in my home country, and thus I started thinking of emigrating to the United States, a country about which I had heard several positive reports and where the realization of my youthful dreams seemed more likely.
I arrived in the United States with my young wife in January 1957. I was all of 21 years old.
We were shocked by the racism we observed in America, especially during a bus trip from Miami to Washington, D.C. However, we soon discovered that, except for the debilitating race issue and certain limitations on women, the Americans we met in a Maryland suburb of the capital were evidently generous, scrupulously honest, and frank. Perhaps our personal values could be exercised there, after all.
Later I decided to pursue an academic career. Surely I would find freedom
and truth in academic life. Didn’t universities boast of “academic
freedom” in “the pursuit of truth”? So I enrolled in
graduate studies in linguistics, supported by one of the NDEA (National
Defense Education Act) scholarships established when the sleeping giant
awoke after the Soviet Union launched sputnik, the first satellite.
8. A new university in Western Canada, Simon Fraser University seemed to offer a promising opportunity for professional growth, so in 1965 I emigrated again. I expected to spend just a few years in Canada, and then maybe return to a better academic position in the United States. I could not know then that the rest of my academic life would be spent in this northern clime.
In leaving the United States, I knew I was leaving what at that time was one of the freest, most democratic nations in the world. Of course, much has changed in America since the Terrible Sixties, and even its commitment to democracy has been weakened through judicial tyranny. (While probably a majority of Canadians are anti-American, many are not. Besides, the United States has by now a large number of American-born anti-Americans, many of whom are academics.)
Of course, this essay is not primarily about politics. Nevertheless, I have had to broach such issues, however briefly, because the nature of political governance has a strong effect on respect for freedom in the institutions under its jurisdiction, such as universities, and on the attitudes of most individual members of those institutions. For example, in the 1960s the faculties of Canadian universities could, if united, act together to remove bad administrative apples from the campus barrel. Later, however, using the well-known technique of “divide and conquer” that politicians are masters of, university administrators succeeded in splitting academic faculties up into ineffectual groups. That makes it possible for administrators to run – and sometimes ruin – the academic careers and lives of those under their myopic purview via an autocratic, corporate approach to university governance.
While this essay has much less space than I would need for a full presentation of my views on university life and the experiences that molded them, it allows me to elaborate a little on some of them.
1. Universities should be the forums for free expression par excellence (to use some of the French I still remember). If they ever were marketplaces for ideas – as I assumed them to be decades ago – they no longer are, neither in Canada nor the United States. Far from it, especially in these days of political correctness and enforced “equality,” when professors must be constantly alert against saying anything that might offend anyone in any way.
2. Free expression should apply, of course, to national and international political views too. But potentially excellent young conservative academics have been staying away from our campuses in droves because they know that revelation of any conservative political views – which few succeed in hiding for long – would likely ruin their careers. For the last few decades, being even partly conservative in most North American institutions of higher learning has had a strong tendency to result in bias, low salary increments, and very slow promotions – that is, if a young academic with conservative inclinations manages to get hired and survive the culling tenure process at all. (Most North American universities have been leaning so far to the left that maybe doorknobs on campus offices should be on the left on both sides of the door so everyone would have to lean left both coming and going.) Of course, the search for truth and administrative equitableness are severely hampered by such political imbalance. And such an imbalance may not be correctable until at least one generation of academics of “Terrible Sixties” vintage fully retires, thus allowing a younger generation of more open¬minded professors to take their place.
3. Being seen in a secular campus as someone with a whiff of religious belief is deadly. Not only administrators but also most colleagues seem to think that a believer is irrational or worse.
4. As Westhues has noted, colleges and universities dominated by religious organizations have their own special problems. While Herbert Richardson suffered at St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto, from neo-orthodoxy in the Roman Catholic Church, other churches have their own ultraconservative leaders and groups. Church¬employed professors who dare disagree with any of the received doctrines of several conservative Protestant denominations are likely to lose their jobs.
Oh, freedom! If ideas, even controversial ones, cannot be discussed openly in our colleges and universities – whether religious or secular – can they be discussed anywhere?
5. One way or another, internecine knifings are common in the academic world, with the possible exception of a few departments or faculties (apparently faculties of Arts are the worst). One reason, noted years ago by Henry Kissinger, is that the stakes are so small – a recognition here, a slightly larger salary raise there, a somewhat better office, some empty honor farther away – and the smaller the stake, the more people will knife each other for it.
