Don’t go down that rabbit hole


Mehta fiasco common but avoidable

Conversations between fair-minded people about Rick Mehta tend to begin with something like: “I don’t know who’s right, but I do know … “

Unfortunately, even what we “do know” is wrong or not enough. All I’m certain of is that he was fired by Acadia University Aug. 31 amid a firestorm of accusation and counter-accusation.

The dispute, as others have noted, is a “rabbit hole.” We’ll never know who’s right or wrong. For sure, Mehta’s detractors and advocates (yes, he has some) will never persuade each other of anything.

But there is a way to avoid more rabbit holes: invite Kenneth Westhues, professor emeritus at the University of Waterloo, to lecture on “mobbing” or, in this case, “mobbing in academe.” And while we’re at it, have him speak to non-academic employers as well. Westhues is a leading scholar on mobbing, a phenomenon first identified in the late 1980s by Dr. Heinz Leymann, of the University of Stockholm.

And let me assure you: if Mehta is a victim of the academic form of mobbing, he has plenty of company.

I contacted Westhues because the Mehta controversy was reminding me of two incidents in my own own worklife. Some time ago, a large, somewhat plump and naive young woman walked into a office of twenty-somethings next to the room where I worked. For reasons still lost on me, a single loudmouth in the group began attacking her at every opportunity. He publicly mocked her hair, her intelligence, her body, her words and, unbelievably, her name. Others joined in and soon her work-life was hell. I didn’t participate, but I didn’t intervene either. The pressure grew daily until she left. It was the cruellest psychological attack I’ve seen.

Much later, I saw a gang of office-workers attack someone whose only crime was a lack of support. A single person launched a whispering campaign and it spread like a brushfire. This time I was sure I had the authority to intervene, but I was wrong. There was blood in the water and dismissal quickly became the inevitable outcome. (Concerted, unrelenting attacks on someone’s competence tend to be self-validating.) The instigator, who should have been fired, was triumphant. 

Here’s how Westhues describes the phenomenon: “Mobbing can be understood as the stressor to beat all stressors. It is an impassioned, collective campaign by co-workers to exclude, punish, and humiliate a targeted worker. Initiated most often by a person in a position of power or influence, mobbing is a desperate urge to crush and eliminate the target. The urge travels through the workplace like a virus, infecting one person after another. The target comes to be viewed as absolutely abhorrent, with no redeeming qualities, outside the circle of acceptance and respectability, deserving only of contempt. As the campaign proceeds, a steadily larger range of hostile ploys and communications comes to be seen as legitimate.”

Mehta’s dismissal letter, especially the last two sentences, is an unwitting illustration of Westhues’s definition. Its intensity, inflammatory language and length are unlike anything I’ve seen in a firing. Perhaps it’s the way academe does these things.

I asked Westhues if he thought Mehta was a victim of mobbing. He was aware of the dispute, but he takes on only three or four cases a year and wouldn’t offer an opinion without first studying every scrap of relevant information.

He did, however, direct me to the many resources on his website.

One is a list of 10 conditions that increase a professor’s vulnerability to mobbing in academe. I’ve highlighted the five that apply to Mehta:

• Foreign birth and upbringing, especially as signalled by a foreign accent;

Being different from most colleagues in an elemental way (by sex, for instance, sexual orientation, skin color, ethnicity, class origin, or credentials);

Belonging to a discipline with ambiguous standards and objectives, especially those (like music or literature) most affected by postmodern scholarship; Based on a Google search, Mehta’s discipline, psychology, is at least affected by postmodern scholarship.

• Working under a dean or other administrator in whom, as Nietzsche put it, “the impulse to punish is powerful”;

An actual or contrived financial crunch in one’s academic unit (according to an African proverb, when the watering hole gets smaller, the animals get meaner). I can’t find any indication that Mehta’s department is having financial problems, but the university is. See CBC, $10.5M bailout for Acadia helps avoid ‘more difficult decisions’.

Having opposed the candidate who ends up winning appointment as one’s dean or chair (thereby looking stupid, wicked, or crazy in the latter’s eyes); From Mehta’s  Facebook Page: “In the early part of 2017, Acadia University was searching for its next President. On March 27, I submitted the concerns that I had with Dr. Ricketts being the next President of Acadia University in a letter that I submitted to the Presidential Search Committee.  … Dr. Ricketts became the President of Acadia University.”

