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Termination | Force for Good

Termination

03/10/2019 forceforgood

Termination

Following his second suspension, the student reaches out to all of INSEAD’s faculty, inviting them to consider certain questions relating to the HOUYI partnership and the circumstances surrounding the student’s suspension. He then takes steps towards founding a company in Germany, together with an accompanying website, called “Force for Good”, with the intention of using it to urge INSEAD®, as well as other business schools, to implement their rhetoric about professionalism and doing good. Predictably, his position on the EMBA programme is terminated. However, INSEAD® goes one step further and hires law firms in France and Germany to send letters to the student threatening legal action, ironically, for trademark infringement. Not only do the law firms in question get their facts wrong – the registered trademark is “INSEAD, A Force for Good ®” rather than just “Force for Good” – but they also copy-paste an entire paragraph word-for-word from Wikipedia and demand payment from the student. The student receives a termination letter accusing him of making “death threats”, which is of course a crime, and being offensive to women.

Force for Good – Case Study 2019/11 [DOWNLOAD]


E-Mail to all faculty, Dean Prof. Ilian Mihov, and Board of INSEAD

In the months following his suspension, the student has time to recover from the shock of discovering not only how unprofessional certain INSEAD® administrators are, but also the depths to which it will sink to protect its reputation and financial interests. After collecting his thoughts and compiling all relevant evidence, the student was ready to publicly expose INSEAD®. However, he felt he owed it to the wider INSEAD® community, which included many professors whom he admired and respected, to give them one last chance to address his concerns. Thus, he sent an email to INSEAD’s entire faculty and board with three separate parts addressed to the entire faculty, Dean Prof. Ilian Mihov, and the board in turn. With INSEAD® lacking any formal complaints procedure or independent scrutiny, the student knew that he had no hope of an independent and unbiased hearing from the XXEMBA diploma committee conducting the review of his case – a committee composed of Dean Prof. Urs Peyer and Prof. Xiaowei Rose Luo.

It was in light of the above that the student reached out on September 22nd to the school’s entire faculty, inviting them to ask themselves important questions about the disciplinary action the school had taken against him, such as whether “death in the family” is an appropriate example of a ‘force majeure’ in any culture; whether it’s appropriate to wait two weeks to respond to an absence request, replying only one day prior to the expected absence; whether it’s appropriate for a business school to ask a student to make additional payments without an invoice or receipt; whether other student’s had also had issues with Mr Vincent Dominé and why they tended to be from ethnic minorities. The student went on to invite the faculty to consider challenging questions related to the HOUYI investigation, such as why the announcement of the partnership had been removed from the official websites of both schools since the student had brought issues about HOUYI’s background to INSEAD’s attention; whether it is normal to use pictures of former world leaders in academic brochures; and whether the student’s convenient suspension was not really an act of revenge.

In the section of the email addressed specifically to Dean Prof. Ilian Mihov, the student asked him how he can judge a student’s failure to uphold the Code of Conduct but tolerate shocking unprofessionalism from a faculty member, Mr Dominé. The student accuses Dean Prof. Ilian Mihov of damaging INSEAD’s reputation in China and thus diminishing the value of the investment of 1500 alumni in China in an INSEAD® degree.

Lastly, the student asks INSEAD’s board to set up an independent committee to investigate both the HOUYI partnership and the student’s suspension.

One professor quickly responded to the email – a professor who had taught the student – and asked for further information.

“Dear {THE NAME OF THE STUDENT},

This is …. I received this morning the alarming email that you sent to a number of people, including myself. I am alarmed by the event. But the email did not give the full background. Could you briefly explain to me what happened?

Prof. {THE NAME OF THE PROFESSOR}

INSEAD®”

However, the email address the student had used to contact the professor was already blocked by INSEAD® before he had a chance to reply to her/his request for information or to receive any questions or comments from other faculty members. In this manner, INSEAD®, whose legal department had already forbidden faculty members from communicating with the student, attempted to prevent its staff from hearing information the student wished to share with them – information at least one staff member had explicitly requested.

