SITE INTRODUCTION, 2002
(Written and published on the web, December 2002)
Among the complaints made by a team of outside consultants who assessed Waterloo's Department of Sociology in 2001, was that "none of the present faculty members has established a highly visible 'web presence.'" In my case at least, the complaint was apt. I had not at that point personally published anything on the web.
The site introduced here, a personal homepage for which I have personal responsibility, not only accommodates the consultants' complaint but fulfills my own intention since several years ago. The site is arriving late for two reasons, a general one I share with many senior professors, and a specific one unique to me.
The general reason is the devotion I learned as a child to the printed word as a medium of communication. I grew up treating books as almost sacred instruments for the meeting of minds. I have spent the greater part of my life reading, studying, writing, revising, editing, reviewing, comparing, collecting, and treasuring books. Even their stitching and binding, formats and typefaces, their feel and smell have held for me a compelling fascination.
David Johnston, Waterloo's current president, has often described (as in his 1998 Maclean's essay) the computer as the greatest revolution in communications technology since Gutenberg. He is right, but joining this revolution has been hard for me, on account of my love for the old regime.
The computer itself was easy to embrace. I learned to use it in graduate school in the 1960s, for statistical analysis of census and survey data. I made the shift from typewriter to word processor in 1989, and eagerly learned desk-top publishing. My use of the computer in the past century, however, was in service of the printed word, to facilitate getting good ideas down on paper in black and white.
It was not until 1995 that (with help from my son Jonathan, then twelve years old) I connected to the internet, using it first for e-mail, then slowly shifting from books, articles, and newspapers to the web, in my daily search for information and ideas. Now, seven years after becoming a consumer of electronically published knowledge, I am at last taking on also the role of producer—clumsily, haltingly, warily, and without abandoning books. Other scholars are making the same transition. Most younger ones are farther along. That is how things go in revolutions.
Still, this site might have appeared five or six years ago. There is a specific reason why it did not. In 1994, when the web was young and I had barely heard of it, the University of Waterloo administration seized upon it as a medium by which to destroy my credibility and name. On 6 June of that year, provost James Kalbfleisch published prominently on the university's website a 1000-word "open letter" denouncing me for allegedly spreading misinformation in a postal letter. He published with his open letter the confidential report of a Waterloo ethics tribunal that had found me guilty of sundry offenses.
By these actions of its chief academic officer, Waterloo became the first university anywhere to use the World Wide Web, officially and purposely, to discredit a member of its faculty. This distinction in cyberpolitics followed on its earlier distinction in 1988, when Waterloo edged out Stanford by two months, to become the first university anywhere to censor the internet (rec.humor.funny). These are among the least of the many firsts Waterloo has scored in its 45-year history.
The official denunciations of me were the lead story in Waterloo's "Daily Bulletin" of June 7, 1994, and Kalbfleisch's open letter was published in full in the university newspaper, the UW Gazette, of June 8, 1994, in whose electronic version it has been available on the web ever since.
I wrote a response entitled "Open Letter to Provost Jim Kalbfleisch," also a critique of the tribunal's decision entitled "Twenty Flaws in UW Ethics Hearing Committee Report No. 94-3," and I supplied these two documents to the Waterloo administration in hard copy and on diskette, asking that they be published alongside the denunciations on the university's website. My request was ignored. My letter appeared in the print edition of the UW Gazette of June 22, 1994, but not the electronic one. That I had written a critique of the tribunal decision was reported in the "Daily Bulletin" of June 23, 1994, but the critique itself did not make it into cyberspace. Only now are the two documents accessible electronically, by clicking the links above.
In that summer of 1994, I still had confidence that the public condemnation and other sanctions imposed on me would be corrected in an orderly way, by Waterloo's established procedures for dispute resolution. In September, however, the grievance committee appointed to hear my case quit, blaming a lack of cooperation from me and my Faculty Association (FAUW) advisor, English professor Roman Dubinski. In response to this breakdown of university procedures, I then appealed for help to the Committee on Academic Freedom & Tenure of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT).
For the next two years, CAUT's intercessions on my behalf to the Waterloo administration were rebuffed. In October of 1996, therefore, CAUT published, in both the print and electronic versions of its Bulletin, a 10,000-word report that, among other things, publicly denounced the University of Waterloo for having publicly denounced me.
CAUT invited four responses for publication with its report. James Downey, Waterloo's president at the time, made his response a further denunciation of me, along with FAUW and CAUT. Ronald Lambert, at that time chair of Waterloo's sociology department, expressed similar sentiments. My colleague Adie Nelson also denounced me further. All these documents, along with my response, have been continually available on CAUT's website since October of 1996.
Immediately following CAUT's publication of its report, the Waterloo administration published on its own website a further, 35,000-word exposition of my and others' alleged misdeeds entitled "The Westhues Case: a Statement of Fact," by chair Lambert.
In truth, therefore, by the end of 1996, I had achieved without trying an extraordinarily visible "web presence," though hardly of a kind that any professor would envy, especially as more millions of people, not just professors around the globe but also students and my own relatives and friends, were learning to log on , to browse the web, and to use search engines.
My home university's ongoing defamation of me on the web distressed me greatly at the time, but I was preoccupied with a more immediate incursion on my position and name. In August of 1996, Waterloo's ethics tribunal had found me guilty of misconduct on a fresh set of charges. In March of 1997, provost Kalbfleisch informed me that while he did not accept the tribunal's finding, he had nonetheless decided to suspend me for a month without pay on still newer charges.
President Downey entrusted my appeal of the 1997 punishments to Peter Mercer, vice-president and former dean of law at the University of Western Ontario. Mercer held a hearing that August with only Kalbfleisch and me in attendance. Six months later, on 11 February 1998, he faxed his decision—clearing me, overturning the suspension, and awarding me a six-month research leave with full pay, as well as reimbursement of my legal costs. That same day, Downey withdrew his name from consideration for a further term as president, and announced he would step down. Mercer's decision got a lot of publicity, and the Waterloo administration published it on its website, where it remains. Later that spring, Waterloo's Board of Governors abolished the ethics tribunal and established procedures for external arbitration of faculty grievances.
Feeling vindication and relief in the summer of 1998, I proposed to Downey that we resolve also the matters from 1994, which Mercer had left unresolved for want of jurisdiction. I complained to Downey in particular about the unwarranted harm done to me and my family by the university's publication of its unwarranted defamations on the web for the four preceding years. Downey declined to discuss the matter, though he and provost Kalbfleisch agreed to a request from FAUW, to remove the documents in question from the university's website.
Perhaps I should have constructed and published my own website at that point. Rightly or wrongly, I decided to wait until the administration and I had managed to reconcile our differences and resolve the matters left outstanding in Mercer's decision. Over the next three years, I made a series of overtures toward that end, all of which were refused or ignored. When the new president, David Johnston, and Board Chair Paul Mitchell announced on October 4, 2000 that Kalbfleisch was resigning his position and taking early retirement, I approached Kalbfleisch one last time, asking that we try to resolve our differences before his departure from the university. He declined.
Now finally in 2002, prodded by the critical comment of last year's team of departmental consultants, I have decided to publish this website even though the dispute from eight years ago has not been resolved.
I hope that visitors to this site will find their understanding enriched and deepened of the great gift of life in our time. I plan to enlarge the site gradually in coming months. I welcome feedback. Thanks to all—colleagues, students, friends, FAUW, CAUT, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, my family above all—for sustaining me through the years leading up to this publication.