• Being a ratebuster, achieving so much success in teaching or research that colleagues’ envy is aroused;

Publicly dissenting from politically correct ideas (meaning those held sacred by campus elites); Here’s some media boilerplate, courtesy of The Canadian Press: “The associate professor of psychology has been outspoken on a range of contentious issues. He has come under fire for saying multiculturalism is a scam, there’s no wage gap between men and women, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has created a victim narrative.”

• Defending a pariah in campus politics or the larger cultural arena;

• Blowing the whistle on or even having knowledge of serious wrongdoing by locally powerful workmates.

I told Westhues that Mehta seemed to be digging in his heels, or “doubling down,” on the issues that were causing him so much trouble. I asked if his seemingly irrational reaction could be the result of stress. His response surprised me: “Generally, a mobbing target is best advised to dig in heels and go for broke.”

Westhues said that once a mob has formed against a target, any sort of apology he or she may offer is likely to be misconstrued as an admission of serious wrongdoing or dismissed as insincere.

Mobbing can extend outside an academic institution (which is self-evident to people who’ve been following the Mehta story) and become “virtual mobbing.” Westhues cites a “very hostile” petition aginst Mehta as an example of that.

I’ve not studied the petition in detail,” he writes, “but I have done so in the case of similar petitions and learned that many, even most of the signers know little or nothing about the facts of the case, just add their names as a means of what’s called now ‘virtue signalling,’ the conspicuous declaration of values they hold dear.”

Indeed, the very first signatory has no apparent association with Mehta: “… I honestly would boycott any classes with him if I still went there … ” (Emphasis added.)

If you read on you’ll find plenty more signatories who demonstrate no association with Mehta, but say some nasty things.

So, should we be pro- or anti-Mehta?

The answer is: we should be anti-mobbing.

Managers of all kinds looking for help with that could start with the Waterloo Anti-mobbing Instruments. And then look around Westhues’s website.

It might just keep you from falling down a rabbit hole.


Bad environment = bad economy

Intern proves planet always survives,

economy not so much

Surrounded by fire, wind and floods, world leaders are stepping up talk of balancing the economy and the environment. Ordinary people talk about “saving the planet.”

To learn more about the science behind these ideas, Turpin Labs has honoured another intern — Bob — with an opportunity to take the controls of our Time Machine Mark II XL. While we regret the difficulties experienced by our first pilot-intern, whose name I forget, she will always be in our hearts. That said, we have high hopes of recovering Bob because he is protected by a new safety device unique to the Mark II.

We will never rest until Bob and his predecessor are returned safe and sound, while pointing out that both interns did say they had “better things to than fetch coffee”.

Below is Bob’s report. Please note he found spokespeople for both the environment and the planet, something rarely accomplished by today’s lazy reporters. — Bill Turpin, CEO

439 million years ago

Environmental conditions: crazy low sea-levels, humongous sheets of ice destroying  everything in their paths, making it almost impossible for anything to grow.
Economy: down by 100% as 86% of species have been wiped out. Although trilobites are among the survivors, Beloved CEO, they lack the innovation and drive the economy’s needs.
Environmental spokesperson: “It’s all good. We’re working with the Planet to press the reset button and see what happens next. Should be interesting.”
Planet: “I’ve been a planet for four billion years or so. I’m not going anywhere.”
Trilobites: “We don’t see a problem.”

364 million years ago

Environmental conditions: There’s almost no oxygen in oceans and volcanic ash on land is causing outrageous cooling.
Economy: With 74% of species wiped out, the economy has shrunk by 99%. Reefs are taking a beating, completely destroying sales of handmade jewelry on beaches. On the bright side, the slaughter appears to be opening an evolutionary door for human existence.
Environmental spokesperson: “We’re low on oxygen, but so what? We’ll just press the reset button again.”
Planetary spokesman: “I agree completely with the environment. Whatever it does is fine with me. Can’t say I’m sorry to see the trilobites go — not much of a contribution there, really.”
Trilobites: Did not return calls.

251 million years ago

Environmental conditions: Unbelievable global warming, apparently set off by a huge volcano. This is no place to be unless you’re in a time machine.
Economy: Well, 96% of all species have been wiped out, what do YOU think, Bill, er, Beloved CEO?
… [Static. Loss of signal …]
Planetary spokesperson: “I feel good, always do. I see humans are still on timeline. They should more interesting than trilobites. Anyway, time to press the ol’ reset button.”