With INSEAD’s administration ignoring his final request for an impartial internal investigation, the student began carrying out his plan to publicy expose the school.

The ‘Force for Good’ website and termination

After his disappointing experience with administrators of INSEAD®, the student realised that there was in fact a gap in the market that he had identified, namely, that of helping business schools to implement their rhetoric. Thus, he took steps to establish a company called ‘Force for Good’ and registered the domain forceforgood.xyz.

On September 28th, he sent INSEAD’s legal department an email describing his intention and the mission of ‘Force for Good’ and attaching images of a draft version of the website. The next day, he discovered that he had been terminated from his EMBA programme after being forwarded an email by some of his classmates.

TOPIC: FOLLOW-UP REGARDING {THE NAME OF THE STUDENT}

CC: BRESMAN ANNE; ALI SAMIA

“Dear XXEMBA ‘20,

I hope that you are well, and are enjoying some time to catch your breath after the conclusion of Module 10 in Singapore.

As a follow-up to the situation with {THE NAME OF THE STUDENT}, and the discussion that was held during the module with myself and Rose, I wanted to provide an update regarding the outcome of the process. After an in-depth review of the case, which included conversations with stakeholders and the EMBA Diploma Committee, it has been decided to terminate his participation in the XXEMBA effective immediately as well as maintain a suspension from INSEAD programmes, premises and events.

Please know that we did not take this outcome lightly and before any decision was made, we reached out to Mr. {THE NAME OF THE STUDENT} on multiple occasions offering him an opportunity to present an explanation. We offered flexibility in terms of the timing as well as the possibility for one of the Class Representatives to attend the call with him. That said, we did not receive any response, and he did not attend the conference call. As Mr. {THE NAME OF THE STUDENT} did not engage, it left the Committee with the conclusion that his aggressive and disrespectful actions and communication, as well as threats, were intentionally violating our Code of Conduct. We have provided a window in which Mr. {THE NAME OF THE STUDENT} may appeal this decision to the Dean of INSEAD.

We continue to aim to maintain a fair process while protecting all our stakeholders, and upholding the values of INSEAD and the Code of Conduct that guides our programme and principles as an institution.

Thank you all for your support throughout the process.

Best wishes,

Urs

Urs Peyer

Dean of Degree programmes

Associate Professor of Finance”

Threats from INSEAD’s law firms

As mentioned above, as well as screenshots of the draft website ‘Force for Good’, the student sent additional information to INSEAD’s legal department in his email on September 28th including the ‘Force for Good’’s mission statement:

“Our core business includes providing advisory service to board and executives of business schools in the area of communication and leadership development, organisation management, how to do business in emerging markets and especially in crisis & escalation management in the age of digital disruption.”

Just two day later, he received a letter from INSEAD’s law firm in France. The letter contained a glaring inaccuracy. It asserted that ‘Force for Good’ is a registered trademark of INSEAD®. The student’s response pointed out that the registered trademark is in fact “INSEAD, Force for Good ®[1]. (see Appendix 16: Letter from INSEAD’s French Law Firm  – September 30th 2019) He received another letter on October 2nd, this time for INSEAD’s law firm in Germany, which correctly stated the registered trademark, but had another glaring flaw. An entire paragraph had been copy-pasted word-for-word from Wikipedia.[2] The letter reiterated the warning about trademark infringement but also threatened legal action for violation of Germany’s laws on competition. Thus, INSEAD’s German law firm effectively gave ‘Force for Good (in founding)’ the status of a competitor of INSEAD®. The letter went on to elaborate upon INSEAD’s extensive network of alumni and affiliates in Germany with the additional threat of legal action for damaging INSEAD’s reputation in Germany. (see Appendix 17: Letter from INSEAD’s German Law Firm – October 2nd 2019)

Termination letter

Shortly after receiving the above-mentioned communications from INSEAD’s law firms in France and Germany, the student received in the post on October 10th a termination letter dated October 3rd 2019, which claimed to be a repetition of an earlier termination letter sent on September 19th by registered post whose receipt was “refused”. It should be noted that the student was not in Germany on September 19th.