6. The other reason is that, for all their talk of equality and tolerance, university denizens do not like anyone thinking, sounding or even looking different. Intolerance especially affects professors whose knowledge of English is somewhat flawed because they learned the language as adults.
7. After a long career I still don’t see – not even on the horizon – an appropriate way to deal with conflict on our campuses. Several approaches to conflict resolution have been tried, but all become, sooner or later, politicized. I agree with Westhues that legislation is not the answer, that campus committees often fail to provide justice, and that court actions not only create greater, often irremediable antagonisms but are often futile and, of course, extremely costly, in terms of time, money, and physical and emotional health. However, I have no idea what could be done. I give up. Perhaps human nature itself is irredeemable apart from cases of spiritual transformation.
8. Academic life can be very stressful, especially for those who think differently from the crowd. Long before my mobbing, I remember that for some time, almost every morning, as I approached my campus building from the parking lot, I suffered from nausea. (The section of the department where I did most of my teaching was controlled by four people with political and religious views very different from those of three others, including myself. The interference with the minority’s careers was such that one gave up his promising academic career to run a motel, another died young of a stroke, and I was the only one to survive till retirement age – well, almost). Life has never been fair, but if academic life were even a little fairer, only incompetent deadwood – which I never was – should have to get sick when coming to work.
9. When a professor is a good teacher and a productive scholar, there should be no need to question what he is doing when he is free from teaching or research duties. Any regulation of a professor’s private time is nothing less than a gross invasion of privacy. Herbert Richardson had an outstanding scholarly and teaching record. The fact that he could, admirably, also manage to find the time needed to establish and run a publishing house and a university was none of the University of Toronto’s business. On a much smaller scale, I had the best scholarly record in my department and established a very small proprietary publishing company. Richardson’s Edwin Mellen Press is a major contribution to the academic world, made in a spirit of service. My little company, Second Language Publications, which operated for just a few years, was set up only because my field had been largely taken over by extremists and I wanted the more¬ balanced ideas in my books – or so I saw them – to be available widely to students and scholars. My books were sold at reasonable prices, yet I was accused of making money out of my students’ pockets. (I have calculated that my filthy “income” from this “capitalistic” endeavor over those years amounted to about 50 cents an hour.) Apparently nothing is resented as deeply as success. Further, my “vanity press” and “self-published” books were repeatedly attacked by adversarial colleagues, deans and vice-presidents as academically worthless, despite excellent reviews – well, not all of them, of course, as some of my opponents’ views were also published – in respected professional journals, and despite the publication of one of my books in Japanese and Arabic. Only when small, largely unknown “established” publishers started to print my books did any “merit” rub off from what I had been writing.
A great part of the problem in academic publishing comes from the fetish that only materials published by “respected” professional journals and presses are of any “real value.” This is one of the main manifestations of what I call “academic snobbery,” to be discussed in more detail immediately below.
10. Academic snobbery, in its many forms, pervades university life and seems impenetrable, immovable and immortal (how’s that for alliteration). In addition to the prevalent attitude about “respectable” publication, already discussed, there is also a persistent belief – by now clearly naïve except for those who exploit it – according to which North American universities are the best. Consider the case of Harvard University. In its pursuit of “diversity” and equality (of results!), Harvard abandoned any semblance of academic standards. Between 1966 and 1996, the “A’s” there rose from 22 to 46 percent, and in 1996 more than 80 percent of Harvard’s seniors graduated with “honors” (some “honor” if almost everybody gets it). By now these figures may be even worse. Other famous Ivy League universities have followed the same path.
To put it a little differently, we should not let university reputations overwhelm us. Prestige has never been important except to people who seek it to impress others and pay “through the nose” to get it, and therefore feel bound to perpetuate its doubtful value.
