NASTY BUSINESS: The Spectator’s View

The unseemly civil war at Mac’s business school

Why did it take so long for the university to investigate? What was the impact on students of the day? Could it happen again?

 

It’s sad but true nonetheless: It’s not a surprise when politicians act like misbehaving children, especially during question period in the provincial or federal Parliament. Sometimes city councillors aren’t much better. It’s also sad when we hear that bullying and harassment are common, in the schoolyard, on campus and even in the workplace. That doesn’t mean we should accept it, but it is reality.

But what happened at the McMaster University’s DeGroote School of Business — the shocking details can be found in Steve Arnold’s special report which appears in today’s Spectator and online at thespec.com — is surprising. Surprising, because the workplace dispute got so outrageously nasty and went on for so long, even in an environment that already had a record of internal discord. Surprising, too, because this all happened at the business school of a leading Canadian university, where you would hope ethical, respectful behaviour among colleagues would be a core value.

In essence, this was a dispute about leadership. The leader was Paul Bates, ultrasuccessful businessman and entrepreneur appointed to run the business school. His lack of academic credentials and background made him unfit to lead in the eyes of some in the school, while others supported him for their own reasons. That, in itself, isn’t unusual. When a non-traditional hire is made to lead an organization, especially one with a tradition of doing things a certain way, it’s likely there will be controversy.

But it wasn’t business as usual at DeGroote. People were threatened. Promotions were denied or delayed. Some of those victimized in the dispute suffered serious health problems. The behaviour of some people involved was unprofessional, and the sanctions eventually meted out seem entirely appropriate.

Some will wonder why The Spectator is making such a big deal of this story, given it happened several years ago and given most of the key players have moved on to other roles or out of the university. Here’s the answer.

Because this happened in a publicly funded education institution, and so the public has a right to know the degree of unprofessionalism that existed at the time. Because questions remain including: Why didn’t the university get involved in the internecine warfare sooner? There were eventually two different probes and both uncovered disturbing evidence. The action appears to have been slow, and it’s not clear why.

Because of this question, too: What was the impact on students at the time? These are young people paying top dollar for a business education, but not in a toxic environment. It strains credulity to think that they were not affected, in some cases adversely.

Finally: What did the university learn? How are the lessons being applied? And what measures are in place to ensure this couldn’t happen again?

Howard Elliott


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