The termination letter stated: “During the Elective module, you sent an email to Ilian Mihov (Dean of INSEAD), several groups of INSEAD alumni and participants and myself. Mr Domine (Adjunct Professor of Organizational Behavior and EMBA LDP Director) was copied in this email, containing death threats towards Mr Domine (excerpt below how the message appeared)” (see Appendix 18: INSEAD’s Termination Letter – October 3rd 2019)

The student was shocked to read that the termination letter accused him of making death threats to Mr Vincent Dominé. While the student could accept that it was within INSEAD’s discretion to decide if a student had violated its Code of Conduct, he had no doubt that INSEAD® is not in a position to determine whether someone had committed a criminal offence – that would be a matter for the French courts to decide. According to French law, making a death threat is punishable by imprisonment and fines. If the student’s alleged ‘death threat’ had been passed on to the French police, as his programme coordinator had informed him on July 9th prior to his ejection from the Fontainebleu campus by INSEAD® security, why hadn’t the police pressed charges? The student had travelled back from France to his registered address in Germany. He was not in hiding or a criminal on the run.

“This email was a sudden and late follow-up of the previous exchanges between April 22nd 2019 and May 6th 2019 regarding your request for a leave of absence for an LDP coaching day

At the time, Mr Domine’s reminded you that excused absence to a required part of XXEMBA program can only be granted in case of “force majeure” (as per the policy of absences contained in the XXEMBA Participant Guidelines and Code of Conduct), giving the example of a death in the family.

Section 4 of this document outlines how Mr Dominé’s response did not comply with the policy of absences in the Participant Guidelines.

The reference to a “sudden and late follow-up” is inaccurate. The email from the student sent on July 9th was not in response to “exchanges between April 22nd 2019 and May 6th 2019”, but was really in response to Dean Prof. Urs Peyer’s requests to meet with the student sent on July 3rd and 4th. Furthermore, the response was prompted by the student’s discovering that Mr Dominé would be delivering a forum on leadership. The student had trusted the school’s administration to deal with Mr Dominé’s unprofessionalism appropriately. Discovering that he was still being held up as a model of leadership for the student body was too much for the student to stomach. To see how this email was certainly not sudden for Dean Prof. Urs Peyer, please refer to section 6 for details.

“This example was perceived as offensive by you and we expressly apologized for this (email dated May 19th 2019). You nonetheless kept communicating to INSEAD® members, affiliates and participants in an inappropriate – sometimes even threatening – manner, refusing to consider that someone else could have acted not intentionally.”

The student noted the use of the pronoun “we”. It was Dean Prof. Urs Peyer who had apologised. He had never received any kind of acknowledgement or apology from Mr Dominé himself. As for refusing to consider other perspectives – the termination letter does not make any allowances for an alternative interpretation of communications made by the student.

“Second, as part of the course ‘Winning in Emerging Markets’ you submitted a paper about INSEAD’s executive education client in China, the HOUYI Institute of Advanced Education. In your paper you insulted insead’s dean mihov. This was neither relevant nor appropriate to the issue you wanted to raise (excerpt)”

The student wondered why, if this comment in his reflection paper had been so insulting to the Dean Prof Ilian Mihov, had his grading professor not made any reference to this in her warm feedback, which praised his work? (See section 2 for details.)

“Despite this additional example of inappropriate written communication, Professor Rose Luo has conveyed the concerns raised in your paper with respect to the HOUYI lnstitite with our leadership. Upon an email from you, Dean Mihov suggested that you share your findings with INSEAD Global Director of Alumni Relations, Austin Tomlinson but again, your emails contained concerning allegations, expressed in an aggressive tone, rather than facts (emails sent between May 16th and May 24th 2019)”

The irony of being told that he was making allegations rather than stating facts was not lost on the student. If he had, in fact, made a death threat then he would at that moment be in a French prison. Therefore, the accusation of making a death threat in Dean Prof. Urs Peyer’s termination letter is in itself an illegal allegation rather than a fact. If the statements that he had made about HOUYI’s legal and reputational issues were simply “concerning allegations”, then why had HOUYI’s office to recruit participants for the joint INSEAD-HOUYI post EMBA programme been disbanded at the end of July? Why had the director tasked with overseeing the INSEAD-HOUYI deal since left INSEAD®? And why had the news announcement of the partnership been removed from the official websites of INSEAD®? Furthermore, why had these facts not been shared with the student’s peers who had expressed concerns about the HOUYI partnership after being alerted to the dangers of such a partnership by the student?

