Internal emails reveal backlash among alumni, donors over Boyd firing

Concerns appear to have gone unanswered by Queen’s Athletics

Image by: Tessa Warburton
Dozens of alumni expressed concern regarding the University’s decision to terminate Steve Boyd as the cross country coach.

The University and Athletics & Recreation (A&R) received dozens of emails from alumni and prospective students expressing concern over former Provost Tom Harris’ decision to fire cross country coach Steve Boyd.

Many of the emails from alumni indicated an intent to halt donations to Queen’s if Boyd was not reinstated or if further clarity for firing was not provided. The alumni’s concerns appear to have gone unanswered.

In a comment to The Journal, the University said it “received feedback from across the Queen’s community.”

“All correspondence and views expressed to the university were reviewed and considered as decisions were made.”

On Feb. 10, 2020, following a Globe and Mail article detailing the predatory behaviour of Guelph’s former cross country coach, Dave Scott-Thomas, Boyd engaged in a Facebook discussion with former Guelph cross country athletes in the comment section of one of the athletes’ posts. 

Two days later, A&R Director, Leslie Dal Cin, received emails from unidentified sources who included screenshots of the Facebook exchange and expressed concern over Boyd’s conduct in the comments section.

“As we all know individuals many times use online public message forms (sic) to air grievances, spark negativity, and spread hate through anonymous or guarded vantage points. Over the last few days, Steve Boyd has very much been pushing these ideas…” read one email.

Dal Cin replied that she was “looking into it” and, on the same day, told Boyd to stop commenting on the Dave Scott-Thomas article in any form—both publicly or over private messages— and scheduled a meeting between her, Boyd, and Queen’s High-Performance Director Sean Scott to discuss Boyd’s conduct.

Boyd agreed to comply and did not engage further in the comment section but expressed dismay at these restrictions. 

“[T]his is an issue of major significance to our sport community. There is bound to be discussion at some level,” he replied in an email. 

The following day on Feb. 13, Guelph’s Vice-Provost of Student Affairs, Carrie Chassels, wrote directly to Queen’s Vice-Provost, Ann Tierney, to express concern over Boyd’s conduct, as well as ask Tierney if she could encourage Boyd to stop engaging with the Guelph alumni. 

“[I]f there’s anything you can do to encourage him to stop, it would be great. Also… I’ve never asked a colleague to help with something like this so if I’m out of line to send this email to you, please don’t hesitate to let me know!”

Tierney replied on Feb. 14 saying that she forwarded the issue to Dal Cin.

“[W]e will look into this as we take these matters very seriously,” her reply read. 

On Feb. 18, Dal Cin wrote to Boyd to arrange a meeting.

The following day, on Feb. 19, the University released a statement announcing the termination of Boyd as Queen’s cross country and track coach due to what it claimed were “numerous statements on social media berating and blaming student athletes who were themselves victims.”

 “In doing so, Mr. Boyd flagrantly disregarded the respect and dignity requirements of the Queen’s A&R Coaches Code of Ethics, the OUA Code of Conduct and Ethics, and related U SPORTS Policies and Procedures,” the statement read.

The decision was met with strong backlash directed to A&R from Queen’s alumni.

“I respectfully ask that you consider reinstating Mr. Boyd to his position of head coach,” read one alumnus’ email on Feb. 20. “His termination was unjust. Your rationale is highly flawed. I shall be stopping all donations moving forward. I am ashamed of my Alma mater and disgusted by the misguided power you both have wielded.”

“It’s simply unbelievable to me that Queen’s institutional response to criticism of another university’s tragically failed institutional response is… to fire the critic. It suggests that Queen’s has learned absolutely nothing—or perhaps taken exactly the wrong message—from the mistakes Guelph made,” read a different email from Feb. 21.

“I want to voice my objection to Queen’s U using its institutional weight to silence people’s speech. I’ve been a donor to Queen’s in the past but certainly won’t resume until I see a very different pattern from the school,” stated another alumnus on Feb. 22. “Your statement that his comments only served to retraumatize students is absurd. He is correct that this major set of events needs to be widely discussed such that it can be understood, learned from and never repeated. Queen’s approach only serves to sweep the events under the rug.”

“Disgusted at Queen’s position in this matter, and until this is resolved – my family is halting all financial support, will advise close alumni friends to do the same,” wrote another alumnus on Feb. 22. “My daughter and son will no longer keep Queen’s as an option in terms of post-secondary education at this point.”

In addition to alumni, prospective students also indicated that Boyd’s firing led them to question whether they would attend Queen’s.  

“Prior to the news of Mr. Boyd’s firing becoming public, I would have considered it a great honour to have the opportunity to attend Queen’s University,” wrote a prospective student on Feb. 24 seeking clarity about the firing.

Another complainant was an unidentified Queen’s coach responding to an email from A&R explaining the firing to coaches.

“[A]fter reading the articles and the comments that Boyd submitted, I cannot help but disagree with Queen’s University’s opinion to fire him,” their email from Feb. 22 read. “This is very upsetting as I see a valid discussion point that is being shut down and then overly penalized.”

While a strong majority of emails regarding Boyd’s firing criticized the decision, some were supportive. On Feb. 23, an unidentified source emailed Dal Cin to applaud the firing.

“Dear Leslie, I’m sure you’re taking alot (sic) of flak over the firing of Steve Boyd. I will not be one of those persons. I personally would like to thank you,” it read. “He’s an online bully. Period. Queen’s made the right call. Well done.”

Dal Cin replied to thank the person for “the encouraging words,” as well as to suggest they voice their opinion to the Toronto Star in a letter to the editor. Dal Cin also forward the supportive message to Queen’s VP of Communication Brenda Paul and former Provost Tom Harris. 

“Hi. You will like this response. A kind decent human being,” Dal Cin wrote to Paul on Feb. 23.

“Tom, I wanted to share this with you. Just so we are reminded there are kind decent people out there,” she wrote in a separate message to Harris.

Several more exchanges occurred between Dal Cin and the supportive messenger.

By contrast, internal emails show no direct response to concerned alumni considering withdrawing donations to Queen’s, prospective students or their parents, or critical coaches.

In the wake of Boyd’s firing, two cross country runners left Queen’s to run elsewhere in mid-April.

In a May 22 statement, Principal Deane announced that after reviewing the firing of Coach Boyd, he supported the decision and would not reinstate the former coach. He acknowledged, however, that the situation could have been better handled.

On Aug. 27, A&R announced it had hired a new cross country coach, Mark Bomba.

At The Journal, it is our mandate to collect, edit, and distribute information in an impartial, objective manner. 

As a member of the Queen’s Cross Country team at the time of Steve Boyd’s firing, I represent a significant conflict of interest in the coverage of his dismissal and its fallout. As a result, I have recused myself from the editing process of all stories related to the matter. It is my belief that this decision reflects The Journal’s devotion to publishing impartial, factual information.
— Matt Scace, Managing Editor


athletics and recreation, cross country, FIPPA, firing, Queen's alumni, Steve Boyd

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