Other forms of academic snobbery are seen in affiliation with a “distinguished” university and all the expectations – demanded especially of sophisticated intellectuals – of anyone supposed to be “cultivated,” which include (this is just a partial list) pretending to understand Proust; sitting through entire operas without understanding even one of the foreign words being hollered; sprinkling one’s speech with Latin phrases (Greek is even better, Sanskrit best); expressing awe before the uglier paintings of famous artists; being able to describe the exquisite differences among old wines, their vintage, and what part of a particular vineyard the grapes came from; having a long list of great book titles (their contents not being particularly important) ready to roll off one’s tongue; and frequently dropping the names of famous people – dead or alive – from the worlds of politics, history, philosophy, literature, and the arts. Let’s face it: This is a big social game called “Pretense” – far more popular than chess or Scrabble®. Many academics, and others, seem blissfully unaware that they are playing “Pretense” and in so doing are cutting a ridiculous figure in the society at large where “regular folks” spend their days. I’d rather be myself and enjoy, talk about, and do, what I like.
To mention language – my own field: of all the dialects of English, the ones that most annoy me (and many people I know) are the various sub-dialects of Bureaucratese, designed to obfuscate or hide by shooting verbal blanks, and Academese, the native dialect of many members of my former profession, a form of pedantic, “sophisticated” gobbledygook that at least tries to say something, even if endless detours are seen as essential. Couldn’t all scholars (happily for us all, a few do) write in clear, simple English? Further – though this may be expecting too much – couldn’t all scholars strive to make what they write interesting?
My Case With the Administration
When a new president came in the early 1990s to Simon Fraser University, full of smiles but determined to enforce “zero tolerance” for anything he defined as harassment, he started mistreating people right and left (though not me in particular). An early case involved a longtime staff member with an important position whose wife got drunk at a private party and attacked him, breaking his glasses. He removed her from the party, but a few days later he was fired. A court ruled some damages for him and proposed an apology, which never came. The worst case was the elimination of over 60 staff positions on the “financial exigency” excuse that the provincial government was planning to cut the university’s budget by five percent. When the cut did not materialize, the Administration rejected numerous Faculty pleas for reinstatement of the dismissed employees. That was very cruel. Many of the staff members laid off had served on campus for a long time and some were the only source of support for their families. However, there was nothing random about it; the administrative manoeuvre was designed to get rid of staff members with minds of their own who had at times had reservations about administrative policies.
I am ashamed to admit that for two years I went on quietly with my research, with the only exception that in November 1995, I wrote an opinion piece, "Toward a Better University," that was published in the university paper, Simon Fraser News. I didn’t realize it then, but having proposed more faculty participation in all campus matters put a bull’s eye on my chest. However, when the Administration committed a blunder that hurt probably thousands of students – ordering far too few textbooks for September 1996 – and then refused even to acknowledge it or do much of anything about it, I felt that it was my moral duty to speak up.
As a tenured senior professor with an international reputation, I assumed I was in a safer position to do so than younger faculty, staff or students. Two other professors and I decided separately to insist via email on an appropriate statement from the Administration this time around. During the email debate that followed for several months, the President singled me out for repeated threats. Many Faculty members supported me, and a highly respected professor and former president of the SFU Faculty Association publicly stated in Simon Fraser News that what the president was doing – threatening me again and again – was “silly.”
By 1997, I found a way to stop the presidential threats that had been going on for months: I invited the president to a private discussion to see if we could get over the impasse. We agreed to ask The Peak, SFU students’ newspaper, to publish two columns side by side. In his column, the president made two concessions: he acknowledged, for the first time in five months, that there had been a problem at the SFU Bookstore (he tried until the last moment to omit the word “problem” – no way, José) and he added that everyone in the university community was entitled to communicate their views as long as they did so politely. My column acknowledged that I should have been more polite in my emails – a few were sarcastic, although I never used any obscene language. (Some of my colleagues saw my column as a shameful defeat for me and the Faculty.)
