Two Concordia teachers have had their courses reassigned, pending the outcome of an investigation into alleged sexual misconduct in the school’s creative writing program.
The suspensions were first announced by the executive of the Concordia Association for Students in English. The group called a meeting for students this Friday afternoon on campus, to discuss the growing number of allegations swirling around members of the department’s teaching staff.
The university would not discuss the move, citing privacy reasons, but did say the investigation will be conducted by an external party.
“For confidentiality and privacy reasons, we can’t comment on any specific matter regarding our faculty members or staff,” said Concordia spokesperson Mary-Jo Barr in an email to CTV. “As our president stated, we take these issues very seriously and, Concordia has, and continues to take steps to strengthen the safety of our learning and working environment.”
In an email to students, CASE (Concordia Association for Students in English) passed along what they’d learned to their members.
“As of this moment, the courses taught by the professors named online are being reassigned pending investigation, the books written by those faculty members have been removed from the display window on the sixth floor of the Webster Library Building, and a third party is conducting the investigation,” they said in the message.
Removing the courses from the two teachers follows allegations of widespread sexual impropriety within the creative writing program that surfaced after a blogpost written by former student Mike Spry.
In 2014, former student Emma Healey published an article on the website The Hairpin in which she alleged she had been sexually assaulted by a professor while an undergraduate at the school.
Novelist Heather O'Neill told CTV News she had been subjected to sexual harassment when studying at the school two decades ago.
Students denounce "toxic atmosphere"
On Wednesday, Concordia president Alan Shepard said he had never been told of any alleged "open secrets" regarding the behaviour of the creative writing faculty, but on Friday, CTV News obtained a February, 2015 letter which was signed by six students within the creative writing program that called on Concordia to act against the program's "toxic atmosphere."
The letter was written in the wake of Healey's article.
"The article and the ensuing silence have acted as a polarizing force within this department due to their highly political nature," they said. "Student interaction with faculty as well as among peers has become strained. Many of us now feel uncomfortable and unsafe attending readings, events and seminars within the wider Montreal literary community because of Concordia professors' involvement and place at the center of that community."
The students denounced the "lack of response from the department," and called for new policies to ensure "a positive space for creative interaction."
One of the students, Rudrapriya Rathore, said the school dismissed their concerns.
"We got a response, met with an HR rep, and were told in that meeting that our concerns were not relevant to the school's policies, and basically everything we were worried about consisted of hearsay," she said.
Another former student comes forward
The flood of allegations began after a blog post by a former Concordia student who said he had witnessed inappropriate behaviour. On Friday, another former student, who did her undergraduate studies at the university in the mid-90s, told CTV News her own story.
Ibi Kaslik, a Toronto-based New York Times bestselling author, said a professor had made repeated unwanted romantic overtures towards her that began on her first day in his class.
Kaslik said it culminated in a meeting where her professor made her come to an off-campus location, where he pretended she was his girlfriend in front of colleagues.
"When you go for a 'meeting' with a professor and he insists it be at his home or out at a restaurant or in a cafe, to me, that's being propositioned," she said. "I'm an instructor, I don't have my meetings at my home."
While Kaslik completed her degree and went on to graduate studies, others didn't fare as well. Three friends of hers also drew attention from the same professor, and one eventually left the program due to his advances.
"I spoke to my friends, I spoke to my family as it was happening and I debated very heavily with myself about pursuing this. One of the things that discouraged me was learning he had tenure," she said. "I remember asking the receptionist about him and she kind of looked at me sadly and said 'He has tenure.' She knew what I was asking and she knew what she was telling me."
Kaslik said while she had many great male professors at Concordia who helped her writing and her career, the damage done to her and other students has been lasting.
"It didn't matter then, nobody cared, nobody did anything. It's bizarre to me, now I'm 25 years older and suddenly it matters," she said.
Asked what she would say to the professor if she could see him today, Kaslik grew emotional.
"I would say that you used your power and your position. You discouraged many women from writing and you interfered with them in their education. You should be ashamed of yourself."