A tribunal at McMaster University is recommending “severe and lengthy suspensions” and other punitive measures after investigating two linked harassment claims involving about a dozen professors and a senior university administrator.
In a 26-page report released quietly Tuesday after the panel heard from 65 witnesses and examined 2,694 documents, it calls for the suspension of five professors and a reprimand for another, citing evidence in support of “numerous allegations of direct, individual and adverse effect harassment.”
The report cites several incidents raised by the complainants, alleging “belittling” comments and inappropriate posters in a case that pits some tenured professors against colleagues that the report describes as people in “more vulnerable positions with respect to employment.”
The panel at the Hamilton university said that harassment created a “poisoned work/academic environment for a number of years” that only escalated as the tribunal went about its work.
The tribunal, which examined two complaints at once because the people involved overlapped, found that one group was harassed, intimidated or retaliated against because they were perceived as supporters of the senior administrator and not one of the “Mac guys” as described in the testimony of one of the professors being investigated.
In the first complaint, five faculty members alleged harassment against a senior official and the university. In the second, seven different faculty members – and one staff – alleged harassment against six higher-level faculty members. Four of those allegations were against complainants in the first case against the senior official.
The first group of complainants alleged the senior official abused the powers of the position to hinder the professors’ careers. That complaint was dismissed as the tribunal found no evidence of harassment on the part of the senior administrator.
The second group of complainants, who were staff members or candidates in the tenure or promotion process, alleged that the six higher-level professors also used their positions of power to inhibit their career growth. Both groups said the work environment was toxic.
“Comments or conduct which harass, intimidate and retaliate against perceived supporters of a senior administrator who are themselves in much more vulnerable positions with respect to employment, tenure/permanence and promotion are unacceptable,” wrote Dr. Maureen MacDonald, the tribunal’s chair.
Though the report states that the six individuals’ actions did meet the threshold for dismissal, it recommended a lengthy suspension without pay, benefits or access to the university’s premises for five professors. The sixth professor received a formal written reprimand and the tribunal’s decision will remain on the professor’s record for five years. All six should receive mandatory sensitivity, harassment and conflict resolution training, the report stated. It also recommended that they should be removed immediately from any positions of authority where they can affect another person’s career and should not hold such positions for the next five years.
Andrea Farquhar, a spokesperson for McMaster, said the university’s president is considering the report.
“Any time that there’s any accusation of harassment or discrimination at the university, it’s taken very seriously,” she said. “It is not permitted at the university and the policy is in place to ensure that we’re able to respond if there are any concerns raised.”
She said the tribunal was set up around the university’s DeGroote School of Business.