Between 199 and 214 million years ago

Environmental conditions: Bill, there’s been a helluva an asteroid collision, but not enough to blow up the planet. It’s clear things are looking up for the arrival of dinosaurs, but mammals are losing ground … [Static. Loss of signal.]

65 million years ago

Environmental conditions: This is the big one, Beloved CEO, the one everybody loves to read about. Volcanoes, asteroids, climate change. It’s obvious that after a 135 million year reign, dinosaurs are on the way out, along with 76% of all life on Earth.
Economy: Prospects are not as bad as you might think. With dinosaurs off the board, this is a big, big break for humans and sharks. If humans step up like we know they can, we should be rocking the economy in 65 million years or so.
Environmental spokesperson: “Whoa! Did you SEE the explosion when that asteroid hit? Hoo-WEE! … What? No .. no worries .. we’re good here, man.”
Planetary spokesperson: “I gotta admit, we felt that one. Still, we held together and we’re in top shape again. Just orbiting and spinning. Love it.”
Dinosaur spokesperson: “We’ve banned marijuana-smoking in public places, so we don’t expect any further problems.”


Environmental conditions: So-called scientists think we have climate change again, that humans are causing it and that it’s too late to stop it. However, we don’t have consensus. Also, some believe non-human species are becoming extinct at 100 to 1,000 times the normal rate. But really, Bill, can you really take a number like that seriously? And humans are doing great!
Economy: Fantastic! Just fantastic! We haven’t seen an economy like this for 65 million years. Coral reefs are under pressure again, but beach sales of jewelry are through the roof!
Environmental spokesperson: “No question we’re running hot. How are YOU doing, that’s the real question. I mean, your kind are done like dinner. You can’t SEE that?”
Planetary spokesperson: “We see another big-time extinction coming on, but we’re optimistic that intelligent life will finally emerge in the next 50 million years or so.”
Human spokesperson: “Halifax has banned public smoking of tobacco and marijuana. That should tale care of any problems.”

… [Static. Loss of signal …  ]

Anyway, Beloved Leader, this much is clear: you can do anything you want to the environment and it will always be there. But you can’t say the same for the economy. You mess with the environment, you mess with the economy.

Gotta go. Two big destroyer-class time machines have shown up. The “Exxon Memory Hole” and the “Trump Narcissistic Liar.” They’re turning my way. Infallible Leader, did you ever install those shields you talked about? I mean, because if you forgot …

[Loss of signal.]


Call 1-800-LIBEL

Legal advice for ex-prof Rick Mehta

Two scary libel lawyers recommended

Acadia should put up or pay up


I’M GLAD I’M NOT A LAWYER because, if I were, I could not write this: Rick Mehta should sue Acadia University for defamation, big-time.

Acadia says it based its decision to fire Mehta on a report it commissioned from Wayne MacKay, professor emeritus at Dalhousie University’s Schulich School of Law and a hardy  media favourite.

Rick Mehta
Rick Mehta: Looks like a nice guy

But they won’t release his report and won’t even let Mehta have a copy unless (according to him) he agrees to keep it to himself. To me, this lowers Mehta’s reputation in the mind of a reasonable citizen, which is a good place to start a defamation suit. Put another way, in the absence of more information, we have no choice but to conclude that he’s a bad guy, which I don’t think is true.

Wayne MacKay, investigator

One way to settle matters is a defamation trial.

I recommend lawyers Dale Dunlop (902-423-8121) or Nancy Rubin (902-420-3337). The mention of either name in this context will stop a boardroom conversation cold and liquify the bowels of the directors.

I believed academic freedom and tenure were meant to make universities a safe haven for unorthodox thought. But a tenured associate professor has been fired by his university. What has this man done? How can we decide who’s right?

Here’s the media boilerplate, courtesy of The Canadian Press: “The associate professor of psychology has been outspoken on a range of contentious issues. He has come under fire for saying multiculturalism is a scam, there’s no wage gap between men and women, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has created a victim narrative.”

Dr. Peter J. Ricketts, President, Vice Chancellor
Dr. Peter J. Ricketts, President, Vice Chancellor, Acadia, did the firing

To my point about safe havens: try posting those ideas on Facebook or Twitter and see how long you keep your job. Ideally, none of us should face that dilemma, but we do. And now even academics are learning not to speak freely, so who do we turn to–unemployed bloggers and Russian fake news sites? (In some cases they’re probably one and the same. Ahem.)

