Five professors in the DeGroote School of Business have been handed “lengthy suspensions without pay” by the University after a tribunal of their peers found their misconduct resulted in a “poisonous and hostile work environment.”

In 2011, two complaints of harassment were filed by and against faculty in McMaster’s business school.

An anti-discrimination tribunal set up to address the complaints recently released its 26-page public report. The report summarizes the tribunal’s findings after two years of proceedings, 2694 documents and testimonies from 65 witnesses.

In the first complaint, five faculty members filed a harassment complaint against a senior administrator and McMaster University.In the second complaint, seven faculty members and one staff alleged that six faculty members, including four who filed the first complaint, harassed them. One counter-complaint was filed against one of the initiators of the second complaint.

A tribunal, made up of three tenured McMaster professors, was commissioned to hear the complaints. They found that several professors committed “serious and multiple” acts of misconduct.

“The most egregious misconduct involved the unlawful and self-serving interference with tenure and promotion,” according to the public report.

“Permanent removal was a remedy seriously considered for some of the individuals. In the end, it was not determined to be necessary,” the tribunal stated, as the University allowed some delays in the process and certain decisions by a “non-party senior administrator” also contributed to the workplace hostility.

The tribunal recommended that three professors should have “lengthy suspensions without pay, benefits, privileges or access to the University’s premises.” It was recommended that two other professors also be suspended, but for a shorter period of time. One other individual will receive a written reprimand.

The identities of the suspended professors have not been disclosed due to a confidentiality agreement. The tribunal did not specify how long the suspensions should last.

McMaster president Patrick Deane issued a statement calling the “complexity and number” of the complaints “unprecedented” at the University.

Deane stated that he “fully accepts the Tribunal’s findings” and has “already begun the process of implementing the recommended sanctions and other remedies.”

Following the release of the tribunal’s report, three business classes were cancelled this week.

McMaster spokesperson Andrea Farquhar said the department is working to ensure all classes are up and running again by next week.

“[The School of Business] has been successful in finding a number of well-qualified instructors,” Farquhar said, to temporarily take over from the suspended professors.

“It will certainly be a priority for us to minimize impact on students,” she said.

The tribunal dismissed allegations against the senior administrator accused of harassment and abusing his power.

The tribunal also found there was no “direct harassment or malicious behaviour” on the part of the University. However, it stated that University must “accept some responsibility” for the unacceptable workplace environment and review its anti-discrimination policy. The tribunal recommended sensitivity training for the reprimanded professors.

The complaints were filed a year after former business dean Paul Bates resigned. Bates stepped down amid disputes among the faculty and claims of bullying. Some believed he was not a qualified academic as he had industry experience but no university degree, while others defended him. The issue created a rift between business school faculty.

Bates, who was not specifically named in the tribunal’s report, still works at McMaster as a special advisor to the president.

Since the tribunal began investigating the complaints two years ago, proceedings have been kept out of the public eye.

Farquhar said it was necessary to protect the identities of the university employees involved in the complaints.

Individual sanctions have taken effect immediately while other recommendations will be gradually enforced.

“There are some recommendations on reviewing the [anti-discrimination] policy, for instance, and some sensitivity training – that takes a little bit of time to implement. The policy will go to the Senate,” she said.

 

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