December 06, 2009

Eliminating Professors. A Guide to the Dismissal Process. By Kenneth Westhues

With publication of this book and his continuing research on the subject, Westhues has virtually founded a new field in sociology. ... Tongue in cheek, the book gives supervisors step-by-step advice on how to get rid of a misfit professor named PITA (Pain In The Ass): oddly, but typically, the only one in the proximate institutional setting who actually gives a damn about what they do. His or her commitment will tend to embarrass and threaten all those (the overwhelming majority) around him or her, whose only commitment is to their paychecks and leisure. The book is amusing but very scary at the same time.

David S. Clarke, Professor of Management of Technology, Southern Illinois University, and Editor, Knowledge, Technology, and Society, in his weekly e-newsletter, 2003.

The book's chapters—highly readable, personal, engaging, and illuminative—alternate between a suspenseful narrative of Westhues's own case winding its tortured and exasperating way through an appeal, and the "how-to" chapters, which are written, this reader presumes, with an intensely ironic, but tellingly effective voice. They sound like advice-to-administrators' manuals, of which genre the readers of this journal should be overly familiar. But let the reader beware that Westhues skewers them with a satiric intensity that chills the blood.

David W. Leslie, Chancellor Professor of Education, The College of William and Mary, book review in The Journal of Higher Education, 2000.

...a remarkably perceptive account of the techniques useful for getting rid of unwelcome academics. Of course, it can also be read by those who are targeted, and their supporters, as a primer on what is likely to happen and how best to oppose it.

Brian Martin, Associate Professor, Department of Science, Technology, and Society, University of Wollongong, book review in Campus Review (1999).


A Sample Chapter from Kenneth Westhues, Eliminating Professors: a Guide to the Dismissal Process, Lewiston: NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1998.

Chapter 18: Making the Star Chamber Work

So that this book may be of maximum practical value, this chapter sets forth in point form some helpful hints for the professors, secretaries, and students who sit on harassment tribunals. Not being professional administrators, these people may lack managerial sophistication. Whoever appoints them will do well to provide them with guidelines that will ensure the tribunal’s effective operation.

These tips are for the modal situation, where the tribunal needs to bring down a finding of DR. PITA’s guilt and a recommendation for punishment. Cases where DR. PITA herself appeals to the tribunal are easier to deal with, usually by finding a plausible way to rule her complaint out of jurisdiction.

These suggestions are based on the functioning of ethics and harassment committees in actual cases at Waterloo and elsewhere. Since policies differ somewhat among universities, these measures must not be applied mechanically but with due regard for the enabling statute in a given institution. Still, the functioning of such tribunals is quite similar across universities. I was surprised that a fictional depiction of a university ethics tribunal in 1996, on the popular TV sit-com Third Rock from the Sun, was a credible composite of actual cases in my study.

1. The tribunal should extend its jurisdiction or catchment area however broadly is required to take up the complaint against DR. PITA—whether the incident occurred on campus or off, in his professorial role or outside it.

2. Ideally, DR. PITA should be found guilty of something before he finds out what it is. The Harassment Officer may assist one or more complainants in drawing up a plausible preliminary indictment for subsequent approval by the tribunal as a whole.

3. To enlist DR. PITA’s cooperation in his own undoing, confound the roles of counsellor, prosecutor, and judge. In conversations with an official he believes is being friendly, he may make incriminating statements that can later be held against him.

4. Make sure the victim-accuser is on side. More than one case has been lost, even with many ardent complainants, because the alleged victim did not herself find DR. PITA’s behaviour objectionable.

5. Reward accusers. For lowly undergraduates, the attentions of important university officials may be reward enough. Financial compensation or revision of grades, on account of injuries sustained, may also be considered.

6. Avoid falsifiable statements in the indictment. Vagueness and innuendo are far more effective than charges that lend themselves to being disproven.

7. Once the decision is made to proceed to a formal hearing, move as quickly as possible, showing a sense of great urgency. A hearing that cannot be arranged promptly may not be able to be arranged at all.

8. Ignore DR. PITA’s lawyer, if he has one, and forbid the lawyer’s presence at the hearing. Explain that domestic tribunals of a university proceed by norms of collegiality, and that legalistic, adversarial measures are out of place.

9. If the faculty association or other bodies attempt to intervene on DR. PITA’s behalf, accuse them of trying to exert undue influence. Insist that the tribunal will not bend to the political pressure being applied.

10. Ignore claims that the tribunal is biased against him. Respond as one chair did: “I am satisfied that this committee member has no apprehension of bias.”

11. Disregard evidence in DR. PITA’s favour on substantive grounds. Describe it as irrelevant or not germane to the issues under consideration.

12. Disregard evidence in DR. PITA’s favour on procedural grounds. Say it was submitted at the wrong time, to the wrong official, or in the wrong format.

13. If there is evidence that DR. PITA has discussed the case outside the tribunal (he may admit, for instance, having talked about it with his wife, his dean, or some colleagues), charge him with breach of confidentiality.

14. If DR. PITA speaks his accusers’ names outside the tribunal, charge him with breach of confidentiality and with attempting to damage their reputations and cause them to suffer.

15. If DR. PITA (or his colleague-advisor, if the policy provides for one) objects to the tribunal’s procedures, remind him that this is not a court of law, that collegiality must be insisted upon, and that the tribunal will not entertain editorial comments.

16. Ignore the references to context that DR. PITA is almost sure to make. Explain that the tribunal’s only concern is with this particular incident, not with what may have happened before or after.

17. Find an excuse to make a confidential investigation that may yield additional complaints and is useful in any case for damaging DR. PITA’s reputation. Contact former students, for example, or advertise in the newspaper. In a case against a policeman pita, the tribunal set out to contact each of the 2,047 women he had had something to do with during his eight years on the force.

18. Try to provoke DR. PITA into losing his temper or doing something rash, then make appropriate additional charges. Like most professors, DR. PITA is so proud and vain that the hearing itself will insult and fluster him.

19. In the report at the end, find DR. PITA guilty of something, even if it is not what he was initially charged with. The important thing is to find against him. The precise nature of the finding is of secondary importance.

20. Write a long report, preferably at least ten pages single-spaced. Number sections and paragraphs. Include lots of footnotes. Be vague and repetitive. Include nothing that could be quoted out of context as being in DR. PITA’s favour.

21. Recommend multiple punishments: for example, requirements to make several different apologies, go for counselling, and attend a series of workshops, in addition to a financial penalty.

22. Do not let your animus against DR. PITA show, nor lead you to write things that are obviously untrue. Senior managers will not take kindly to a report so extreme they are obliged to reject it, and may deny you the rewards you will otherwise receive for your service to the university.

23. The report should include innuendo so damaging to DR. PITA that he will not himself release it publicly, however strong his objections. Suggestions of sexual predation or mental unbalance serve well.

24. Do not release the report publicly, lest the tribunal be revealed as a kanagaroo court. After my first ethics hearing, the provost put the report on the Internet. I understand from him that he now regrets that decision.

25. For the same reason, never release audio-tapes of the proceeding, much less a transcript. If this cannot be avoided (in connection with an appeal, for instance), DR. PITA may be allowed to listen to the tapes under administrative supervision, but under no circumstances should he be allowed to walk away with a copy.


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