September 25, 2018

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Three U of M faculty members under investigation for sexual misconduct

Amid the excitement of the first day of classes, about 30,000 University of Manitoba students learned five faculty members are currently being investigated for inappropriate behaviour -- three of them singled out with sexual-assault or sexual harassment allegations.

University president David Barnard declared Wednesday sexual violence won't be tolerated on campus, then confirmed multiple investigations about faculty members are underway.

The announcement came almost a year after news broke about former music professor Steve Kirby leaving the Winnipeg school amid multiple students alleging the jazz teacher sexually harassed them.

From a podium tucked in a private boardroom in the school's engineering wing, Barnard offered his first public apology to those students through the media.

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Amid the excitement of the first day of classes, about 30,000 University of Manitoba students learned five faculty members are currently being investigated for inappropriate behaviour — three of them singled out with sexual-assault or sexual harassment allegations.

University president David Barnard declared Wednesday sexual violence won't be tolerated on campus, then confirmed multiple investigations about faculty members are underway.

The announcement came almost a year after news broke about former music professor Steve Kirby leaving the Winnipeg school amid multiple students alleging the jazz teacher sexually harassed them.

From a podium tucked in a private boardroom in the school's engineering wing, Barnard offered his first public apology to those students through the media.

"Incidents of inappropriate behaviour at this university have been reported and investigated over the last few years. Inappropriate behaviour, including sexual harassment and sexual assault on campus, is unacceptable and, quite honestly, I find it to be horrible and reprehensible," Barnard said.

"Today, I’m here to apologize to students who have experienced such inappropriate behaviour. I’m sorry. I’m deeply sorry."

Barnard also took the unusual step of revealing other pending investigations regarding faculty — although he would not say how many, nor whether any staff had been placed on leave.

"Although I can’t speak to specifics, I also want to tell you today that there are other investigations ongoing now. We’re committed to due process and to protecting the confidentiality of those with the courage to come forward," he said.

David Barnard, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Manitoba, listens in as Susan Gottheil, vice-provost (students) speaks at a media conference on issues related to campus sexual violence at the University of Manitoba Wednesday,

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

David Barnard, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Manitoba, listens in as Susan Gottheil, vice-provost (students) speaks at a media conference on issues related to campus sexual violence at the University of Manitoba Wednesday,

Later in the day, U of M spokesperson John Danakas confirmed there are five distinct investigations underway, involving five faculty members. The cases are being looked at through the lens of the school's respectful work and learning environment policy and its sexual-assault policy.

Two of the faculty under investigation are on leave, Danakas said. He broke down the five investigations as:

— One sexual assault and personal harassment investigation;

— One sexual assault and sexual harassment investigation;

— One sexual harassment investigation;

— Two human rights investigations.

The University of Manitoba Faculty Association could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

"This is supposed to be a week of celebration, this is supposed to be a welcoming of students to our campus community, but the reality is that community has not been safe," said Jakob Sanderson, University of Manitoba Students' Union president.

"I think it's clear over the past several years this university has done a poor job of being as transparent and accountable as possible to students. That's something that needs to improve — and I'm glad that they're willing to recognize that now, and it's an opportunity for us all to move forward."

David Barnard, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Manitoba.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

David Barnard, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Manitoba.

Susan Gottheil, U of M vice-provost of students, outlined a number of steps the school is taking to prevent sexual violence on campus, including reviewing the school's sexual-assault policy with town hall-style meetings, installing new counselling services, and educating students and staff about consent culture.

Gottheil said the university wants to develop a "survivor-centric" model, providing accommodation and support to victims of sexual violence.

The school's definition of sexual violence encompasses "everything from sexual harassment — jokes as someone’s walking by, comments on how someone looks — right to actually engaging in intimate sexual relationships of various types. It runs the whole gamut," Gottheil said.

Barnard issues 'correction' over Kirby letter

University of Manitoba president David Barnard provided a "correction to the community, with regards to some recent statements," after he discovered the letter of employment prepared for outgoing professor Steve Kirby listed far too many details about the former faculty member's accomplishments outside the classroom.

Barnard said Wednesday the letter should only have included Kirby's dates of employment with the U of M and the roles he undertook.

University of Manitoba president David Barnard provided a "correction to the community, with regards to some recent statements," after he discovered the letter of employment prepared for outgoing professor Steve Kirby listed far too many details about the former faculty member's accomplishments outside the classroom.

Barnard said Wednesday the letter should only have included Kirby's dates of employment with the U of M and the roles he undertook.

He provided media with a copy of the letter, dated June 27, 2017, which described Kirby's fundraising efforts and awards he had won. The letter noted Kirby retired from the University of Manitoba effective that same day.

“In preparing for today’s remarks, I discovered last Wednesday that we had issued letters of employment to individuals that contained more information than I consider appropriate. The document provided to Steve Kirby as a letter of employment that I understood to be a narrow chronology of his time at the university in fact also included an outline of activities and achievements that, though factual, could be construed as supportive," Barnard said.

After he left the U of M, Kirby landed a job at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. However, when the college learned about allegations of sexual harassment against him in Manitoba, he was placed on leave.

“The inclusion of this material (in the letter) was a mistake, and that must not be repeated," Barnard said. "The letter in no way recommended him for any position, anywhere."

Human resources expert Barbara Bowes, president of Legacy Bowes Group, commended the university for vowing to be more careful in the future concerning letters to employers about staff who have departed under a cloud.

“Many, many organizations have taken that particular step years ago,” she said.

“They’ve learned a hard lesson,” Bowes said of the U of M.

-- Jessica Botelho-Urbanski and Larry Kusch

Nicole Chammartin, executive director of Klinic Community Health, said the school's apology to students was "a good place to start." She said it's also important the university lets it be known it will take complaints seriously.

Starting next week, Klinic will have one of its counsellors spend one day a week at the U of M, to meet with students who have experienced sexual assault and act as a resource for campus-based counsellors.

Chammartin said the university has to be careful about how much information it revealed about sexual harassment and abuse, so as not to hamper any future police investigations, if need be. She also said no university should be managing such issues on its own.

"This is a societal issue. Prevention of sexual violence starts very young. It’s about how we talk to our young people… about respect and personal autonomy and consent," Chammartin said.

"It’s about how we in society deal with issues of power and ensuring that in places where (there are) power imbalances that people feel they can speak up. Sexual violence is really a crime of power."

— with files from Larry Kusch

jessica.botelho@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @_jessbu

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski
Legislature reporter

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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