Concordia issues new guidelines about student/teacher relationships
Concordia University has issued new guidelines to staff and faculty concerning sexual relationships with students.
The university now requires all instructors to inform the school of "romantic and sexual relationships with students" or face possible disciplinary action if it presents a conflict of interest.
Concordia said it "strongly discourages" instructors from starting or continuing any such relationships with students, but recognizes that may not be possible.
According to Concordia, the school does not have the legal power to ban sexual relationships between consenting adults who are members of the school community.
The school informed faculty, staff, and students of the new regulations on Friday afternoon.
“Those guidelines are important, but they're being presented as being in some way related to the allegations that have arisen and those allegations – none of them were about consensual relationships,” said CSU student life coordinator Leyla Sutherland.
Concordia has assigned an external group to investigate the allegations of sexual misconduct and the climate within its English department.
It has also asked for people to apply to join a 12-member task force that will review all of Concordia's policies about sexual misconduct, and then to write a report that will be released in the next six months.
The force includes:
- Two undergraduate students
- Two graduate students
- One part-time and one full-time professor
- Two staff members
- One external member
Those interested in joining have one week to apply.
Sutherland said that deadline is too tight, adding that there should be more than two undergrads on the task force.
“It means that there isn't even a voice coming from each faculty, which really means that there's very little chance of things making its way out of a department, out of a faculty, up to the ears of upper administration,” she said.
New York Times bestselling novelist Ibi Kaslik, who spoke out to CTV earlier this month about her experiences in the department, said the focus has to be on the victims -- and there needs to be independent governance.
"It's important that it's independent. I think it's a shame that there will only be one person from outside the university. They clearly need the help given that Concordia have failed miserably for at least 25 years."
The nature of the task force is paramount, she added.
"The success of the guidelines depends entirely on if it's a mouthpiece task force," she said. "Will it meet four times a year and identify risks and make a long game plan into infinity with processes and policy reviews? Or will it be real: with a strong mandate and authority to to investigate, to recommend consequences, to act fast, to demand action. Fine. Will it do an overhaul of its grievance mechanisms? Good. But they need to be powerful and mandated and critical."
All schools in Quebec are required to draft guidelines regarding sexual misconduct by September 2019.
Many former students have complained -- some for years -- about sexual misconduct within Concordia University's English department.
“It didn’t matter then. Nobody cared, nobody did anything,” Kaslik said earlier this month.
The school's president, Alan Shepard, released a statement Friday afternoon providing an update on the steps the school is taking.
"While we have streamlined the process for reporting sexual violence, it’s clear we can still do better so that people feel safe when they want to bring an allegation to our attention," he said.
Shepard said earlier this month that it was only after a former teacher wrote a lengthy post online that he learned of the so-called "open secret" involving certain teachers attempting to, or having sex with students.
A former student and lecturer at Concordia University, Stephen Henighan, said he believes the pattern of sexual misconduct was introduced in the 1980s, and grew into a learned culture of harassment by the late '90s.
"I think that what happened was that over the years it became a habit to go out after class," said Henighan, pointing out that many graduate-level courses happened in the evening.
"It became a situation where people weren't part of the gang if they didn't go out, and in writing it's important to be part of the gang because you get included when things are published," said Henighan.
“By the late 90s, I think you could say there was active harassment and also that younger men were learning this culture from older men, which I think is very unhealthy,” he continued. “I began to hear in the early 90s from female friends that friends of theirs had felt obliged to have sex with one of the older professors.”
Earlier in January, former student Heather O'Neill, an acclaimed novelist, told CTV News that professors often told students they would help them get published.
She said professors who slept with students typically also had clout within the literary community and were revered for their work.
Henighan said the new guidelines aren’t enough.
“What helps is actually the example set by the head of a department and by professors in the department,” he said.