Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Those At The Top Just Aren't Doing Their Jobs - Part 1

Probably everyone has encountered those who vie for the top positions in an organization; with their eyes always on the prize, they are the ones who see each job within as a stepping stone to something much greater: a management position that entails both a very high salary and a very large set of responsibilities. Unfortunately, once attained, the burden of those responsibilities lead some to dodge them, especially if there is a chance that doing their jobs with integrity and vigor will either compromise or impede their career prospects for even greater position and authority.

The ruling ethos among some of the higher echelon today is that protecting one's rear flank and not rocking the boat or causing headaches for others is the mark of good leadership.

Having met enough of this ilk during my teaching career, I suppose I am rather sensitive to any action or inaction that bespeaks failures of personal integrity and courage, failures that ultimately compromise the mission of the institution or organization. No group is immune to what my friend Dom calls "the resume polishers."

That this kind of career self-preservation and advancement is alive and well is suggested, in my view, by two stories recently in the news. The first involves a fifth estate investigation into a series of sexual assaults that took place at the University of British Columbia. The identity of the perpetrator was brought to the attention of the school administration by a number of women, but absolutely nothing was done for a very long time:
It took the University of British Columbia more than a year and a half to act against a grad student, despite mounting complaints of harassment or sexual assault by at least six women on campus. The women say Dmitry Mordvinov, a 28-year old PHD student in the history department, committed a wide range of offensive acts against them from inappropriate touching to sexual assault. Mordvinov was quietly expelled and told the fifth estate he's appealing.

Should you get a chance to view the above story, you will learn that Mordvinov's expulsion came only after an unconscionably long period, since the school's administration dismissed the first complaint, telling the woman involved that since it happened off-campus, it was essentially not their concern. When the number of complainants grew to six, officials

urged mediation between the female students and their alleged attacker, which the women refused.

"I don't want to sit in a room with this student," said Cunningham [one of the victims]. "And I don't think it's appropriate for assault, especially sexual assault, that you sit in a room … and have a mediation."
It didn't end there:
But Kaitlin Russell, a former executive in the history graduate students' association, said UBC is failing to protect women on campus.

She was one of the students who led a campaign calling for the department to protect the physical and psychological safety of students and take action against harassment — only to be rebuffed by administrators who said the "unsubstantiated allegations" would "sow fear and suspicion."
And the conspiracy to suppress the truth, seemingly endemic among UBC officials, continued:
Glynnis Kirchmeier says that when she approached UBC's Equity Inclusion Office with concerns about Mordvinov, she was told in effect by conflict manager Monica Kay to keep quiet.

"We can't have you guys tell anybody or talk about this or say that there's … a problem, because that's like if people know there are snakes in the grass but they can't see the snakes, they'll get really afraid," she says Kay told her.
But the women persisted:
Then in March 2015, when history students presented a petition for action to department head Tina Loo, she told them in an email that it was "potentially problematic legally because of the allegations of harassment it contained."

Russell, the former student executive, was shocked at what she says Loo later told them in an face-to-face encounter.

"She said that she could not allow us to present the statement" at a department meeting, Russell said, because the petition "was politically inflammatory and was endangering to the department."

Russell said, "She said that she would shut us down."

In a response to the fifth estate, Loo insisted "the suggestion that I tried to keep students from speaking publicly is wrong."

But she acknowledged she told the women "unsubstantiated third-party allegations … can sow fear and suspicion among students" and that the petition "could be viewed as defamatory."
The only person who seems to have behaved with any integrity in this sordid matter is veteran history professor Paul Krause, who wrote a blistering online article about the culture of concealment at the university, a culture that almost cost him his job about 20 years previously, as you will learn if you read his piece.

About the frustrations that the six women faced in trying to have the grad student dealt with, Krause had this to say:
"The damage is that we send out a signal that we have abandoned them, that we don't care about them. And that the corporate brand of UBC and of the care that we give to it in the public arena is more important than signalling to our students, we care about you, we're going to make sure you have a safe place."
That observation, it seems to me, comes closest to getting to the heart of the matter: brand protection, and by extension, career protection. He or she who handles situations quietly, with minimal fuss and publicity, is the one whose job is safe and whose career trajectory will continue unimpeded.

In Part 2, I will discuss another organization where handling things 'in-house' offers the same benefits and rewards.


  1. .. earlier I suggested to Mound over at Disaffected Lib that we need to embrace.. even shelter new or modern heroes.. folk heroes. That whistleblowers, artists & the courageous are likely the fulcrum of the new Tipping Point in modern media .. ie the networked globe we live in..

    Call it McLuhanism.. call it viral.. or call it Truth striving to surface in the choking seas of mainstream media clutter and indifference.. as split tongued partisan vipers thrash around spreading well funded nonsense.

    Canada's schools of higher learning need very very careful examination.. as they've been infiltrated for political and partisan gain. That shameful psychopaths or abusers can flourish there should no longer be seen as unlikely. There will always be a certain percentage.. and a full spectrum of crime present within these educational communities. To think otherwise is ludicrous.. ask any off campus cop or detective

    1. It seems to me, Salamander, that increasingly the careerists in our midst are making a mockery of so many of our institutions, egregiously failing to protect and serve those for who the institutions exist. Until we have much stronger whistle-blower laws, I fear this trend will continue largely unimpeded.