Friday, April 03, 2009

Oh Give Me A Break!

I've just heard the news. Ward Churchill has been awarded a dollar for wrongful termination! What on earth could they have been thinking! They bought his argument?

The defense never argued that Churchill is not guilty of academic misconduct (for which he was terminated) but that the academic misconduct was an excuse to fire him. Their argument essential boils down to they looked for a reason to fire him and found one because he wrote an essay which some found offensive.

The fact that he was guilty of academic misconduct was not the issue that they argued, but that the university would never have found-out about it had they not looked for it… and that they only looked for it because he wrote an offensive essay.

What kind of logic is this? He has been rewarded for being stupid! If you were guilty of a firing offense, do you think you would write an essay that gave your boss an excuse to look for an offense you had committed worthy your termination? I know I wouldn’t.

But somehow, the jury decided that the fact that he had committed these offenses was less important than he claims that he would have never known that he had done this had he not written the offensive essay.

What is this world coming to? I think I am going out to write a scathing screed calculated to offend everyone who reads it… But first, I think I might just steal office equipment or something! Later, I'll argue that my boss would never have noticed the missing copier had I not written the story!

Wherever you are today, I hope that you are smart enough not to draw attention to yourself if you have skeletons in your closet!

Don Bergquist – April 03, 2009 – Lakewood, Colorado, USA


Anonymous said...

Through the years the public's attitude has changed as to what sort of behavior is and is not appropriate for a corporation or an organization (and how much power they should have over the individual).

As to hiring practices, I remember attenting an employment workshop about 3 years ago where the instructor told us that in the past hiring decisions were quite often made primarily on the basis of the skill sets of the individual but that in the present job market at that time there were a lot of people available who had the necessary skill sets. For this reason employers could choose to hire on the basis of who they thought would fit in best in the company (people who would be most likely to get along with the other employees and fit the corporate mold I guess).

This new trend creates a problem for tenured workers whose personalities and work styles do not fit in with what the corporation or organization considers to match their image. But does the corporation or organization have the right to start photocopying the mistakes that these people make when they look the other way when more popular employees who fit the corporate or organizational image make the same mistakes?

I don't know all of the details of this particular situation. I've really only read about it in your blog. But I'm curious though. Do you think the grounds for termination in this case was that the organization involved is afraid that other professors might "vote with their feet" and quit their jobs if this professor is not terminated (or that the organization feels that they will not be able to attract the types of new professors that they want in the future) because those people will not want to work at the same place that the "rouge" professor teaches at?

In my view it becomes a tough moral issue. The tenured employee should not have to lose their job because they don't fit in with the other employees that have come on board after the company changed their hiring criteria (to hire only a certain type of person). But on the other hand if people quit because of the tenured employee or if the organization has trouble attracting the types of people they want to hire because of that employee, it becomes unfair to the organization and they might have then have a good reason to get rid of them.

Anonymous Reader

Don Bergquist said...

Dear Anonymous Reader:

Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my blog. I can remember the days when the decision to hire/retain someone was made as much on the basis of social compatibility as it was on the candidate/employee's actual qualifications. And yes, I can also remember staffing decisions which were made based on these criteria. I can also remember being involved with a previous employer in a wrongful termination case over these practices. (It never went to court.)

In today's litigious world, the fact is that a corporation (or any employer, for that matter) has the onus of proving that termination was made for valid reasons. After the case that I mention above, I had to spend over a month building a dossier on an employee who needed to be terminated as she was just not a good fit for the job she had been hired for. (She was also a disruptive influence in the office, but the reason she was actually terminated was her basic inability to do the job.)

So, you see, the need to document the reason that people are terminated is far from new. These activities took place at a former employer and I have been with my current company nearly twenty years now. The question you as in the fourth paragraph of your message really is an interesting issue. What was the real reason for the termination. Here, I thing, we begin to mess with the real quandary.

It would be presumptuous of me to say that I know all the details myself, I know only what gets out to me via the media. But the various reports all add-up to the same story. This story can be boiled-down to a number of facts that went unchallenged in court.

1) There was an established pattern of the plaintiff (Mr. Churchill) using other people's work un-attributed.
2) On at least one occasion, artwork was used and claimed to be original when it was demonstrable that it was simply a copy of existing artwork.
3) The plaintiff had written an article and had it published under the name of a colleague and then cited that article as support for his thesis in another essay he authored.