CBC quotes a letter from Heather Hemming, Acadia’s vice-president academic, sent to Mehta by way of explaining the decision to hire MacKay, the investigator:

Dr. Heather Hemming Vice-President, Academic
Heather Hemming, Acadia’s vice-president academic

“These concerns relate to the manner in which you are expressing views that you are alleged to be advancing or supporting and, in some instances, time that you are spending on these issues in the classroom,” she said in a letter on Feb. 13. “The university has a legal responsibility to provide an environment free from discrimination, sexual harassment and personal harassment.”

The university has an obligation to explain in detail what it means by that last sentence not only to Mehta, but also to the mere citizens who pay a substantial portion of Acadia’s bills.

But the university has locked MacKay’s report in a vault somewhere, which makes Mehta’s life even harder because it forces us to speculate on what he’s done. Nothing good will come of that. It certainly will not help his employment prospects.

Acadia has to back up its allegations or compensate Mehta for egregious  defamation.

Ipso facto duodenum, your honour.

Postscript: Mehta has a long FaceBook post on his problems here. Look for a post dated September 9.








Doc shortage September update

September chart
The past nine months show an almost linear growth of Nova Scotians wanting, but unable to find, a family physician. The current rate is 6.2 per cent of the population, up from 4.6 per cent in January. It represents another 14,753 people looking for a doctor for a total of 56,630. On the other hand, NSHA does its calculation based on the number of people who have registered with its Need a Family Practice Registry. It’s possible greater awareness of the registry is driving the numbers up. As usual, metro Halifax represents about half the problem.
Source: Need a Family Practice Registry Monthly Report – September 2018

Steady increase since January

56,630 now seeking doctors

Two key players depart

Is good policy to blame?

TWO OF THE key players in the Nova Scotia Health Authority’s physician recruitment efforts have left the building in the past few days.

No doubt the alarming record of the past nine months is part of the reason (see chart above).

The health authority bases its numbers of the count of doctor-less people signed on to its Need a Family Practice Registry, something it strongly encourages. This makes sense because it’s realistic — you can be sure someone who’s taken the trouble to register truly needs a doctor. By contrast, surveys will count people who shouldn’t be counted: those who don’t want a family doctor but still, truthfully, say “no” when asked if they have one. That could be why Statistics Canada always reports a higher number than NSHA.

Put another way, the steady increase in the number of people needing doctors may be a reflection of a steady increase in awareness of the registration service. Can this be an example of sound  policy being bad office politics?


Massive scoop!

Electoral boundaries commission proposes four restored seats

Three Acadian ridings back on the map

One for Preston

Two more for HRM

I know — it’s complicated
Electoral boundaries map
Proposed riding map. Right-click for higher-res download.


We don’t get many “scoops” at Turpin Labs. In fact, some of our detractors insist we’ve never had a single one, apparently forgetting the time we sent an unpaid intern into the future to see how weed laws will affect Haligonians.

And so I was asleep at the switch Tuesday evening during a consultation held at Acadia Hall in Lower Sackville by the Electoral Boundaries Commission. (Note to peninsular Haligonians: Sackville, aka Bagtown, is a thriving settlement that, remarkably, is part of neither Bedford nor Dartmouth and YOU CAN GET THERE BY BUS!)

I attended because I knew the committee was required by law to disclose its draft boundaries in advance of its first consultation, if only by five minutes.  There were no apparent news-hacks in the room (two of the six attendees were MLAs of some kind), but I assumed some hack somewhere would telephone commission chair Colin Dodds later to “catch up on the story”.

But as of 10:00 p.m. Wednesday there was nothing, so Turpin Labs is THE FIRST TO TELL YOU the commission’s draft proposal is to restore four new seats to the Legislative Assembly.

Three “Acadian” seats would be resurrected: Clare, Argyle and Richmond. All were vaporized by the NDP in 2012. Preston, too, would return. These changes are in response to complaints from Acadians and African Nova Scotians.

HRM could get two more seats, but your correspondent dropped the ball on the explanation, figuring the so-called mainstream media would have filled in the blanks by Wednesday morning. Moreover, my days of calling sources late at night are long gone. My bad.

Unbelievers, I can feel you out there. So you can find the commission’s handout here.

And that, lamestream media, is how Turpin Labs handles a “scoop”. Failing New York Times: I write this more in sorrow than in glee.