Mainpage: Mobbing in academe and beyond

K. Westhues


RIP Tomas Hudlicky

Professor of Chemistry

and Canada Research Chair

Brock University


Kenneth Westhues, University of Waterloo
Published online, June 2022




There is no way to predict with any certainty the consequences of an academic mobbing. The outcome depends on characteristics of the target, the mobbers, the workplace, and most important, the temper of the times. Sometimes the mobbing backfires, and the target ends up with more honour, wealth and power than before. Brian Martin has analyzed the process of backfire with much insight. A good example is the campaign against psychologist Jordan Peterson at the University of Toronto in 2016, from which Peterson emerged just a few years later as one of the most prominent intellectuals in the world.

More often, academic mobbing succeeds in its objective, namely to eliminate the target from the workplace, with associated loss of reputation, income, and influence. Click here for the statement of the Quillette editorial board on the firing of classics professor Joshua Katz from Princeton University in 2022. Click here for an account of how Ilya Shapiro, a law lecturer at Georgetown, escaped being fired but resigned anyway, on grounds that the workplace environment was so hostile toward him he could not do his job.

The mobbing of Tomas Hudlicky, a leading light in chemistry at Brock University in Ontario, also ended with the target's disappearance, but in a sadder way. In 2020, Hudlicky argued in a German scholarly journal for a priority on competence in the hiring of chemists in universities. A twitter mob rose up against him, denouncing Hudlicky as racist, sexist, misogynist, abusive, and so on. The journal withdrew his article and suspended the editors who had accepted it for publication. Far worse, Brock University Provost Gregory Finn published an open letter denouncing Hudlicky's article as hurtful and alienating to marginalized groups. Finn ominously warned that "further steps are being considered." Canada's major funding agencies piled on, deeming Hudlicky's views "deplorable."

Hudlicky fought back. Colleagues came to his defense. The Brock administrators did not proceed to fire Hudlicky, but they did not need to. He died suddenly on 10 May 2022 while on a visit to his native country, the Czech Republic. He was 72 years old. In his memory, I recommend the following four items, all available online for free.



(1) Nicholas Tibollo, "Remembering Professor Tomas Hudlicky, and how poorly Brock University treated him," Niagara Independent (18 May 2022).

A brief article, just a 5-minute read, but bristling with facts and links to relevant documents, an excellent account of how and why Hudlicky was mobbed.



(2) Tomas Hudlicky, "The case of Tomas Hudlicky – where now?" National Association of Scholars blog (3 August 2020).

The mobbing target's first-person account of the ordeal that befell him that summer. One has to weep at the premature death of so stellar an exemplar of science as this man. He includes in this article the powerful quotation from polymath Michael Polanyi on the master-apprentice relation:

To learn by example is to submit to authority. You follow your master because you trust his manner of doing things even when you cannot analyse and account in detail for its effectiveness. By watching the master and emulating his efforts in the presence of his example, the apprentice unconsciously picks up the rules of the art, including those which are not explicitly known to the master himself. These hidden rules can be assimilated only by a person who surrenders himself to that extent uncritically to the imitation of another. A society which wants to preserve a fund of personal knowledge must submit to tradition.



(3) Tomas Hudlicky, “'Organic synthesis—Where now?' is thirty years old. A reflection on the current state of affairs,"Angewandte Chemie International Edition (June 2020).

This is the article that triggered the mobbing of its author by woke scientists, editors, granting-agency officials, and university administrators. For a fun exercise if you have time and are not familiar with Hudlicky's case, read the short article and try to guess which of its paragraphs sealed Hudlicky's fate.



(4) Tomas Hudlicky, "Knocking on Heaven's Door," YouTube (24 October 2018).

The chemistry professor's rendition of the Bob Dylan song, recorded at the peak of Hudlicky's scholarly career, when the Brock administration lauded him as one of the half-dozen most cited natural scientists on its faculty.