Was the evidence sound?
As psychologists, from our very earliest years as bright-eyed, bushy-tailed undergraduates, we are used to dealing with evidence. We learn how to evaluate it, how to contextualise data, how to look in detail at the hypotheses, the method, the analyses. We are used to defining behavioural referents for concepts. Professional researchers carry on and refine this whilst practitioners hone their evidence-gathering skills through the interview rather than controlled trial and have to remain alert to their own biases as well as to the inevitable and understandable one-person perspective of their client. Perhaps we could characterise all these approaches as one of benign scepticism, always open to correction the face of new data. We are assured the BPS commissioned external investigations (presumably at the expense of member subscriptions – will the total cost of all this appear in the audited accounts?) into the allegations and their findings were a central part of the case against Dr MacLennan. All well and good and superficially follows due process. But it raises an important set of questions. As outlined in Part 2, we suggest that Dr MacLennan’s arrival may have heralded an unwelcome intrusion for some in the organisation. Perhaps they had already formed an opinion of him and his reformist zeal and put the shutters up in advance. They were, perhaps, primed to view him as the ‘enemy’. Perhaps Dr MacLennan’s enthusiasm and energy was seen as ‘over the top’. Perhaps he felt he had to be assertive in the face of what he saw, rightly or wrongly, as intransigence and unhelpfulness – and, of course, assertion is not the same as bullying. We ourselves have been subject to veiled accusations of harassment and bullying, simply because we refused to stop asking questions when legitimate requests for information or clarification were denied (an experience not unique to us). So we would ask how many respondents in the data-gathering exercise actually used the word ‘bullying’? What overt, identifiable behaviours of ‘bullying’ did Dr MacLennan show? And, most importantly, what was the criterion used by any of those involved into what constituted ‘bullying’, especially as there are well-documented definitions available? These interactions presumably took place during the COVID epidemic and in many cases could not have involved an intimidating physical presence. How did the Panel account for the potentially distorting effects of conversations being mediated by technology?
Was the sanction proportionate?
The BPS is clear on the three sanctions available to the Responsible Person (and note here that in the long and highly detailed justification issued by the BPS it contradicts itself saying that the Panel recommended the sanction in one place and that the Responsible Person made the decision, acting on the evidence provided by the Panel in another passage – which was it BPS?). He chose the most serious of the three – immediate expulsion. We have no information as to how he reached that decision other than that it is stated that he was presented with the Panel’s findings – minus, of course, any input from Dr MacLennan. That last point raises the question as to whether, in the light of the possible consequences, he might have thought it advisable, at the very least, to check with Dr MacLennan that he had nothing to contribute. The relevant paragraph of the BPS statement is this
The member conduct process involved a careful review of sanctions applied in other similar cases and in relation to the conduct that might reasonably be expected of a member of this standing and experience.
We are in uncharted territory here as we, as mere members, don’t have access to any data about the outcome of any disciplinary process (which may or may not exist) since part of it was outsourced to the HCPC. In the days when the BPS did take this responsibility seriously, the outcome of investigations was published in The Psychologist. Looking at the statement above, we have no idea as to how many similar cases there have been and we have no idea of how many members have been expelled – and, of crucial importance, for what offences were they deprived of society membership. We have already noted the ‘proportionality’ of sanctions in the light of previous cases and we really do need to know what offences committed by (now ex-) members resulted in expulsion. We are left with the highly general and completely subjective judgement (made by one person) as to what he might reasonably expect of a member of standing. And as we have already noted, he is the Chair of a Standing Committee of the Board of Trustees.
We would also ask how he judged the possible consequences of his decisions on all those involved – particularly on the person who is most affected – Dr MacLennan. We understand that he runs his own business and is more dependent than many psychologists on being able to attract clients – they do pay his income quite directly. He has not only been deprived of his BPS membership – this action, compounded and magnified by the subsequent barrage of publicity will cause enormous reputational damage and may well cost him his livelihood. Did the RP take this into account at all?
In a final act of this grossly public humiliation, we are told by ‘the BPS’
If Professor MacLennan has his membership reinstated on appeal, he would not automatically reassume his role as trustee and President Elect, although he would be eligible for re-election to the Board in line with its usual procedures. The BPS constitution provides mechanisms for filling vacancies on the board and these must be followed. These procedures do not include an option for the board to choose to reinstate Professor MacLennan (as President or President Elect) if his appeal is successful.
This is saying that the BPS can overturn the democratic process ‘just because it can’ – and we are sure that many members would value a sight of the rules that allow this. Should Dr MacLennan be cleared of all charges, then how can the BPS justify not reinstating him to his democratically elected post? He has been expelled from membership the Society, the consequence of which is the loss of his position. Reinstatement of his membership should, therefore, mean being able to take up the post to which he is entitled. This looks very much like a small group within the BPS doing its absolute utmost to ensure that Dr MacLennan never becomes President.
Was the video absolutely necessary?
Many of you, like us, will have been shocked by the lengths to which the BPS has gone to justify itself and to ensure the widest possible coverage of this unfortunate affair – before the appeal has even been heard. Five closely typed pages, one video (now on YouTube), all going into the grisly and hurtful accusations of a case that has yet to reach its lawful conclusion. This stands in complete contradistinction to the following; the fact that the CEO is out of his office about which the members have been told nothing (not even the fact of it); the police investigation about which the members have been told nothing (not even the fact of it); that the Charity Commission is engaged with the Society about which it needed a bunch of “malcontents” and the resignation of the Vice-President for the BPS to even acknowledge. These are critical issues for the membership as a whole and could have easily been communicated to us in a way that did not prejudice any legal investigations. So what’s the difference, BPS? Why go in to the sort of supposed detail that is career-wrecking when a simple holding statement would have sufficed? Looks a lot like the actions of a bully to us.
Where from here?
We hope that our highlighting of the issues that we think to be of importance has, at the least, piqued your interest. Perhaps we could encourage you to look further into the workings of your Society – the minutes of the Board of Trustees is a good place to start as much for what it doesn’t say as to what it does. If you are a member of the Senate (a body, as far as we can tell, without Terms of Reference) or know one of the Trustees, perhaps you could ask some questions – and be prepared to fobbed off or accused of harassment. If you have social media links to other colleagues who care about our Society’s future then get involved by spreading the word.
We will do our best to keep you up to speed as far as we are able.
Peter Harvey, Pat Harvey and David Pilgrim
BPSWatch Editorial Collective.