The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have since 2005, adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Postl and Wright "CAUT" redhanded. Ignorant--or misleading--the Dr. Reynolds investigation

Four months from now a picket line will be thrown up around the University of Manitoba.

It will be an invisible picket line but a strong one nevertheless, a line of moral suasion that will turn the university into an academic pariah across Canada and around the world.

This is the legacy of Dr. Brian Postl, the former CEO of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and the new Dean of Medicine. Thanks for nothing Bri.

The reason for the censure of the U of M is contained in a report issued Wednesday by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) into the unjust dismissal of Dr. Larry Reynolds, the former Head of Family Medicine at the university.

It's a tale of Machiavellian machinations by Postl and his minions, aided and abetted by the former Dean of Medicine who had his own bone to pick with Dr. Reynolds, all of whom felt the rules didn't apply to them. It's a tale you didn't read in the mainstream press.

Reynolds, says the CAUT report, was a hero to community doctors, but a thorn in the side of the WRHA, a pain that had to be removed to foster the goal of Brian Postl.

The WRHA intended to expand its empire to take control of the U of M medical school. The health authority would have a veto over appointments to the heads of medical faculties like this: the university would require the head of family medicine, for example, to work for the WRHA, and if he lost his job with the health authority, he would lose his job with the university, tenure be damned.

The problem they ran into was that Dr. Reynolds wasn't playing the game. The WRHA painted a bullseye on his back almost from Day One, according to the CAUT report.

According to the byzantine arrangement, Reynolds was hired by the University of Manitoba as a professor with tenure in the university's Department of Family Medicine, with his job divided between the university (professor and head of family medicine) and the WRHA (Medical Director of the Family Medicine Program), with the latter including the responsibility of Medical Site Manager for Family Medicine at St. Boniface Hospital. Somewhere in this, he was also Education Director at the Kildonan Medical Centre and he worked in emergency wards where there was a shortage of physicians.

But Postl wanted him out. He wasn't a team player. Or rather, he played for another team, not the WRHA.

He opposed Postl's plans for closing the low risk obstetrics unit at Victoria Hospital, for example, and went so far as to use his university guarantee of academic freedom to write an op-ed for the Winnipeg Free Press and to lobby the Minister of Health. There was more, unstated, opposition to Reynolds as well which we reported in The Black Rod here (

With 15 months to go in his original five-year term as Head of Family Medicine, Reynolds found himself fending off an unsubtle campaign to get him to leave.

He complained in writing about a "harassing and intimidating" meeting with Dr. Sharon Macdonald, WRHA vice-president, and Gloria O'Rourke, WRHA human resources officer.

He discovered by accident that the university had posted his job with a headhunting firm only when he "received calls from colleagues across the country expressing concern that they were being headhunted for my job."

When he persisted in reapplying for his job (incumbents were traditionally reappointed), he was met with procedural hurdles including a first-ever performance review which he characterized as "demeaning, threatening and demoralizing"

In the end, the WRHA starved him out. The CAUT report doesn't say it, but its obvious. They stalled him until his appointment ran out, then they appointed an interim Head of Family Medicine. Reynolds would not be paid further. He had no choice but to leave. Postl thought he had easily bested his lowly opponent.

"The incumbent Head, Dr. Larry Reynolds seems to have been subjected to coercion, initially to persuade him to agree not to stand for reappointment, then to withdraw his application, and finally to agree not to re-apply, presumably in any future search process. In that end, that pressure succeeded because time had run out for Dr. Reynolds," wrote the CAUT.

But Reynolds called on the CAUT to investigate the treatment he received at the hands of the Dean and the WRHA.

Bad news for the bad guys. And worse news for the university.

CAUT interviewed the principles of the story starting with the Dean. Two lines stand out in CAUT's review of Dean Sandham's story: "We believe that the Dean's claim was not accurate." and "This also was clearly false."

They spoke to Brian Postl, who told them "the whole administrative structure was built on having University Heads for the clinical teams, especially in Family Medicine; but that Dr. Reynold's team came to him (Postl) and said that they would resign if Dr. Reynolds was reappointed."

"At the time of this interview the Committee had seen no evidence to corroborate this claim. To the contrary, it was remarkably at odds with the May 2005 anonymous, confidential survey of 80 percent of all 49 members of the Department of Family Medicine regarding the performance of the Department Head in which 74 percent rated Dr. Reynolds' performance as "excellent" or "good" and 70 percent agreed that his appointment should be renewed unconditionally for a second term."

Oops. But that wasn't all. Postl, commenting on academic freedom, waffled, telling CAUT, yeah, there is that, but, you see, you can't contradict me. I am Caesar.

"Dr. Wright (Brock Wright, former WRHA Chief Operating Officer and VP - ed.) seemed to have essentially no understanding of the meaning of a university appointment with tenure," wrote CAUT. Postl supported Wright's, ahem, "misunderstanding" of reality.

"It seemed to this Committee that in taking this position, these two senior WRHA administrators were either displaying woeful ignorance of the content of the documents Dr. Postl had signed in May, 2001, or were attempting to obfuscate the issues."

Obfuscate. A fancy word that means 'to confuse'. Or, in this context, 'to mislead.'

CAUT has given the university until November to give Dr. Reynolds his university job back. If not, the intellectual picket line goes up.

That will mean that CAUT could discourage academic staff in Canada and around the world from working at the U of M, or from participating in academic conferences at the university or the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. That's a real black eye for a university.

And one for Dianne McGifford, the minister for universities in Manitoba.

It seems she's too busy watching the University of Winnipeg spend money on book stores and restaurants while not being able to afford professors for the Philosophy Department. And the University of Manitoba too engaged in building a football stadium to bother supporting its tenured profs.

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