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Mainpage: Workplace Mobbing in Academe




Kenneth Westhues, 2006

The single best way to understand academic mobbing is to study many different cases of it, thereby to grasp the core reality amidst its many different expressions, details, and circumstances. Documentation on many such cases is available online (some recent ones here, for example), in my five books on this subject, on many other websites and in many other books.

A complementary way to understand academic mobbing is to study instances of professors being punished or losing their jobs that do not qualify as mobbing cases. One learns to recognize this organizational pathology the same way one does a poisonous plant: by inspecting not only varied specimens in varied locales but also a variety of nonpoisonous look-alikes. One way to grasp what academic mobbing is is to study examples of what it is not.

Below are four examples of professorial elimination that do not quite capture what academic mobbing means, though they resemble it in some respects. I hope to add further examples to this webpage in coming months — toward the end of bringing the subject of study into still sharper focus.

(1) Valery Fabrikant's loss of his job at Concordia University in 1992, and his imprisonment for life. There is a great deal of evidence, especially in the 1994 report by Harry Arthurs et al (summarized in the perceptive article by Morris Wolfe), of a process of administrative mobbing targeting Fabrikant in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It is not far-fetched to understand his shooting spree in August of 1992, resulting in the deaths of four colleagues, as having been precipitated by many years of ill-treatment, harassment, shunning, and humiliation. Yet once Fabrikant had lashed back at his tormentors in murderous rage, there was nothing to do but lock him away. His being convicted of murder and imprisoned on that account does not deny his talent as an engineer or professor, nor should it be seen as retrospective justification of the earlier ill-treatment of him. But no fanatic ganging up at all is implied by the elimination not just from the university but from a free society of a man who has committed multiple murders. (For further discussion of the Fabrikant case, see Eliminating Professors, Chapter 10.)

(2) The firing of Lana Nguyen at the University of Regina in 2001. The Regina administration was prepared to let Nguyen resign quietly (a common indicator of non-mobbing) until news of her offense was leaked to the press. Only then did it commission the public inquiry by Stuart McKinnon and Constance Rooke, which laid out the facts of the case in detail. Essentially, Nguyen was an imposter. Holding only an undergraduate degree, she had laid claim to the PhD earned by her ex-husband and used it to land a position on Regina's engineering faculty. Students had protested en masse against her teaching. Her lawyer argued that male faculty, administrators, and/or students had ganged up on her. There may or may not have been some truth in that allegation, but the fact remains that she committed a clear offense, major falsification of credentials, and was not at all qualified to teach in an engineering faculty. Ganged up on or not, she deserved to lose her job. (For further discussion of the Nguyen case, see The Envy of Excellence, pp. 210, 228.)

(3) Eric Poehlman's resignation from the Universities of Vermont in 2001 and of Montreal in 2005. According to a press release in 2005, from the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Poehlman admitted that he falsified and fabricated data in articles and grant applications about his medical research. A student working with him had discovered the fraud and reported it to university authorities. While under investigation at Vermont in 2001, Poehlman moved to an endowed chair at Montreal. Investigations continued by both the University of Vermont and the U.S. government, which had funded his research. As investigators unearthed ever more conclusive evidence of his fraud and as criminal charges came to be laid, Poehlman decided to admit guilt and settle with the U.S. government. He resigned from the University of Montreal in January of 2005. This case appears from press reports as one involving a clear, academically fatal offense by a professor highly regarded by administrators and colleagues at both Vermont and Montreal. It does not at all appear to qualify as a mobbing case.

(4) The dismissal of history professor Leo Johnson from the University of Waterloo in 1983. Having worked with Johnson and read some of his work, I can personally attest to his talent and assiduity as an historian and teacher. Being a Marxist, he was not popular with the Waterloo administration, and he had never completed his Ph.D., but he survived on the faculty well enough until 1982, when he was charged and then pled guilty to nine counts of indecently assaulting young girls, and one count of having sexual intercourse with a girl under 14 years of age. He was sentenced to two years in prison. The university faced the choice of granting him unpaid leave to serve his prison term or firing him. Following the policy and procedures then in place, the university chose the latter. Then and now, I believe this was the right decision. Criminal conviction should not automatically result in a professor's dismissal. It depends on the crime. Sexual predation on children seems to me, as to most people, an offense more than serious enough to warrant elimination from a university position. (For further discussion of the Johnson case, see The Envy of Excellence, p. 36.)