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McMaster University cracks down on academic infighting

McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont.

Jason Jones/© 2005 Jason Jones Photography, Inc.

McMaster University's president is enforcing punishments against professors found guilty of stymieing colleagues' careers and fuelling infighting at the business school – a full three years after the man at the centre of the feud resigned as dean.

A report released earlier this week dismissed complaints against former dean and one-time business executive Paul Bates, but the tribunal recommended punitive measures against some of the people who launched a harassment allegation against Mr. Bates in the first place.

Mr. Bates stepped down in 2010 amid tensions between his supporters and those who discredited him as a non-academic intruder – he had no university degree and was found to have managed the Degroote School of Business "with only the private sector as a model," a university report said at the time.

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The tribunal was struck in mid-2011 to review two linked harassment claims involving about a dozen professors and a person described in the report only as a "Senior Administrator," but who has been confirmed to be Mr. Bates. Mr. Bates, who was not named in the report due to privacy legislation, didn't immediately respond to an interview request.

The three-person body recommended "lengthy" unpaid suspensions (confirmed as between two and five years) for three people, and reduced suspensions for two others. A sixth person received a written reprimand. All six must undergo sensitivity, harassment and conflict-resolution training.

"This is, in an academic context, an extremely serious penalty," president Patrick Deane said in an interview Friday, referring specifically to the lengthy suspensions.

The report's complainants were essentially divided into two camps: those described as "Mac guys" pursuing the goal of "taking back" their faculty from an outsider, and those who supported or appeared to support Mr. Bates. "The Group effectively declared 'war,'" the report said, in describing the "Mac guys" faction.

Several business school professors contacted by The Globe and Mail declined to comment, some citing the sensitivity of the issue on campus. "I have friends on both sides of this story, and I do not wish to offend anyone," professor emeritus Norm Archer said in an e-mail.

Among the tribunal's most egregious findings was that Mr. Bates' opponents had schemed to keep his supporters from progressing in their careers. The "Mac guys" were found in some cases to have "engaged in conduct which corrupted, tainted, interfered with, and compromised the integrity of the tenure/permanence and promotion" processes within the faculty.

Some, for example, failed to declare their bias before participating in meetings to determine the career progress of Mr. Bates' supporters – crossing the line between tough questioning and exercising "group vendettas or vindictiveness."

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The report, based on 200 hours of testimony and 2,694 documents, also says one of Mr. Bates' opponents sent a "negative" and retaliatory e-mail to someone who had submitted evidence to the tribunal. Another person asked a witness to "remove truthful portions of his affidavit."

In the end, the tribunal found the primary responsibility for the "poisoned" environment fell with the targets of the second complaint – particularly four senior tenured faculty members.

The report also said the university must accept "some responsibility" and review its anti-discrimination policy within one year. "My hope would be that as we get over this, the emphasis in the school can be exclusively positive, constructive and forward-looking," Mr. Deane said.

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