Apparently the Administration expected me to be quiet about campus problems from then on. When I did not, the senior administrators fell on me like the proverbial ton of bricks. First I was excluded, along with a lady colleague, from the list of candidates to departmental committees – and then criticized by senior administrators for not participating in departmental committees; I was also taken to task by the same university leaders for being a senior professor who supervised very few graduate students – but applicants for graduate studies in my field, applied linguistics, were almost routinely rejected by the great majority of departmental faculty, who were committed to linguistic theory. Then, although I continued to be a very active scholar and my teaching had improved, the departmental salaries committee gave me the lowest possible salary recommendation that could not be appealed to the dean, and the department chair, an Associate Professor with no publications to his name, complained bitterly that my salary (with seven books and 50 articles to my name) was higher than his. This was an effort to make my academic life so unpleasant that I would retire early of my own accord. This series of actions culminated in an attempt to humiliate me in front of all my departmental colleagues. At a special faculty meeting the chair, with evident (and later documented) encouragement from above, uttered a string of false accusations against me for a whole 20 minutes, including the incredible claim that I – a good teacher and by far the most productive scholar in that department – was “the worst member of the department.” This was clearly planned in the hope that I would react in anger, but an inner voice suggested that I should just quietly take notes and give a brief, polite reply at the end. (Later I was to learn, from serendipitously found emails, that this abuse had been set up by the Administration and that they had arranged for campus security “goons” to be just outside the door, ready to grab me if I became angry.)
Throughout this time, almost everything I said was interpreted in the worst possible way. I remember, for example, referring to my struggle on campus as one like that between (small) David and (giant) Goliath, which David won. Someone was very afraid that I was threatening to kill people!
At about that time, I was also naïve enough to ask a vice-president to intervene in the department, where the chair had violated a long list of faculty rights – not just mine. The vice-president who eventually replied to my request said that this was an internal departmental matter that the senior administration would not touch.
At that point (March 1997) I was invited to give a lecture at an international conference in Brazil. Before I left, I submitted to Maclean’s a letter for the “Road Ahead” column that the magazine published at that time. The title of my letter was Rid Campuses of Officious Poohbahs." The letter proposed that incompetent or unfair university administrators be removed from their administrative positions democratically, via faculty referendums, for a period of five years. Upon my return to Vancouver on March 31st I found that two tires on my new van had been slashed. As there had been two previous instances of vandalism against our home, my wife and I asked the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (who, by the way, rarely ride on horseback anymore) what we could do. They recommended that we get baseball bats to protect ourselves. Knowing full well that with a baseball bat one could kill someone, I tried to find a less injurious solution. That evening, going through a mail order catalogue from New Jersey, I saw an item – a “dual defense device” – that could be used to immobilize an attacker for a few minutes without causing permanent harm. That seemed to make more sense than a baseball bat, so the following morning, April 1st, I purchased such a device by telephone, paying for it with a credit card right then, for delivery to Blaine, Washington, a small town across the border where I had had a Post Office box for many years and also received packages at a street address. I had no idea that stun guns were illegal in Canada nor do I understand yet why they should be, for they cause no injury, and if we leave our protection entirely to the police, by the time they arrive all they can do is count the bodies. Still, between the time I bought it (on April 1st) and the time I picked it up (on April 16) I was reminded by something I read that in Canada criminals enjoy more rights than their victims, so I concluded there was a possibility that the stun gun might be confiscated at the border.
In the meantime, although the letter editors for Maclean’s had questions for me, they could not reach me (I was in Recife, Brazil), so they went ahead and published my letter. It was available to subscribers and everybody else in Vancouver by the beginning of April.
On April 10 I received a telephone call from Blaine informing me that the package from New Jersey had arrived. I said I would pick it up the following Wednesday (April 16), the usual day of the week I was going to Blaine at that time.
That Thursday evening (April 10), knowing that I would have a meeting with an SFU vice-president the following morning, I went in my mind through some names of recent SFU administrators who had been incompetent, unfair, or both. I didn’t put my informal list in writing, but I had no trouble coming up with about ten names, and if I had spent more time on this pointless exercise, that number would no doubt have been greater (university administrators receive no formal training whatever for what they do).
The following morning (April 11) the vice-president was adamant about not intervening in my department and proposed three other “options”: if I did not wish either to wait for a change of Chair and Dean or be transferred to another department (though no other department offered the types of courses I taught), the third alternative would be for me to retire early, a choice he would sweeten with an early retirement bonus of two years’ salary plus benefits. As I was not interested in retiring early (or at least not in being forced to do so), I insisted that it was my right, as a Faculty member, to have the Administration do something about the irregularities in my department. He again rejected that option. I confess that at that point I lost some of my “cool” and became a little careless in my choice of words. I said that some administrators had been incompetent and unfair and deserved to be punished – having in mind their removal from office via a Faculty referendum, as I had suggested in Maclean’s or, if that official mechanism did not become available, resorting to an unofficial approach whereby one or more professors would hire a private polling company so that, if the administrators had any sense of shame, they would be embarrassed enough to leave office (I would have readily contributed funds of my own to such a worthy administrative-retirement project). After saying that certain administrators needed to face discipline, I added that I knew of at least ten administrators who deserved such a treatment.
