‘Ashamed to be your alumnus’
Grad returns music degree to University of Manitoba in protest of its handling of sexual harassment allegations against ex-prof
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/10/2017 (1873 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Like every post-secondary graduate, Daniel Jordan worked hard for several years to get his degree at the University of Manitoba.
However, Jordan — a member of the Winnipeg folk trio Red Moon Road — has mailed back his bachelor of music degree to protest against the university’s handling of sexual harassment allegations against former jazz professor Steve Kirby.
“The recommendation of an institution and people like you, who refuse to speak up and act against sexual harassment, is of no use or value to me,” Jordan said in a posting on his Facebook site Thursday, shortly after he dropped his diploma in a mailbox along with letters to U of M president David Barnard, school of music dean Edmund Dawe and associate music dean Karen Jensen.
“I truly hope that one day you find the courage to take a stand against sexual harassment and systemic abuse of power. Until then, I remain ashamed to be your alumnus, devoid of respect for you or your institution.”
As first reported last month by the Winnipeg Free Press, the 61-year-old Kirby quietly retired from his 14-year career at the Winnipeg school in June. He left after an investigation by the U of M determined allegations against him of unwanted touching, hugging and kissing had merit.
Kirby was hired later in the summer by the renowned Berklee College of Music in Boston. However, after the Free Press contacted its officials, the American institution announced it had placed Kirby on leave, pending a review and assessment.
A spokesperson for Berklee declined comment Thursday.
Jordan, a 2012 grad who was preparing to fly to Alberta for a band gig, said turning in his diploma was not a decision he took lightly, but one he had thought about since the allegations against Kirby became public.
“I would love to have had it on the wall someday, but their endorsement now has no value to me,” he said in an interview. “I would accept it back if they made an actual apology and it was accepted by the students. But so far, they haven’t acknowledged what happened. They said he retired, and now he has another job.
“They’re still saying their policies work — and they clearly do not work.”
Jordan said he has no trouble believing the women who came forward with allegations about Kirby.
“I was often frightened to come to school because I was repeatedly bullied by Steve,” he said. “He insulted, swore at and threatened me. He publicly mocked and humiliated me.”
Jordan said Kirby once took “the sticks out of my hand, in full view of a room full of people, as I was playing, to impersonate and mock my playing.” He said the former professor then threatened him.
“But this isn’t about me — it’s about what happened to so many of my fellow female colleagues,” Jordan said. “It is silence that allows these really tired cliches to continue.”
U of M spokesman John Danakas said in an emailed statement: “The university respects this former student’s thoughts and feelings.”
“All concerns brought forward are taken seriously. The kinds of conduct described are unacceptable in any environment, and are not consistent with the values of the University of Manitoba,” Danakas said. “The university community is committed to working together to ensure a safe and respectful work and learning environment. These are important matters that require collaboration among a wide variety of individuals and groups.
“The university welcomes input from all who care deeply about these issues.”
Danakas also said the school respects people who approach it with concerns about its respectful work and learning policy.
“Their confidentiality, including the nature of discussions between them and the university, is also respected,” he said. “Certainly, part of the process is to work with those who bring forward their concerns and do what is possible to ensure their ongoing safety and to alleviate any distress.”
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.
Updated on Thursday, October 19, 2017 8:23 PM CDT: updates photo
Updated on Thursday, October 19, 2017 8:43 PM CDT: Adds declined comment line