A new report on the culture at Concordia’s English department has found that faculty members held classes in bars, hosted parties at their houses and consumed drugs and alcohol with their students, leading to sexual misconduct and the blurring of professional and personal boundaries.
Published Thursday, the independent “climate review” surveyed 109 students, faculty and alumni about the department’s culture. It does not name any accused professors. The greatest number of responses came from alumni.
Students and alumni reported that “certain faculty members have, over time, committed various forms of sexual violence,” which the report defined as “any type of misconduct of a sexual nature ranging from unwanted advances to sexual assault.”
“In our opinion, these reported incidents of sexual violence are at the heart of the unhealthy climate of the Department of English,” the report states.
Stories of misconduct are passed from older students to newer students through a “solidly rooted” whisper network, the report says.
The report also found that some faculty and staff were aware of accusations against their colleagues “but are unsure of how to act or are hesitant to do so.”
Among other recommendations, the report says Concordia should ban professors from holding classes in bars.
“Truly shocking discovery!” tweeted former Concordia student Emma Healey in reaction to the report.
Healey wrote an essay in 2014 in which she described a story of a relationship with her professor that involved emotional abuse and physical and sexual assault.
An unnamed Concordia professor took an interest in her writing, she wrote in the essay. The night before her first class with him, he invited her out for drinks with his friends. She was 19 and he was 34. He bought her drinks and they ended up back at her apartment.
“While the relationship itself was consensual, much of what happened within its borders was not,” she wrote.
After the relationship ended, she ran into him again on a night out. He bought her a beer and they talked. He said she was too drunk to get home alone, and walked her home. Once in her apartment, she writes that she had to push him away and make him leave.
She wrote that when she started telling her experience to close friends, she heard a flood of similar stories from students and others in the literary community, some of them about the same person, and some about other men in the community.
“I heard about rapes and assaults,” she wrote. “I heard about violations of trust and instances of gaslighting. I heard about men who had threatened women with legal action to stop them from talking about what had happened between them.
“Without exception, every single one of these men is still working — writing, publishing, editing, teaching — today.”
In response to her essay, six students wrote a letter to the Chair of Concordia’s English department expressing their concern, but nothing was done at the time, CBC reported.
“Student interaction with faculty as well as among peers has become strained,” the letter said, according to CBC. “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 centre of that community.”
It took a man writing an essay about abuse in CanLit for the issue to get attention.
In January 2018, Concordia alum Mike Spry wrote an essay describing abuse of power in the English department and the wider CanLit community, including professors in their 50s having relationships with students in their 20s.
Healey responded by saying Spry was close friends with the professor who abused her.
Responding to the essay, Concordia President Alan Shepard denied knowledge of the issue. The school launched an investigation into alleged sexual misconduct, and removed two professors from the classroom.
The report calls for professors and faculty to immediately disclose any relationships with students, citing Concordia’s new policy that requires them to do so.
“A romantic or sexual relationship between a student and someone in authority is a deviation from the duties and responsibilities of the person in authority. It puts the person in authority in a situation of conflict of interest, real or perceived. It puts the student in a real or perceived position of having an advantage,” the report states.
“We believe that any consensual romantic or sexual relationship between a faculty member and a student threatens the mission of the University to provide a safe and secure learning and working environment, independent of the fact that they are labelled as consensual.”
Healey told CBC the report is a “decent first step” but based on past experience, she doubts the university will take the issue seriously.
Follow Hilary on Twitter.
Sign up for the VICE Canada Newsletter to get the best of VICE Canada delivered to your inbox.