For a reason I still don’t fathom myself – for I certainly did not need to be “colorful” about it – I decided to allude to something with the number ten in it, and said these administrators could be called “the ten little Indians.” Everything I said was interpreted by this vice-president in the worst possible way. These “poohbahs” are rarely challenged by anyone, and when they are, they get into a panic and can’t think clearly.
I was to learn later that the reference to “ten little Indians” had been taken as a threat of serial murder, for that was the title of a novel written by Agatha Christie in which ten people were killed one by one. The entire SFU Administration went on red alert, and private investigators were hired to follow me and my wife everywhere. The obfuscated Administration did not take at all into account the fact that I had no record of violence against anyone or that I was opposed to violence of any kind except in self¬defense.
Still later, again, as I looked more closely into this “ten little Indians” business I recalled my only contact with that Agatha Christie work, in the late 1950s, in the form of a television show. It had a different title then: its very racist original title, “Ten Little Niggers.” I was even able to see somewhere in my mind the ten black figurines on the hearth mantle of the mansion as they disappeared one by one each time a victim met its ugly fate. That novel is now on its third title. After the original one came “Ten Little Indians” for some years, and for the last few years the title has been “And Then There Were None,” which is finally nonracist. How did I come up with the phrase “ten little Indians”? It was very simple and innocent: when my son was four years old and was attending prekindergarten in Austin, Texas, he learned a song by that name, and my wife and I learned it from him. Floats at the Parade of Roses had also used that theme.
On Monday, April 14, a secretary to the vice-president called me to say that he would like to continue our conversation on Wednesday afternoon. (I was to learn later that he planned to issue my suspension then, in front of witnesses – I suppose secure under the protection of a few burly RCMP officers.) But let’s not forget that on Friday, April 11, the SFU-hired private investigators were still following my wife and me everywhere.
On Wednesday morning, April 16, I made my usual weekly trip across the border to the little town of Blaine, Washington. Unknown to me, the two private investigators (a man and a woman) followed me into the United States – something illegal for them to do. After picking up my mail and the package from New Jersey and throwing away the carton in which the stun gun was shipped, I came back to Canada. For the first and only time in my life, I did not declare an item at Customs, not because I knew it to be illegal, but because I was afraid they might confiscate it. It was expensive, I did want to protect my home, and it would not do permanent harm to anyone anyway. I was concerned about possible confiscation because in the 15 days since I bought it I had come across a newspaper column that referred to the importance of protecting the rights of criminals.
When I arrived home, I spread the parts of the stun gun on a living room table and left for my appointment with the SFU vice-president. I hadn’t driven even half a block when RCMP officers in a cruiser stopped me – and right in front of my neighbors, said I was under arrest and put handcuffs on me. When I asked what the charge was, they said, “Making threats.” (Now we Christians have a secret “weapon” called prayer, which puts us in immediate contact with the greatest power in the universe. I put in an urgent, very-long-distance call to him, and he replied instantly by enabling me to remain completely calm.) The two RCMP officers searched my van with whatever kind of fine-toothed comb they use for such purposes – and certainly seemed disappointed when what they expected to find wasn’t there.
So, I was carted off to jail, in the very tight space in the back of a police cruiser. From jail I called my wife at her office in SFU, explained to her the situation, and asked her – all in Spanish – to “dispose” of what was on the living room table.
That evening, while I was learning the ins and outs of jail, the RCMP came to search our home, warrant in hand. There was nothing to be found there. They became impatient and rude with my wife. They threatened to arrest her too if she did not reveal where the stun gun was. Finally, realizing they couldn’t win outright, they offered her a compromise: if she would lead them to where the stun gun was, neither she nor I would be charged for its possession. My wife took them to the supermarket trash can where she had dropped the device. (Later, the female member of that RCMP pair was to claim full credit for investigating the whole matter and finding the stun gun.)