“Third, I invited you to a meeting during the Elective module to fully clarify the misunderstanding around your request for leave of absence last May by repeating in person my sincere apologies, as well as share views around your investigations and ways of communications. You repeatedly refused to meet or talk to me, and persisted in an increasingly aggressive type of communication (emails dated July 3rd and 4th 2019), up to the above-mentioned email on July 9th where you threatened Mr Domine and his family.

We were further concerned by the emails you sent between July 9th and 11th 2019.

No details are provided of what these concerns were. Was Dean Prof. Urs Peyer concerned by how the student exposed the appalling way he had been treated when being ejected from the Fontainebleu campus? Was Dean Prof. Urs Peyer concerned that the student had publicised the HOUYI investigation?

These facts have led us to investigate further on your past behaviour during the XXEMBA Programme We discovered that you made offensive comments towards women, such as inappropriate posts on WeChat:”

The ludicrous accusation that the student had made “offensive comments towards women” was justified by only one example: a meme that the student had posted on a WeChat group showing a man and a woman wearing coats and standing under an umbrella that the man was holding with the statement:  “Nothing motivates a gentleman quite like a good woman”. To give context, the student had shared this in a group chat discussing the relationship between the French president – Co-Prince of Ando Emmanuel Jean-Michel Frédéric Macron, and his wife Brigitte Macron. The meme was intended to illustrate the point that he has been made into what he is by his wife Auzière. The student was disgusted that this comment had been so deliberately and manipulatively distorted to be used as an example of “offensive comments towards women”.

   

[FIGURE-17] INSEAD – XXEMBA WECHAT VIP GROUP  [SOURCE: WECHAT]

The termination letter stated: “You also showed disrespect towards fellow participants on WeChat.”

The image of the student’s message to another participant on WeChat used was taken out of context, which was a dispute between himself and another participant provoked by his pointing out to her the rudeness with which she was interacting with the other members of the group. Her retaliation was so severe and so damaging to the student’s reputation that he could have sued her for defamation but didn’t do so in accordance with his classmates’ request to preserve camaraderie within the class. Her complaint against him resulted in the weighting of grades on one of their courses being changed – so what was her real motivation in making a complaint?  In any case, the dispute, complaint and resolution all happened in the summer of 2018 in the partner university, not INSEAD®. The partner university decided not to uphold the other student’s complaint and no disciplinary action was taken. Chatting histories shows that this matter was communicated with INSEAD® at that time. However, the student didn’t receive any comments regards to this matter from INSEAD®.  (see Appendix 19: screenshots of exchange on August 26th 2018 (NOT 2019!) with the Programme Coordinator of Partner University).

Thus, this irrelevant and historical matter was dug up and dusted off with the express purpose of being used to justify the student’s expulsion.


Questions & Answers

You say that you were “shocked” to read that you were being accused of making death threats. Surely you would have expected this?

No, I didn’t. The suspension letters in July described me as a security threat, but to go one step further and describe my email as a death threat? That is an accusation of criminal activity. It is unbelievably presumptuous and arrogant of Dean Prof. Urs Peyer to think that he has the authority to make a pronouncement that a crime has been committed – something that only the French courts have the power to do. Everything in that letter pointed to a partial and unfair investigation with a predetermined verdict. Every example that is offered of my misconduct is distorted and exaggerated.

If the relevant authorities, i.e. the French police and courts, think that I may have made a death threat, then I welcome the opportunity to defend myself in court.

