A training course that Dell has used for its Irish employees is derived from writings by Scientology founder L Ron Hubbard and is run by a company with links to the controversial movement.
L Ron Hubbard was one pretty amazing individual, if you believe the brief biography in the "100% Proficiency Training Workshop" manual. This manual, produced by California-based company Effective Training Solutions, says Hubbard was "a popular writer of adventure, western, fantasy and science fiction stories." His personal research projects comprise "major contributions to the prevention and cure of social ills such as drug addiction, crime, and illiteracy. His contributions in these areas have found widespread acceptance and use throughout the world in many sectors of society, including families, schools, businesses, governments and religious organisations... Although mainly known for his career as a writer, L Ron Hubbard was fully professional in many fields. His career as an educator spanned the globe and the decades from the 1920s to the 1980s. It spanned the lecture halls of Harvard University and the ships and crews he commanded and trained during WWII, as well as the expedition crews he led as a member of the Explorer's Club." His research "formed the basis of entirely new subjects in the fields of mental science and religious philosophy." He also recognised a collection of barriers to learning "apparently not previously recognised by educators, yet they proved to be the senior factors in all learning." That last sentence seems to suggest he pretty much revolutionised education. Impressive stuff.
Or at least it is if you believe it. Cynics who have researched his background scoff at claims that Hubbard, the founder of controversial religious movement Scientology, achieved everything he said he had. They see far too many embellishments. One of them, former Sunday Times journalist Russell Miller, wrote a critical book in the mid-80s exposing Hubbard as a fraud and a liar: "a conman" according to one former Scientologist that the author interviewed. Also in the mid-80s, in the case of the Church of Scientology of California vs Gerald Armstrong, a California Superior Court judge declared that the evidence before him portrayed Hubbard as "a man who has been virtually a pathological liar when it comes to his history, background and achievements.
The writings and documents in evidence additionally reflect his egoism, greed, avarice, lust for power, and vindictiveness... against persons perceived by him to be disloyal or hostile."
The reality goes more along these lines: Hubbard, who died in 1986, was a best-selling science-fiction writer, and became a self-declared prophet when creating Scientology in the early 1950s, establishing the Church of Scientology in 1954. The movement made him an extremely wealthy man, and he broadened his scope to include doctrines on diverse fields such as education, business, drug addiction and more. These writings have influenced a range of educational, anti-drug and training programmes among others, most of which are run or administered by Scientologists or legally incorporated bodies or companies with some affiliation to the movement.
One training programme derived from Hubbard's writings has been used here by Dell, Ireland's largest IT employer.
Since February of this year, Dell's Limerick plant has been availing of the services of Effective Training Solutions (ETS) and its "100% Proficiency Training" programme. The programme helps employees to train better, and thus become more efficient in their work. ETS trained a number of Dell's own in-house trainers, who then rolled it out to employees. "You will learn about and become skilled in the use of some vital training tools that very few people are trained in," explains the introduction to the programme's "100% Proficiency Training Workshop" manual, which forms one part of the overall programme. "Your power and ability to influence your own training and education (and others' should you help other people) will be greatly increased." Since February, Dell's in-house trainers have rolled out the programme to approximately 200 Dell employees who are engaged in production work at the plant. Dell says the reaction from employees to the course has been extremely positive. But not every employee who underwent the course was happy after realising where the course originated from. The 100% Proficiency Training Workshop is, the manual explains on its last page, "derived from the copyrighted writings of L Ron Hubbard on the subjects of training, education and management, and used with permission." Nowhere does the manual state that Hubbard was the founder of Scientology. A spokesperson for ETS, in response to questions from Magill, stressed that those who chose to undergo the training course at Dell did so voluntarily.
It is not the first time that ETS has been asked to answer questions about training it provided.