In the meantime, I found that one can learn interesting things even in a local jail. I was able to confirm that at least some guards are sadistic, and that some criminals, like the car thief who was my cell mate, would rather enjoy the comforts of a provincial prison in Canada than ever give up their “trade.” The moment this man is released from prison for the nth time, he keeps stealing cars until he’s caught and sent back to his own comfortable prison cell, with his own television set and other amenities.
I also found out about the close cooperation between the police – and later, the courts – which were quite ready to accept the Administration’s story and discount mine. Before I could leave jail, I had to sign a document that stated many things I could not do.
Later that week, when I was back home, I was served with numerous court papers whose significance I did not understand, as their titles were in Latin. However, a particular court order I received was very clear: I was prohibited from calling anyone on campus on the phone or making use of my email “privilege” (which by now should be a right, just like the use of the telephone); I was to stay 250 yards from any university administrator anywhere, except my wife, whom I could approach off campus, and so forth – did they assume I owned a bazooka? (I learned later that some administrators were so afraid that they virtually barricaded themselves in their offices.)
At about the same time, the Administration succeeded in having their disingenuous side of the story published on the front page of the two largest newspapers in our province, complete with the smiling face of the “miscreant,” which the adjoining text defamed as emotionally unstable and dangerous.
Evidently the worst “sin” a professor can commit on a campus is to become a dissident against his university administration, even though that has long come under the rubric of “academic freedom.” Again, many colleagues protested for weeks the suspension of my email and other things being done to me, but gradually – as often happens with campus crises – things quieted down, I being the only one indulging in forced quietness.
I was totally ignorant of legal matters. The young lawyer a professional organization sent to assist me made matters worse in her eagerness to reach an agreement based primarily on my concessions (the Administration had “withdrawn” their pre¬scandal offer of two years salary plus benefits if I agreed to retire). I was threatened with dismissal without any early-retirement allowance or even (subtly but clearly enough) with possible criminal charges if I would not go along with the civil agreement the Administration pressed on me – a threat that is not allowed by law. So I found another lawyer on my own, following a recommendation from a friend. But both lawyers agreed that I should quietly accept the Administration’s “offer.” Maybe these two lawyers understood very well something I did not realize at that time, with my adolescent dreams of justice: They persuaded me not to sue, arguing that, according to their experience, I could never win against a large institution. And they were right. A plaintiff with limited means may win at the first trial; however, only a wealthy person can hire top lawyers and manage to survive the financial and emotional bleeding of the prolonged appeal process that a large institution (especially one with access to that infinite resource, taxpayers’ dollars) can impose.
My lawyers managed to get me the “concession” of the two years salary plus benefits, in exchange for which I was expected to surrender my soul.
Before I retired, the president – having made numerous blunders – had to resign his position. The irony is that questioning my mental stability was seemingly the most effective argument the Administration used to obtain an ex-parte injunction against me in Court, which I didn’t get to read until after my retirement. (As Westhues has pointed out, the claim that “this guy is dangerous, virtually insane” is a ploy frequently used by university administrators when they want to mob a tenured professor.)
The injunction the Administration used against me, which did not allow me to appear in court to present my side of the story, is, by law, required to be full and balanced; but it was not – not at all. In two and a half pages there were 33 falsehoods, distortions, and important omissions that would have favored me, thus providing the missing balance. They even tampered with the reports the two private investigators turned in to SFU – not, as the SFU affidavit falsely stated, to the police. I eventually saw the original, handwritten reports, and they were both accurate descriptions of my visit to Blaine and my return home to Canada. But somehow they induced the male investigator (but apparently not the female one) to modify his report for the affidavit to make me look worse.
My legal ordeal
– which lasted almost five years because of my determination to
“clear my name” – was very expensive and a source of
almost continuous stress, with negative effects on both my physical and
emotional health. As for “clearing” anyone’s name, the
great majority of people, including many professors, are far more likely
to remember an adverse front-page story than to notice any small, neutrally
worded announcement that may appear years later somewhere in the back
of the same publication. One of the tragedies of mobbing is that once
a reputation has been destroyed, a person can never recover it fully.