These are clear examples of intellectual fraud, any of which would have been a firing offense for a non-tenured professor teaching at the university. The plaintiff did argue that the self-citation was a common practice, but the defense countered with witnesses that said that this was an unacceptable practice and amounts to literary fraud.

Here is where I am in my personal dilemma (and one that, from your comments, you appear to share). Is he right that the search for a fire-able offense was precipitated by his controversial writings on the genocide of the indigenous Americans or the insulting article written about the 9/11 victims? In my gut, I have to say that this argument probably has merit and as such, there are possible first amendment issues involved.

But does that excuse the demonstrable academic misconduct? You raise good points. Had the university done nothing, the University of Colorado could have gained an unwarranted reputation, putting the university in an untenable position. The ongoing coverage could have cost them research grants, to say nothing of the students, and faculty who may eschew connection with the university and therefore, the controversy.

Just because the stakeholders in the university are, essentially, the citizens of Colorado, does that mean that the university had no right to protect itself from such a situation? This issue tears at me because I am such a proponent of the first amendment. I defend the rights of Mr. Churchill (or anyone else, for that matter) to go around spouting any crazy thing they believe. But my point was that before you start making incendiary comments you'd better make sure that you, yourself, are fire-proof.

Oh, and the latest news on this story is now hitting the media. The jury awarded the plaintiff the princely sum of $1.00 but that is not where it ends. The judge may, on the basis of the ruling, force the university to reinstate him. Whatever the outcome of that, the people of the state of Colorado are required to pay the plaintiff's legal expenses… this million-dollar price tag comes when the state is already scrambling to try and make ends meet. More details as they become available.

Thanks again for your comments, Anonymous Reader! I hope you have an excellent day.


Anonymous said...

When I was growing up many years back I used to read books by people like Dale Carnegie and Norman Vincent Peale about things like thinking positive and succeeding in life by “going the extra mile.”

I particularly liked a story about a man who got a job as an assistant to an important man. He decided to come to work a little bit early every day and stay a little bit late. Eventually, his boss was so impressed that he gave this man a lot of responsibility and eventually a lot of money. I thought this was pretty cool so when I started working I would try to put in extra effort. Unfortunately, my coworkers did not seem to like that and it did not help me to bond with them.

You mentioned that we live in a litigious world which is I think why some of the old “go the extra mile”, put in some extra unpaid time, and think real positive ideas don’t always take a person very far these days (in fact if you try to follow these philosophies your coworkers are likely to complain about you and your company is likely to start to think of you as being disruptive).

I found it interesting a few months ago to read in your blog about your activities in the Dale Carnegie movement. For one thing I thought the movement was dead several years ago because of the changes that had taken place in the business world. But then it occurred to me that maybe some modifications had been made in the ideas that were being taught. Have the teachings changed to reflect the realities of the present time? Also, I was wondering if with the large amount of people looking for work right now there are perhaps more people than ever in getting involved in self-improvement courses such as Dale Carnegie?

One last thing – I was wondering how your feel about Cutler being traded to the Bears (just kidding – I have a feeling you don’t really much care about that one way or the other).

Anonymous Reader

Don Bergquist said...

Dear Anonymous Reader:

Thank you for reading and commenting on my blog!

Yes, I read the same books growing up. Who can forget all of that 'sixties self help? The Power of Positive Thinking as one of the ones I remember and Dad was a Dale Carnegie Grad so we had How to Win Friends and Influence People around as well.

I do see the affect that you're talking about at my office. I feel, however, that working above-and-beyond is the way to stay in a job these days. It may not help, but it certainly cannot hurt!

Oh, and about the changes to the Dale Carnegie program, the reports of its demise are greatly exaggerated. The last class I worked with was something like forty students. It was a huge class! That was a couple years ago, though I wonder if you're right about the downturn being good for self improvement classes. It can not hurt to improve yourself. To paraphrase the old advertising adage: During good times you should improve yourself; during bad times you MUST improve yourself.

One last thing… who? No seriously, who? Your feeling is right on. I could actually are less about the doings of the Broncos, the Bears, the Redskins, et. al. but it would take a concerted effort on my part and one I cannot be bothered to make!

Have a nice day, Anonymous Reader and thank you again for reading and commenting on my blog.