ETS was formerly known as Applied Scholastics of Fremont, California - part of the wider Applied Scholastics International movement which is seen by many as an educational arm of Scientology, although Applied Scholastics disputes this, saying it is a secular charitable organisation independent of Scientology. The organisation has the purpose of "improving education worldwide by providing Mr Hubbard's breakthrough study technology to educators, governments, vocational trainers, community groups, parents and students, giving them the learning tools they need to achieve a world free of illiteracy, where individuals know how to learn and can achieve their chosen goals." Applied Scholastics International has over 300 groups, schools and business training consultants around the world.
Applied Scholastics of Fremont was founded in 1980, changing its name to ETS some time in the mid-90s, but remaining a licensee of Applied Scholastics International. In 1992, a Californian company, Applied Materials, settled out of court for an estimated $600,000 with three former employees who claimed they were forced out of the company after complaining about work-place training given by Applied Scholastics of Fremont. According to one newspaper report from the time, Applied Materials, a computer chip manufacturer, admitted that it had "lacked sensitivity with regard to the controversial nature of L Ron Hubbard" when employing the Applied Scholastics training. The training involved communication courses. An attorney representing the three workers claimed before the case was settled that some of the training given was identical to material in Scientology handbooks.
Ingrid Gudenas is president of ETS, a position she also held when it was known as Applied Scholastics of Fremont. She has over 20 years' experience of "training trainers" and delivering training programmes, and is past president of the Silicon Valley chapter of the International Society for Performance Improvement. She deals with Magill's inquiries in an open and friendly fashion. Of the attorney's claim in the Applied Materials case, she says: "Well, people can claim anything." She adds that the case was more about the company and its relationship with its employees, and that Scientology and Applied Scholastics became "red herrings".
On the second-last page of the 100% Proficiency Training Workshop manual, it explains in greater detail the course's origins. It says the "unique training system called 100% Proficiency" is based on "the breakthrough discoveries on the subject of training and education made in the 1960s by American author and researcher L Ron Hubbard." It then gives the brief biography of Hubbard outlined earlier.
It goes on to explain how and why he devised the course in the first place: "Mr Hubbard was also a widely published professional photographer. During the 1960s, he decided to study a professional photography course to update his knowledge and skill in the area. While doing this, he encountered certain barriers to learning the material. He used himself as a test case in fully understanding and resolving these barriers. Further research demonstrated that these same barriers were frequently encountered by others. These were apparently not previously recognised by educators, yet they proved to be the senior factors in all learning. Mr Hubbard published his discoveries as a 12-lecture cassette series called 'Keys to Effective Learning'. This cassette series is available for purchase. As Mr Hubbard shared his discoveries with others, they proved to be tremendously effective and popular. They were codified into a system of education and training which has since become widely known and used in all parts of the world and throughout all sectors of society."
Hubbard's ability to break down barriers not recognised by other educators is news to some. Professor of Education and Vice President of University College Cork, Aine Hyland, is one of this country's leading authorities on the history of education. She is unaware of any breakthrough contribution made by Hubbard to the field. "In my research into education in the 1960s in scholarly educational journals, I have not come across any reference to any major or significant contribution made by L Ron Hubbard to educational philosophy, nor am I aware that scholars in the area since then would regard any of Hubbard's writings as of major significance in the history of education."
Dr Finian Buckley of Dublin City University's Business School, meanwhile, doesn't agree that Hubbard has made significant contributions to business, management or training.
"Hubbard wouldn't be regarded as having contributed to any cutting-edge research in these fields," he says. Hubbard's writings, he believes, are more in line with the type of books available in bookstores that promise to reveal the previously-secret steps to sensational business success.
"Most of those serious professional trainers wouldn't touch," he adds.
Whatever the truth of Hubbard's achievements, the ETS course based on his writings is highly regarded. Dell says that it has proved very beneficial for its staff. In-house and independent resources are utilised to deliver "a wide range" of such training courses for the company's 4,500-strong Irish workforce. Over the last year, Dell has committed over $250,000 in training for its employees.
