McGill mishandled complaints against profs of sexual violence: SSMU
Leaders in the Student Society of McGill University called for an investigation into how the university handles allegations against professors of sexual violence, saying administrators have not acted despite repeated complaints against some faculty.
In an open letter sent to Principal Suzanne Fortier, Provost Christopher Manfredi and Dean of Students Chris Buddle on Wednesday, SSMU’s president and five vice-presidents alleged several professors in the Faculty of Arts have been sexually violent against students.
“These professors continue to teach and to supervise, in some cases teaching mandatory first year courses, leaving vulnerable the students who have not yet been warned about the predatory behaviours of certain professors,” they said. “It has also been the case that student representatives over this past year have brought up these concerns multiple times to many different members of administration. It was clear that the majority of the administration who were met with knew which professors students are concerned about. And despite our expressing anxiety over the safety and wellbeing of a particular student in one case - no action was taken.”
The SSMU officials said they want a third-party investigation conducted into how the Office of the Dean of Arts handled complaints.
“We understand that the Faculty of Arts is not the only Faculty that has a problem with professors who abuse their power, and we hope that an external investigation into Arts will set a precedent so that in the future McGill will act when they become aware of departmental issues and that above all they will begin to prioritize the safety of their students before the legal liability or reputation of the institution,” they said.
The letter does not name specific professors or define the nature of the alleged abuse.
"One of the reasons why we're not focusing on a specific case in this open letter and instead trying to focus on the complaint system and the larger system in general of the culture that exists on this campus is because the fear of retaliation is not only very real but is a very legitimate fear that folks have," said SSMU VP External Connor Spencer on Thursday.
Over 1,000 people claiming to be McGill students have digitally signed onto the letter, as have 41 student societies and clubs.
In a statement, Vice-Principal Louis Arseneault said the administration had received the SSMU letter but declined to comment on any investigations, citing privacy laws.
“Every report or complaint of sexual misconduct, abuse of authority through sexual misconduct or ‘predatory behaviour’ that contains sufficiently detailed facts is investigated,” said Arseneault. “If there are findings of sexual misconduct of any kind, appropriate measures are taken, following due process.”
Last October, The McGill Daily told the story of a second-year student who claimed a teacher was making unwanted sexual advances, including in his office.
"[The professor] would constantly bring the conversation back to our personal lives (including former partners), would slide his chair next to mine so that we were almost touching... (and) would insist on keeping the door to his office closed....it disheartened me, and made me feel unsafe..." the story read.
McGill student leaders claim every year, students pass on warnings to watch out for certain teachers who allegedly try to sleep with students or who hold office hours in bars,
sometimes leaving students confused
“And not wanting to say ‘no,’ feeling it would inadvertently affect their academic careers,” said Spencer.
McGill isn’t the first Montreal university facing allegations of sexual misconduct by faculty members. In January, two Concordia teachers were removed from their classes after several allegations by former students were made public.
Their courses have been reassigned pending the outcome of an investigation.
“This comes from dynamics of power which exist and so often the professors which are most predatory are the ones that are most charming,” said Spencer.
The sexual assault centre of the McGill Student Society won't say how often it gets complaints involving teachers and students, but student leaders feel a stumbling block is that filing a complaint against a teacher is a complicated process.
They say it discourages students from coming forward.
“They always go back to the implementation committee. I sit on the implementation committee, so do others in this room, and I can tell you it's not doing the work that they say it's doing. We're trying to make it do the work that it's saying it’s doing and I can tell you it's the students who are leading in that room,” said Spencer.