November 10, 2008

Mob, v t, to kill by pack

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.)

...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.

... 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.

...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.

...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...

By Hector Hammerly, Late Professor of Linguistics, Simon Fraser University


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