October 19, 2020

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Tenured prof alleges U of M pressuring her to leave

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 5/12/2019 (319 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In the spring, they offered their first unsolicited buyout. It was worth about $65,000 or six months’ salary.

Then, they came back with a second offer. Twelve months salary. Roughly $130,000.

Most recently, the University of Manitoba offered her about two years' salary to resign — the equivalent of around $260,000.

But Clea Schmidt, an education professor at the U of M for the past 15 years (who achieved full tenure in 2017), insists she does not want to leave.

Schmidt said she has declined every severance offer from the U of M through her union, the University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA).

And in an interview, Schmidt said she feels as though the university is trying to pressure her out the door. She likened the tactic to further harassment.

"I’m not interested in quitting my job. I’m interested in making this place less toxic and more safe for women," she said.

"That’s what I’d like. Not to exit the institution, thank you very much."

Schmidt, who first spoke about the severance packages in an interview with The Manitoban this week, has been critical of the university's handling of sexual violence cases.

She made her thoughts known in direct correspondence with administration, at a public campus event this fall attended by about 100 people (including the university's top brass) and in an op-ed published in the Free Press earlier this year.

RUTH BONNEVILLE  /  WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>"We need to change this whole system," Schmidt said.</p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

"We need to change this whole system," Schmidt said.

Schmidt, 42, said she's had several run-ins with harassment in the workplace at U of M, but filed just one formal complaint about sexual and personal harassment in Dec. 2017 against a colleague.

After a months-long investigation, she said the complaint was found to have merit and her colleague was demoted.

U of M spokesman John Danakas would not comment on any personnel allegations put to him by the Free Press, repeating a similar statement for answers to several different questions.

"The faculty member has chosen to share personal information. However, the University is not able to comment publicly on personnel matters due to our obligations under the Collective Agreement and privacy legislation, and therefore cannot respond to the information presented," he said by email.

"The statements that have been made are not reflective of the University's perspective on the situation or on issues of sexual violence or labour relations generally."

Schmidt also filed four grievances through UMFA (who did not respond to an inquiry for this story). Danakas said the university cannot speak to any possible discussions occurring with UMFA either.

The grievances, Schmidt alleged, were related to mishandling of her harassment complaint and to a counter-complaint launched against her that was unsubstantiated. Schmidt also filed a grievance related to a sick leave she took for two months. During that period, she alleged university administration tried to interfere with her work duties.

The university denied her grievances through UMFA and the parties have agreed to an arbitration process, scheduled to begin in Oct. 2020.

Both sides will be responsible for expenses related to presenting their own cases and they will jointly bear the cost of an arbitrator, Danakas said.

Schmidt reiterated Thursday that she feels fed up.

"I mean, this very week -- today -- we’re honouring the massacre of women at École Polytechnique and here we are still treating women like garbage, still subjecting them to harassment in the workplace and still ignoring and dismissing their concerns, and vilifying them when they speak out about them," she said.

Jim Turk, a former executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, now oversees the Centre for Free Expression at Ryerson University.

"We know this in our misogynist society that lots of men don’t take no for an answer, right? And (men) think the woman is just playing coy or whatever. And so the employer may have some notion that she really wants a buyout, but she’s just playing us to get a bigger amount of money, so they keep coming back." ‐ Jim Turk, Centre for Free Expression at Ryerson University

He said what the U of M is doing by offering severance packages may be irritating for Schmidt, but it's not illegal.

"It’s not unusual for employers to be wanting to get rid of people they don’t like for whatever reason, right? But in a situation where the person is a union member, represented by the union, the union is supporting them, then all she has to say is: 'get lost,'" Turk said.

"I’m not sure that a court or an arbitrator would see the offer of a fairly generous severance as harassment."

Turk said Schmidt should stand firm with her union if she does not want to leave U of M.

"We know this in our misogynist society that lots of men don’t take no for an answer, right? And (men) think the woman is just playing coy or whatever. And so the employer may have some notion that she really wants a buyout, but she’s just playing us to get a bigger amount of money, so they keep coming back," he said.

"There’s no justification for them doing that. At some point, they’ll get the message and I think she should use her union to try to shut this down."

Schmidt does not plan on backing away. She's asked for a list of personal remedies from the university, including establishment of a restorative justice process in her department and apologies from leaders at the school, including President David Barnard. She said the remedies have not been forthcoming yet.

When she was a 26-year-old assistant professor starting out at the university, Schmidt said she wouldn't have been as comfortable taking a stand.

"I still feel vulnerable, but I’m in a much more secure place now, able to speak out. And I absolutely feel that this is about my case, but it’s about every other case and every other woman who might be too vulnerable to take a stand against what’s happening," she said.

"Because we need to change this whole system."

jessica.botelho@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @_jessbu

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