‘I am deeply sorry’

U of M president apologizes to students, speaks to investigations into faculty members


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This article was published 07/09/2018 (1487 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

University of Manitoba president and vice-chancellor David Barnard has publicly apologized to students who have allegedly experienced sexual assault and harassment at the hands of professors while also acknowledging investigations into the actions of faculty members are underway.

On Sept. 5, Barnard said the university has investigated incidents of inappropriate behaviour, including sexual harassment and assault on campus, over the last few years and called the behaviour horrible and appalling.

“Today I am here to apologize to students who have experienced such inappropriate behaviour,” Barnard told a media conference, where student body representatives were in attendance. “I am deeply sorry.”

Danielle Da Silva - Sou'wester University of Manitoba president David Barnard apologized to students who say they have experienced sexual violence and harassment from faculty at the U of M, including alleged victims of former music professor Steve Kirby and former associate dean of medicine Gary Harding. Barnard said multiple investigations into multiple people regarding sexual misconduct and inappropriate behaviour at the university are ongoing.

The apology came with the release of a letter of employment that was issued to former music professor Steve Kirby. Kirby was hired by the U of M in 2003 and retired in June 2017 amid allegations of sexual harassment. The U of M investigated the allegations against Kirby, determining they had merit.

Kirby was later hired at Berklee College of Music in Boston and subsequently fired when reporters and students alerted the college to the investigation at the U of M.

The letter of employment, which carries the U of M’s human resources’ letterhead, listed a number of community outreach programs Kirby had been involved with, which Barnard said could be construed as supportive.

“The inclusion of this material was a mistake that must not be repeated,” Barnard said. “The letter in no way recommended him for a position.”

A recently released investigation by the College of Physicians and Surgeons into a former associate dean of medicine at the U of M has brought further sexual misconduct allegations to light.

The College, in a decision issued July 31, determined that oncologist and associate professor Gary Harding, who resigned from the university in 2015, was guilty of professional misconduct for abusing his position as a teacher by initiating unwanted sexual conduct with two male students. Harding hasn’t practised medicine since the allegations were brought forward in 2015.

Other faculty members at the university are also under investigation for inappropriate behaviour, Barnard said.

There are currently multiple investigations into multiple faculty members underway, Barnard acknowledged, and while he declined to go into specifics during the media conference, a spokesman for the U of M later confirmed to the Winnipeg Free Press that five faculty members are under investigation, two of which are on leave.

One is being investigated for sexual assault and personal harassment; another for sexual assault and sexual harassment; another for sexual harassment; and two faculty members are being investigated for human rights violations.

Susan Gottheil, the vice-provost (students) said the university will embark on a complete review of its Sexual Assault Policy (a document that was recently finalized in May 2017), and is concurrently hiring lawyer Donna Miller to review the university’s procedures when it comes to handling contractual obligations, employment status, letters of employment, and references for employees who are accused of sexual misconduct or in violation of the university’s policies.

“Now is the time for us to talk and really address the currency of how we approach these issues,” Gottheil said. “Anyone who reads the media, who looks at what’s happened (during the year of the Me Too movement), knows that this is a very fast-moving story and storyline and we have to stay current to serve our students, staff, and faculty.”

It is frightening to know, perhaps, that the professors we’re interacting with could be different from how they present to us as students.

The review is anticipated to take a year to complete.

The U of M also announced a slate of new supports that will be available to students this academic year, including the addition of a sexual assault counsellor on campus, the creation of a sexual violence education and resource co-ordinator position, and expanding the Human Rights and Conflict Management Office’s resources.

More training and education for faculty is also in the works, Barnard said.

“I am committed to mandatory education on sexual violence, consent and power relationships and will work with faculty, staff and students to ensure the appropriate levels of support and training are provided,” he said.

Vatineh Magaji, president of the student group Justice for Women Manitoba, said students at the U of M still have questions about how the institution will handle allegations and instances of sexual violence in the future.

“Execution versus intention don’t always line up,” Magaji said. “I am curious to hear more about the student input they mentioned wanting to implement, and I think that is essential and important especially because when we’re talking about survivors, these survivors are students.”

Magaji said more transparency is also needed when it comes to current investigations to mitigate student concerns.

“It is frightening to know, perhaps, that the professors we’re interacting with could be different from how they present to us as students,”Magaji said. “I understand the issue of privacy and it’s important to protect the privacy of survivors, but it’s easy to interpret what they’ve said as protecting the perpetrators of sexual assault.”

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