I was a psychology professor at Saint Mary’s University from 2000-2011. My courses were very well attended (my Human Sexual Behaviour course regularly sat over 200) and my student evaluations consistently placed me among the highest in the university.
In 2009, cabin pressure during a flight caused a small section of my brain to herniate into my inner ear. The debilitating symptoms that developed included oscillopsia (the apparent motion of objects that are known to be stationary) and nystagmus (a vision condition in which the eyes make repetitive, uncontrolled movements), among other hearing and balance problems.
Days into my recovery from the first surgery, I received an email from my supervisor questioning my use of Facebook for disseminating course notes - a practice I had been following with the university's knowledge for the previous three years, without any issues.
The use of social media for the purpose of disseminating notes (and facilitating peer communications between students) was protected under my academic right to freedom of exposition as a professor, as well as sanctioned by my union’s collective agreement with SMU. Wishing to address my supervisor’s specific concerns, however, I chose, in good faith, to alter specific aspects of my use of the Facebook class groups.
Despite the measures I took regarding the use of social media in the classroom, during the weeks following, I was threatened with termination, shouted at by my supervisor, and then, after removing my course notes from Facebook entirely out of concern for my job, repeatedly accused of lying to my students about my reasons for doing so.
Over the next two years, a pattern of harassment emerged which grew to include others in my department, involving several attempts to impede my work, isolate me from my students and coworkers, and discredit my professionalism and qualifications.
My appeal to the SMU harassment officer yielded only a suggestion to let the matter rest; my employer, in other words, declined to investigate my allegation of harassment altogether. My attempts to seek aid from my union officials simply made matters worse (see Shannon's CUPE details). In Aug 2011, my employment at SMU was terminated.
Over three years after my wrongful termination, SMU presented me with a settlement offer. The agreement was devised by SMU and my union officials in a meeting from which I was excluded - a meeting which my union-appointed mediator refused to attend on principle, based on how I had been treated up to that point. This “agreement” included: 1) full reinstatement of my employment; 2) the accusations and disciplinary letters stricken from my employment record; and 3) $16,500 in compensation (less than 1/10th of my income loss for over three years of unemployment).
This settlement did not offer any admission of wrongdoing on the part of SMU or my harassers, or so much as an apology for the accusations, bullying, or discreditation leveled at me over the two year period these events occurred. The agreement also included a stipulation that I sign a non-disclosure agreement, which would ensure I could not discuss the subject with anyone, from that point forward.
I chose to turn down the agreement. Although by this point I was struggling financially, stressed, and dealing with the lingering physical and emotional effects of the fight, the issue, for me, was not about money, or getting my job back. I had been bullied extensively at work, misrepresented by my mandated representatives, and then offered the chance to forget it and move on, and let the problems go unacknowledged and unaddressed. I couldn’t do that.
For the next two years, I exhausted my available options for having the management of my grievance investigated, and encountered only more delays, roadblocks, and legal dead ends.
I eventually chose to start a campaign to bring attention to the serious systemic problems I encountered in the course of my journey, with the intention of creating discussion that might lead to real action, and real solutions to the problems, so that future targets of workplace discrimination, harassment, and unfair treatment might have better access to fair representation and equitable resolutions than had been available to me.
In my 10 years at SMU, I’d never sought accommodation from my employer for any reason, and when I did fall seriously ill in late 2009 I took great care to schedule my surgeries so that my recovery periods would least affect my teaching schedule. This did not seem to warrant, however, any attempt on the part of my supervisor, my department, or my union to offer professional respect, or even simple empathy.
While dealing with these health issues, I was subjected to intimidation and silencing tactics from a department that specializes in workplace psychology - the irony of this was not lost on me. The stress caused by these ongoing and escalating exchanges seriously impacted my recovery, as one surgery eventually became five, over a two-year period and SMU continued to try to fabricate grounds for having me removed from my teaching position. I was denied a voice, my livelihood, and my professional reputation.