What is your take on the timing of the termination letter?

It is certainly no coincidence that it came to me only after my reaching out to INSEAD® faculty and informing the legal department of my readiness to publish a website exposing INSEAD’s hypocrisy. If there were no grounds to my complaints and allegations against INSEAD®, why would their lawyers come after me? If my website was the product of paranoia and madness, why would it frighten INSEAD® enough to pay steep legal fees to attempt to shut it down? The termination letter was just the latest in a series of attempts to intimidate and silence me.

Why did you ask INSEAD’s board to appoint an independent committee to look into your case?

Dean Prof. Urs Peyer was, from start to finish, the appointed judge, jury and executioner of Dean Prof. Ilian Mihov. Dean Prof. Urs Peyer and his subordinate, Prof. Xiaowei Rose Luo, comprised the total membership of the diploma committee investigating my case. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I read in the termination letter signed by Dean Prof. Urs Peyer that “the Committee recommended that I [Urs Peyer] dismiss you from the XXEMBA programme.”. This is basically like Dean Prof. Urs Peyer saying: “I recommend to myself that I dismiss you.”. Furthermore, both of these professors are INSEAD® faculty members. I was on a Dual-Degree programme offered jointly by two Institutions. Until today my classmates and I have heard nothing regarding my suspensions and termination from the partner university in China? Why doesn’t the termination letter refer to the partner university at all? Because the decision was taken unilaterally by INSEAD®, without genuinely consulting the partner university, who were just passive observers in the process and may have been forced to provide so-called “evidence” against the student.

Were you scared when you received the letters from the two law firms?

Far from it, the letters from the two law firms confirmed in my mind INSEAD’s need of advice regarding holding themselves to account with respect to ensuring that it and all its affiliates operate at the level of professionalism that INSEAD teaches others about. Not only was INSEAD® negligent in vetting one of its Chinese affiliates, it also failed to find suitable lawyers to represent it in Europe. Perhaps INSEAD’s French and German law firms would benefit from attending one of its legal leadership Programmes? Before I contact a law firm, I check its rankings.

Are disputes such as the one between you and your classmate that provoked your message on WeChat normal in business schools?

Of course, as stated on Poets and Quants: “Put hundreds or more competitive and driven young professionals together with often equally competitive and intelligent faculty and administrators and something will go haywire.

The German law firm asked you to pay, giving a deadline of October 8th. Have you paid?

No, of course not. I responded to that letter, copying INSEAD’s legal department, asking the German law firm to re-write its letter about INSEAD® in its own words, rather than copy-pasting from Wikipedia, which is of course a violation of intellectual property. I have heard nothing from them since.

Would you still recommend the course Winning in Emerging Markets to Dean Mihov?

No, that is a high-level programme for executive students. I think Dean Prof. Ilian Mihov would benefit from a more elementary course Winning in Emerging Markets  first offer by Assistant Prof. Juan Ma .

Why didn’t you appeal, as the letter offered you the opportunity to do?

Appeal to Dean Prof. Ilian Mihov? What would be the point in that? I had absolutely no faith left in the dean’s integrity.

[1] WIPO SERIAL NUMBER 88603905 REGISTERED FOR “INSEAD, A FORCE FOR GOOD ®“.

018046876 – “INSEAD, A FORCE FOR GOOD” Status: Registered (2019-09-03) Indication to the effect that the mark has acquired distinctiveness through use in trade: false!

[2] WHILE NORMALLY IT IS PERMISSIBLE TO COPY MATERIAL FROM WIKIPEDIA, IT IS NOT PERMISSIBLE TO USE MATERIAL FROM WIKIPEDIA FOR COMMERCIAL PURPOSES. THE GERMAN LAWYERS WOULD HAVE CHARGED INSEAD ACCORDING TO THE LENGTH OF THE LETTER, AND SO WERE BEING PAID BY INSEAD TO COPY-PASTE MATERIAL FROM WIKIPEDIA.

Force for Good – Case Study 2019/11 [DOWNLOAD]