1. Try to avoid it in the first place, if at all possible. In my case, I certainly could have tried to be more polite, a major social consideration in Canada. Some people, including some of my colleagues, thought I was rude. Probably no professor who is mobbed is entirely faultless. However, I had noticed that in previous crises the SFU Administration had cavalierly ignored polite attempts at correcting bad decisions. So, I decided to be direct, and to insist on my arguments. I must admit that some of my messages may have gone overboard by using humor that was too pointed, indeed sarcastic (though I forwent any use of obscene language). Nevertheless, “freedom of speech” and “academic freedom” are meant to protect impolite expression. Smooth, pleasant speech has never needed to be defended.
2. Refuse to be an accessory to administrative confidentiality. When mobbing starts, I believe it’s better to insist that all actions and communications be kept in the open, thus denying the administration the confidentiality they would much rather have to do their business. I never did get as much support as I hoped for, but I am sure I would have been worse off if the whole case had been allowed to proceed in secret. I think Herbert Richardson was right in insisting on an open hearing, and that secrecy would have been even more harmful to him. If there is anything autocratic abusers hate, it is the light of day. At the same time, be aware of the risks involved, for a university administration may be ready to do anything to gag you, probably supported by the courts.
3. If the matter involves the police or the courts, hire an excellent lawyer. This is crucial. How you will find the right bottle to rub so that the right legal genie will come out and grant your three wishes, I have no idea. I am convinced, though, that it is better to pay through the nose for a while for the best lawyer you can find than have the whole thing drag on for years in the hands of “less expensive” lawyers (who are usually less skillful in court), thereby accumulating a much larger bill in the end. Remember too that, no matter how great your lawyer may be, you are hiring him/her. This applies especially to the many lawyers – even some very good ones – who prefer to avoid the public light and may insist on that from you as well. However, as noted earlier, keep in mind that if your case drags on for years – which is not unusual – it will be very expensive.
4. Be sure to get your side of the story to the media clearly and very early. Whether you have an excellent lawyer or not, if you wait until the media learn “the facts” from the other side first, both print and broadcast media will become committed to that story and will be very reluctant to change course. By then it may be too late to correct public misperceptions of what the “truth” is. Also, do your best to get the media record straight. Sometimes this is very difficult. With newspapers, for example, it isn’t a matter of whether they will make mistakes or publish distortions – it’s more a matter of how many times they will do it per column-inch.
5. Learn all you can now, about your legal rights. If you see yourself becoming a target or think that you might become one someday, now is the time to inform yourself about laws, lawyers and courts. I was completely ignorant of such matters. If I had known more about them, I believe my case could have turned out differently.
6. Remember: The administration doesn’t even mind looking terrible as long as they succeed in their obsessive goal of eliminating you. At some point, administrators bent on getting rid of a professor begin to scent his blood. This gets them into such a frenetic mood that they won’t even notice faculty members’ protests. At the head of the administrative rabid pack there may be a university president who won’t even mind being called “silly” in public.
7. Don’t use your “donkey power” unless you really must. (For “donkey power,” please see Westhues's book, pp. 249f.) Years before my confrontation with the Administration, I thought of retiring early and going into a second, writing career. I could have retired fairly comfortably and honorably then. Even after the mobbing began, I could have accepted quietly an offer for me to retire early, with the same two-years’ salary plus benefits that had to be extracted from the Administration, almost like pulling teeth, in the end. But when the pressure was on for me to go, that old “donkey” reared on its hind legs and said, “No, I don’t want to retire. I want you to intervene in my department, where many administrative injustices are taking place” (which the senior administrators refused to do, of course – what better way to convince me to disappear from the scene?).
8. Don’t let your academic career be your all in all. Have at least one other major thing you would like to do – just in case. (For me, it was writing books and songs completely unrelated to my academic field; I believe I should have started doing that much earlier, even if it had meant starving for a while.) No work deserves to be the one and only center of our life. We all need higher goals that go beyond our regular work. In other words, you have to know who you are, what your purpose in occupying your space on earth is, and live your purpose – in a balanced way, of course. Without self-knowledge and a purpose to chase, even if one never quite succeeds in catching it, all anyone who suffers from such a life of “quiet desperation” can do is escape into any of a great choice of addictions (such as much-admired workaholism). Consider, for example, what you would be more likely to say to yourself on your deathbed. Would it be, “I wish I had written another journal article or published another academic book” or “I wish I had spent more time with my loved ones – family and friends”?
