A Sample Compare/Contrast Section from Kenneth Westhues, The Envy of Excellence: Administrative Mobbing of High-Achieving Professors, Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2004, 2006.


SEPTEMBER 11, 2001, p. 289

Mobbings arise out of a climate of worry, fear, insecurity, uncertainty. Targeting an individual for humiliation and punishment, making a quick sacrifice to angry gods, restores the illusion of safety and control.

Sometimes the precipitating climate creeps in slowly. The Catholic crisis of the late twentieth century is one example. The postmodern panic surrounding male violence is another. These were the backdrop for Richardson’s mobbing at Toronto from 1987 to 1994.

Sometimes the climate of terror comes all of a sudden, like a storm boiling up from a cloudless sky. Such was the case with the surprise attack by hijacked American airplanes on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The attack came “out of the blue.” This was terrorism, in design and in effect.

If the nineteen hijackers had somehow parachuted out before the planes crashed, American craving to regain safety would have taken the form of hunting these killers down and putting them on trial. Since they died in the attacks, the crowd’s attention turned to more distant targets, above all the alleged masterminds in Afghanistan. Less elusive targets included nonconformist professors of various stripes on American college campuses (see Glenn 2001, Rothschild 2002). FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, publicized numerous such cases on its website.

Among them was politics professor Kenneth Hearlson at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, California. In a class on September 18, Hearlson condemned the attacks of the previous week, and the ongoing terrorism against Israel by Islamic fundamentalists. Four Muslim students charged Hearlson with harassment, saying he had called them terrorists and murderers. They said he needed to be taught a lesson. Hearlson was suspended.

A tape recording of the class proved Hearlson innocent of the students’ accusations, and he was reinstated, but 24 of his colleagues pressed on. In December, they signed a petition accusing Hearlson of creating a hostile environment and trying to smear the college’s reputation. Said one of them, “The four students who raised complaints were factually wrong in their accusations. However, they were inferentially correct” (quoted in Last 2001).

At the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, Richard Berthold responded to the shock of the attacks with a sentiment opposite to Hearlson’s. In class on September 11, he spoke ten words that almost got him fired: “Anyone who can blow up the Pentagon gets my vote.” The remark was not atypical of this much-admired professor of ancient history, well-known on campus as an iconoclastic practitioner of liberal education and courageous defender of free speech on both right and left.

Berthold apologized promptly for what he admitted was a stupid remark, but as usual in mobbing cases, apology only stoked the crowd’s fury. The media had a feeding frenzy. President William C. Gordon received a thousand emails. State legislators called for Berthold’s dismissal. In the end, Gordon imposed milder sanctions, mainly restrictions on teaching. Berthold acquiesced.

“I gave in, lacking, it seems, the strength of character to take them all the way to court”–so Berthold emailed me shortly afterwards. He should not have been so hard on himself.