In a statement issued to Magill, the company said that, prior to selection, ETS "went through our usual rigorous evaluation, including face-to-face meetings, a closely-monitored pilot programme and the sourcing of multiple references from existing global customers." The results of the programme at pilot level "led to significant quality improvements on the Dell production floor. The company was selected solely for the excellence of its course material, the results of the pilot programme and the excellent references we received from other world-class companies across many different industry segments. The reaction from Dell employees to this particular training course has been extremely positive."
A host of major international companies other than Dell who have used the course say likewise: DuPont, Bayer, National Semiconductor, Chevron and Cisco among others. Yet it is not the course materials as such that bother the Dell employees who spoke to Magill, but rather the fact that L Ron Hubbard was, in part, responsible for it. The manual states that if the participant is interested in learning more about Hubbard or his lecture series, or ETS itself, they should mention this to their trainer.
In other countries, courses using Hubbard material have been accused of trying to introduce participants to Scientology. ETS states categorically that while its 100% Proficiency Training Course is derived from Hubbard's writings, it does not address religious issues. Nor does it make mention of Scientology. Nor does it attempt to introduce participants to Scientology. "A decade after the Church of Scientology was established, Mr Hubbard taped a series of 12 lectures which are called 'The Keys to Effective Learning' and which cover the subject of learning and education... This material is secular, ie non-religious," says Ingrid Gudenas. "This tape series is very interesting and is the basis for the 100% Proficiency Training system, which is why you see Mr Hubbard's name referenced on our training material. The fact that [Hubbard] also developed Scientology, however, does not make our material religious. ETS uses the secular research in the field of education and learning to improve workforce efficiency, which is what companies are interested in so as to achieve improved efficiency, productivity and performance and so as to compete in the world market."
Dell, meanwhile stressed in its statement that it "supports diversity in the workplace and does not in any way promote any particular religious group or religious ethic. Dell does not permit its workplace to be used to espouse any specific beliefs or philosophies. While the 100% Proficiency Training system is based on research that was conducted by L Ron Hubbard, we are satisfied that there are no references to any religious groups in any of the training material used either by [ETS's] trainers or in-house at Dell by our trainers."
Dell concluded its statement with the following: "The company - ETS - have also confirmed to us that they have no links - financial or otherwise - to the Church of Scientology."
Now Effective Training Solutions, formerly Applied Scholastics of Fremont, ETS is a licensee of Applied Scholastics International. The latter is regarded as an educational organisation with close ties to the wider Scientology movement. It disputes this, however, saying that Scientologists merely support it: "Applied Scholastics is a secular social betterment programme, a separate and autonomous charitable programme that is independent of the Church of Scientology," a disclaimer on its website reads. "It is supported by Scientologists and others who volunteer their time and talents."
Yet many official Scientology websites have sections on Applied Scholastics. One such site, which explains in full Scientology's community services, mentions Applied Scholastics as one of its "related programmes", and the information printed is copyrighted to the Church of Scientology - although it also includes the disclaimer mentioned above. America's Internal Revenue Service (IRS), however, apparently made little of the disclaimer when it reached a confidential settlement with the Church of Scientology in 1993 after a long-standing tax dispute between the two. Applied Scholastics was included in the settlement as a "Scientology-related entity."
ETS's website is www.trainingsuccess.com, and domain name registration details show that the administrative contact for the website is Christina Younkers. Younkers is a Scientologist, and has her own personal website in which she talks about her "success in Scientology". Ingrid Gudenas points out that she has people of "every religion" working for her at the company; she herself is a Catholic, she adds. ETS's website is hosted by internet service provider EarthLink Inc, whose founder Sky Dayton is also a Scientologist, and the ISP - one of America's biggest - has struggled to distance itself from its Scientology roots.
Gudenas denies there is any link, however, between ETS and Scientology. She points to several ways one organisation can be linked to another: financially, through management structures or if one actively recruits for the other. "We are not linked in any of those ways. At all. There is no link to the Church of Scientology."
What of the IRS settlement which listed Applied Scholastics International as a Scientology-related entity?
"The IRS just listed every affiliated group," she says.
If something is "affiliated", would that not classify it as a link?
