In internal emails, former provost Tom Harris referred to cross country team member’s email as 'cult behaviour'

Emails obtained by The Journal detail the University administration’s response to fallout over Boyd’s firing 

Boyd was fired by former provost Tom Harris two days before the OUA championships 
Photo: 

Former provost Tom Harris called a cross country team member’s response to the forced removal of former coach Steve Boyd from the OUA Championships “cult behaviour,” according to dozens of emails obtained by The Journal  through a freedom of information request.

The University declined The Journal’s request for comment.

The Queen’s track and cross country team was at York University on Feb. 21 competing in the OUA championships. Boyd arrived as a spectator, sitting in the public gallery to watch his former athletes compete. Shortly after, the recently fired coach was approached by York security guards who asked him to leave on the grounds that Guelph parents had complained to the York Athletics Director, Jennifer Myers. 

Boyd refused to leave the public viewing area until security called the police. The events transpired while one of Boyd’s former athletes was competing in a race.

Later that day, a cross country team-member wrote an email to Myers, York President Rhonda Lenton, OUA President Gord Grace, as well as Principal Patrick Deane, Provost Harris, and other Queen’s Athletics and OUA staff. In the email, she detailed her frustration both over the firing of Boyd and his forced removal from the event. 

The student called the removal of Boyd “disgraceful,” questioning how York University justified the forced exit.

“I write to you to [sic] Ms. Myers and Ms. Lenton disgusted and ashamed that you would allow a man attending a public event to be unjustly embarrassed and humiliated on your university grounds,” her email read. “I am sure this cannot possibly be legal; Mr. Boyd had every single right to attend as a spectator. I demand you answer for yourselves as to how this could happen at a public event.”

She finished the email by asking the recipients which side of history they wished to belong to.

“Will you be a part of the corrupt institutions that force people into silence or will you join me in fighting for what is right and just?” 

The next morning on Feb. 22, Harris forwarded the student’s note to incoming Provost Mark Green, asking for advice about how to reply and expressing concern over what he called the student’s “incendiary tone.”

“I usually don’t respond to obnoxious and belligerent emails immediately,” Harris wrote. “I am worried about her. This looks like cult behavior. Any insight you have on how I might frame my correspondence with her on Tuesday would be appreciated.” 

Other emails obtained by The Journal detail the administration’s response to the aftermath of Boyd’s firing.

On Feb. 23, following an editorial in The Toronto Star criticizing the University, Harris expressed his disappointment in an email to communications and HR staff, including Dean of Student Affairs Ann Tierney and Deputy Provost Terri Shearer, regarding both The Star and The Globe and Mail for publishing pieces when they did “no homework” on the issue. 

“The least balanced [sic] was the Globe. They didn’t do any homework and reported from the ex-coach,” the email read. “We issued a forceful statement last week on this—perhaps the most forceful I have seen Queen’s ever do. Today the Toronto Star had an editorial condemning us— again, no homework, and today they posted our response.”

The next day, Principal Deane wrote a memo to the Board of Trustees expressing his support for Harris’ decision to fire Coach Boyd. 

“The decision to end his contract was made by the provost and supported by me. This was not a decision made hastily.”

He added the issue was in no way related to free speech, but rather harassment.

“Some of the media has attempted to portray this matter as an issue of freedom of expression. Let me be clear that it is not. The university has a comprehensive freedom of expression policy and is committed to open debate. […] The dismissal was based on persistent and pervasive on-line harassment. What Mr. Boyd engaged in has nothing to do with protected speech.”

Steve Boyd was released on Feb. 19 for what the University claimed were “numerous statements on social media berating and blaming student athletes who were themselves victims.”

Boyd had commented on the story of alleged predator and former Coach of Guelph cross country, David Scott-Thomas.

The same day of Boyd’s firing, on the Friday of reading week, Executive Director of Athletics and Recreation Leslie Dal Cin met with the cross country team to announce he had been terminated. Sean Scott, high performance director, noted the unideal timing of the firing in an email to the team, but Dal Cin’s speaking notes claimed  “immediate action was required.” 

In a Feb. 20 internal email to Dal Cin, Tierney, AVP of Communications Brenda Paul, and HR Director Heather Shields, Provost Tom Harris defended the decision to terminate Boyd’s contract against coverage he had read in The Globe and Mail and a Canadian cross country blog, trackie.ca. 

“I have been following coverage in [The Globe and Mail] and on Trackie.ca. It is clear from latter posts, the SB was a polarizing figure, while recognized for his ‘technical coaching abilities’,” Harris wrote. “We were well aware of potential consequences, but we needed to follow a path that was based on certain principles.”

On Feb. 25, the cross country and track team met with Harris and Deputy Provost Teri Shearer to ask questions about the future of the team and who was responsible for Boyd’s firing.

Following this meeting and others, Team Captain Miles Brackenbury told The Journal the team still didn’t feel they received a satisfactory answer about why Boyd was fired and why it had to take place with such haste. 

“In the initial meeting with the athletic directors, we were told that this was a firing because our coach swayed from Queen’s values and was given multiple warnings,” he said. “And then the next week when we go to meet with the Provost […] he starts pulling out phrases like ‘bullying and berated’ student athletes and that he was victim blaming.”

“And now they’ve changed the narrative to years of bullying and berating, but they haven’t really provided any examples of that.”

The team captain also pointed out that many of the Guelph runners spoke out against the firing, including former Olympian Reid Coolsaet, who was engaged with Boyd on the Facebook discussion about Scott Thomas. He also signed the petition to have Boyd reinstated, which now has nearly 4,500 signatures. 

Brackenbury contends that the firing does violate the University’s freedom of expression policy and wonders why such strong action was taken if complainants were against the firing.

“[Boyd] was asking tough questions about a tough situation, but [by] no means was he ever bullying or ever intended to bully people. He was just seeking the truth, and he shouldn’t be punished for that.”

Principal Deane conducted a review of Boyd’s firing which culminated in the decision not to reinstate the coach. While the Principal stood by the former provost’s decision, he noted in a May 22 statement that the decision could have been better timed and the reasons for firing Boyd more transparent. 

 


 

Editor's Note

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

 

 

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.