In his latest blog post, Where do ideas come from?, Harmer defends himself against an accusation of using somebody else’s work as if it were his own, although he doesn’t tell us whose work he used, or exactly what he did with it.
In a comment, Sue Leather said:
I wonder if there is something about power dynamics and gender here? A well-known male ELT person fails to acknowledge (whether by oversight or whatever) a lesser known female ELT person. If I read this correctly, this seems to be what has happened.
Replying to this, Harmer wrote in his usual clumsy style:
I do not see myself as having any power over anything – nor do any publishers I have ever worked with, for example, or conference organisers!
I believe (well that is my view of myself, but its only, of course, my view) I have been very supportive of others in the world of ELT, older and younger. If I have not, I deserve to be called out on it.
I suggest that all those who have come across Harmer during his long career as a manager, teacher trainer, examiner and conference speaker, and who have personal reasons for thinking that his conduct towards them was not best described as “very supportive” should accept his challenge and call him out on it. Meanwhile, I’d like to raise a more recent matter.
In November 2016, Eric Dostal, the founding director of CA Institute of Languages in Brno, Czech Republic, invited me to do a plenary at the International Language Symposium in Brno 2017. He described himself as “the head of the committee”, “the person responsible for the show”; he informed me that the other invited plenary speakers were Stephen Krashen, Phillip Kerr, Linda Li, JJ Wilson, Hugh Dellar, Jeremy Harmer “and some secret surprise guests are all lined up and ready to give talks”; and he concluded:
Your name would add the spice that this event needs!
I accepted the invitation and sent Mr. Dostal outlines of possible talks I could give. He replied “It looks great!”, and that he would put my proposal to the rest of the organising committee. On 23rd November I got an email saying:
You are in! I will keep you posted with developments. I will add you to the website and start marketing it a bit more.
I looked on the website for the conference, and there I was, alongside Krashen, Li, Wilson and others, photo, outline of plenary and all.
Then, on 23rd Jan.2017, I got this email
Due to an over response of speaker acceptances we have had to reorganize our speaker roster for the Symposiums on 2017 and 2019. The committee has decided to shift your name to the second roster for 2019. For us this is a better fit. I hope this does not cause any inconvenience. These are still early days.
Erik and the committee
I phoned Mr. Dostal and asked him for the truth. I said I didn’t believe that the reason for cancelling my invitation was that there was “an over response of speaker acceptances”, and challenged him to deny that pressure from one of the other speakers was the real reason.
The committee’s been got at, right? They’ve told you to get me off the guest list, haven’t they?
Mr. Dostal sounded very uncomfortable.
You’re upset, I know it’s a disappointment, I’m really sorry, I did everything I could.
So the committee insisted that I be “shifted” did they?
Geoff, come on, I can’t go into details. I’m sorry.
Who’s behind this?
I can’t go into details.
And that was that. I cancelled the flights and asked him to make good the money that I’d spent on the tickets.
In July, I had a couple of emails from Mr. Dostal, repeating how sorry he was, saying how much he regretted what had happened.
I know of no conference where anything similar has happened, so my question is Where did the idea to “shift” me to the 2019 symposium come from? I’m convinced that it came from committee members who were anxious not to offend one or more of the other invited speakers. They felt pressure from someone powerful, and they put pressure on Mr. Dostal to do something that he himself felt embarrassed about doing. So my question to Harmer is this: Do you think your powerful position in the ELT industry had anything to do with the decision to remove me from the list of guest speakers who were invited to the 2017 Brno Conference?