9. I believe that those of us who are “inner-directed,” like Herbert Richardson, have a far better chance to endure and survive mobbing well than those who are “other-directed” and depend on the approval and persuasive propensity of their colleagues or their students. I have been “inner-directed” most of my life, but this five-year crisis convinced me that by myself I am not enough.
10. A strongly supporting, loving family is a great source of strength – which I didn’t really have – in such situations. Supportive friends, who may or may not be colleagues, can also be emotionally helpful. It is the emotional side of mobbing that will affect you the most, so you will need emotionally helpful people on your side. For a few weeks, I received frequent calls from colleagues; then they petered out so that sometimes several weeks passed without any such call. Several of my non-university “friends” showed their true colors by preferring to believe the newspapers rather than me, for, of course, “Newspapers don’t lie; if they did they would be sued for libel.” Indeed, crises show us clearly the character and loyalty of friends, spouse, and others. The really supportive ones will stick with you through thick or thin; the rest will jump ship – not a major loss. But in certain circumstances, we can feel quite alone; and if the circumstance is mobbing, that can be dangerous – remember that some victims of mobbing have committed suicide. (I was determined not to give any of the mobbers who were after me any such satisfaction.)
11. One alone against the world? As I said, I discovered that by myself I am not enough. Yet I was able to survive, without fatal illness of any sort (I’m still here!) five very stressful years in which, for months at a time, I was alone in virtually every way. This is when spiritual strength can make a life-or-death difference. I am not a weak, superstitious, ignorant person. Many strong, highly intelligent, well-educated, sane people (even many scientists) have accepted the existence of an Intelligent Designer, a loving, caring person who, like most believers, I call God. His existence can be proved, among other ways, statistically. Many times throughout those five awful years it was just He and I against unfairness in the world. (As someone said, I felt that “God and I are a majority.”) If you fear you may be mobbed sometime or are in the process of being mobbed, my most valuable suggestion is for you to come close to that Friend, who will “never leave you nor forsake you.” (If you are determined to be an atheist and this little homily gives you a stomachache, my apologies. There’s always Pepto-Bismol®.)
The corporate style of university governance that has largely replaced the earlier collegial style is hurting us all. Faculties, working together, united, used to have a great deal of say on campus (remember, however, as motivator Les Brown has said, “Used to bee don’t make no honey”). Divided and conquered, professors have no power at all.
I strongly believe that there should be at least two meetings per school year of all professors on any campus to hold their administrators accountable, and to dismiss them if they are not up to par. That should be built into all agreements, constitutions, or what have you.
Further, I believe that all such official documents should include a clause to the effect that upon petition from 10 percent of the faculty under any university administrator – from department chair (or proud peacock of newly appointed assistant chair) all the way to the president – a referendum should be held on whether or not to remove, for at least five years, any such individual who is incompetent or dictatorial. (Perhaps there should also be provision for removing an entire senior administration.)
I have never believed in the much-chanted “Power to the people!” – at least not the way it has been meant for several decades by those who in reality wish to impose rather bizarre ideologies on others. I believe that everyone affected by a decision should have a say in it, not after it has been made but before it is made and while it is being made – whether directly or indirectly through strong, fearless representatives (not the accommodating milquetoasts who claim to represent faculty on some campuses). This is not happening in our universities, where professors should hold the balance of power, with sufficient participation by staff and students as well.
University administrators often ignore due process and some of their own policies and procedures in their eagerness to exclude or dismiss, for no valid academic reason, dissident professors. They are getting away with this unprofessional, unethical, and at times illegal behavior, sometimes with the support of the police, the courts, and the media.
We can only live life forwards, never backwards. If the latter were possible, would I do again what I did as a dissident professor? One thing I would do, if I had a second chance, would be to try to express myself less bluntly. University administrators apply “zero tolerance” to everyone but themselves, but perhaps a somewhat softer landing could be had by limiting any proclivity for directness and unwelcome humor. Still, freedom of speech and integrity – good causes for which millions of people have been willing to die in the past – are worth fighting for, especially when we see others being mistreated. So, I would have to speak up again.
Sometimes our victories will turn out to be Pyrrhic. That, however, is not a sufficient reason to fail to engage the opposite side. Besides, anyone who must retire early has an opportunity to enjoy doing whatever makes him or her happy, even if it has nothing to do with academic life and its supposed “prestige.”