"Well see, it depends... Let me give you an example of something. In the United States, we have an extreme separation of church and state. So if you are any religious organisation - whether you are Buddhist, or you are Catholic - if you were any religious organisation or if you have any religious affiliation, you are not allowed to work with any government agencies. You are not allowed to do business with them and receive money in exchange for the business. It is a law in America; I mean a law. So anyway, we've a lot of government clients, which we could not have if we were linked [to Scientology]."
In a statement later emailed to Magill, Gudenas added: "Those government clients, along with Dell, along with other corporate clients, have asked the tough questions that you are asking and the reason they are working with us is that, as a result of their due diligence, they are satisfied that ETS has none of the hidden agendas which you imply."
Accepting that is the case, however, a problem still remains, and it is one of perception. The Dell employees uneasy with the course's origins felt unhappy that the manual did not explain clearly that Hubbard was the founder of Scientology. ETS says there is no need, as the material is not religious, and because the company is not linked to Scientology. It also says that, if employees are concerned, they should contact Dell management, rather than the media. "If there are employees at Dell who have questions about this, or even concerns, why don't they discuss these with management?" says Gudenas. "I've worked with Dell management for a while now and I can solidly state they are sincerely concerned about employees and that they would respond to any questions or issues with genuine openness and sensitivity. We are continuously working to improve the implementation of 100% Proficiency at their site and we are always interested in comments from employees to improve every aspect of this training system, including its presentation."
Scientology itself also suffers from perception. It has attracted all the wrong kinds of attention in recent years - most notably in Germany and France, two countries which have grown increasingly hostile towards the movement - and is also the subject of an ongoing legal case here in Ireland, where a former Scientologist, Mary Johnson, is taking action against the Church of Scientology.
But while Scientology is strong across America and Europe, with growing membership in many countries, the actual strength of the movement in Ireland is debatable. Mike Garde, who monitors alternative religious movements for the main churches in Ireland, is of the opinion that "Scientology in Ireland is a Mickey-Mouse affair. Generally speaking, it isn't penetrating. Scientology's headquarters in Ireland [in Dublin's Middle Abbey Street] is classed as a mission - the lowest grade of organisational activity within Scientology." Garde believes that one prominent Irish couple had been working towards building an improved Scientology structure here, but both died before they could achieve that aim. Nevertheless, Garde is cautious: "The threat is more imagined than real, in that they don't pose a great threat at present. But if they get a platform, it could be serious."
Why? Is there a reason to fear Scientology? A former Irish member of Scientology says the following: "The aims [of Scientology] themselves seem noble enough, and I think you'd find that most of Scientology is unobjectionable enough... However, the real objection to Scientology is the extortionate money they charge for their services and the extraordinary pressure that is brought to bear on people to part with ever-increasing amounts of money on an almost never-ending series of courses and counselling. The control they exert on their members is frightening. It is this pressure, control over your life and the money that are the main objections."
Back at Dell, meanwhile, it's been a tough week since it announced it is to cut 150 jobs at its Limerick plant. The jobs being cut will come from the administrative and middle-management staff, and will be decided on a voluntary redundancy basis. The company's future looks bright nonetheless, and it will continue to contribute significantly to the Irish economy - it is estimated that Dell contributes to at least 5.5 per cent of Irish exports, two per cent of GDP and four per cent of all expenditure in the economy. ETS's Gudenas says that the real story is not the origins of the training course Dell is using, but the issue of training in general. "The real story in our business world is the exodus of jobs and companies to south-east Asia and China. The only way to stay competitive is through efficiency, quality and proficiency of the Irish workforce, and that's what our programme provides," she says. "Your article could help us keep more jobs in Ireland as you are in a key role to get the politicians and the government to support training - for example, in the USA, the states refund companies a portion of their training costs. You could push the politicians to do this; why aren't they thinking about the future and the threat of China and supporting training? That's the real story regarding the economic future for Irish people," she says, before adding:
"In this enlightened age, when your house is on fire, do you stop to ask the religious affiliations of the firemen before you accept their help? I think not."