Tuesday, November 25, 2008

"We followed guidelines and process to the letter"

So says Melanie Rutledge in the Star.

This morning, my intrepid cub reporter Michael Lista sent me the official guidelines, as sent to him by Ms. Rutledge:

For Canada Council’s Literary Prizes
(in addition to the conflict of interest points listed above)

Conflict of interest exists if:

  • the assessor, the assessor’s spouse/partner or family member have a book in contention
  • the assessor edited one of the books
  • the assessor is a staff member or board member of one of the nominating publishing houses.

Conflict of interest may also exist if:

  • the assessor contributed to the development of one of the books (conflict of interest exists if the assessor has made a direct, intellectual contribution to one of the books)
  • the assessor has written a promotional text or review of one of the books
  • the assessor’s name is listed in the acknowledgements section (conflict of interest exists if the assessor’s name is listed in such a way that it implies a contribution to one of the books).

The key phrases here are 1) conflict of interest exists if the assessor has made a direct, intellectual contribution to one of the books. and 2) conflict of interest exists if the assessor’s name is listed in such a way that it implies a contribution to one of the books. (Emphases added.) So, while Di Cicco's conflict is only a possible, Brandt's is a definite on two counts, so it's utterly false for Rutledge to claim that the guidelines were followed to the letter. They weren't. The Star reporter has misread the guidelines, so says that there "may" be a conflict. The guidelines themselves are quite clear. There was a conflict of interest. If it was disclosed by Brandt, then the Council dropped the ball by letting her stay on the jury. If she failed to disclose it, then the fault is mostly hers--but the Council still needs to accept some responsibility for failing to detect such a blatant conflict.

2 comments:

Michael Lista said...

Actually Zach, it says that a conflict of interest only MAY exist if:

• the assessor contributed to the development of one of the books (conflict of interest exists if the assessor has made a direct, intellectual contribution to one of the books)
• the assessor has written a promotional text or review of one of the books
• the assessor’s name is listed in the acknowledgements section (conflict of interest exists if the assessor’s name is listed in such a way that it implies a contribution to one of the books).

But, as I said to Melanie, 2 out of the three jurors collectively met all 3 of the stipulations for a possible conflict of interest. I think this presents at the very least a perceived conflict of interest, something the guidelines are in place to prevent. But Melanie stood by the jury, staff, and system.

Zachariah Wells said...

I'm aware of that, Michael, but the bracketed phrases are elaborations on the "mays" that precede them. Viz: there _may_ be a conflict if the assessor has contributed to the development of the book, but there _is_ a conflict if the assessor has made a direct, intellectual contribution. I dunno what else you'd call collaborating on a poem. Ditto for the thanking of Brandt in the acknowledgments. Choosing to interpret those parenthetical bits as falling under the "may" is wishful thinking on Rutledge's part; what they say is that the possible conflict becomes actual under certain specific circumstances, which certainly have been met. Were this a legal case, I doubt a judge would agree with that interpretation of the language. As I said, di Cicco's perceived conflict is the only one that's at all ambiguous--under the terms of the CC guidelines. See what I mean?