Volume 91, Issue 78
Wednesday, February 18, 1998
Mercer mediates racism ruckus
By Brendan Howe
A former Western professor now teaching sociology at the University of Waterloo has been cleared of wrongdoing after complaints by one of his students of alleged racist comments.
Ken Westhues was originally suspended for a month without pay by Waterloo's VP-academic James Kalbfleisch. However, Westhues appealed the decision and Peter Mercer, Western's VP-administration, was brought in as an adjudicator, and later decided the suspension should be overturned.
The situation started when a female student said Westhues made "racist and unbalanced" statements in one of his sociology classes about slavery, racism and employment equity. The student also complained Westhues conducted class discussion in a way which caused her "undue stress, humiliation and embarrassment."
The university's ethics committee investigated the matter and recommended to Kalbfleisch that Westhues be required to undergo counselling, write letters of apology and attend a workshop entitled 'smart strategies for a safe open classroom.' Kalbfleisch did not accept the recommendations and decided instead to suspend Westhues.
Westhues appealed the decision to Waterloo President James Downey and said he was pleased with Mercer's report reversing the initial one-month suspension. "I believe the report reflects well on [Mercer] and your university and it gives me a renewed confidence on Canadian academic life."
He added he believed the student's complaint stemmed from a class during which a presentation was made by another student and the ensuing discussion regarding employment equity programs.
Kalbfleisch would not comment on Mercer's report but said he did not think the report by the ethics committee made a proper finding and did not agree with their recommendations which is why he took different action.
Kalbfleisch responded to the committee's report and outlined his decision, claiming that Westhues "appears in the report to be callous and insensitive more interested in self-justification and self-protection than in dealing with the real concerns of one of his students."
Mercer said he did not want to comment on his report because his decision and the reasons behind it are outlined and speak for themselves. He noted in his report that university policies do not really give the VP-academic the authority to take disciplinary actions such as those taken against Westhues.
He also recommended that some university policies relevant to this type of situation be changed so that these types of problems will not occur in the future.
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