The former head of the psychology department at UBC's Okanagan campus is criticizing the university for part of its handling of sexual harassment complaints against a professor and is calling for increased transparency from the institution.

Professor Stephen Porter, an award-winning forensic psychology expert at UBCO, has stepped aside from teaching duties after his practice was placed under supervision by the B.C. College of Psychologists with a "particular focus on" sexual harassment and boundary issues.

Two complainants have come forward to CBC, one alleging Porter sexually harassed her and another alleging he groped her. However the university has not disclosed the nature of the allegations due to privacy concerns.

"I'm concerned about the way the university is dealing with this issue," said Jan Cioe, a psychology professor at UBCO who served as department head from 2011 to 2016.

Jan Cioe UBC psychology professor

Jan Cioe, psychology professor at UBC's Okanagan campus, calls the findings into professor Stephen Porter "abhorrent." (Jaimie Kehler/ CBC)

"I think the university has the power, and perhaps even the obligation, to push the boundaries on those restrictions that put privacy above what I would consider public interest."

'Absolutely shocking'

Both of the complainants that came forward to CBC say the university mishandled their cases from the time of their disclosures in the fall of 2016 until last week, when Porter was on campus teaching a class.

On Dec. 29, the B.C. College of Psychologists issued a public notice and put Porter's practice under supervision.

An investigation commissioned by UBC in 2017 found that, in the alleged harassment case, the relationship between Porter and the student was consensual — although it did violate the university's conflict of interest rules.

In the alleged groping case, the same investigator found Porter did touch the complainant, but he was too drunk to form sexual intent. However, his inebriated state did breach UBC's respectful environment statement. 

Cioe has seen parts of the final report on the investigation into Porter and says there was disciplinary action, but he does not believe the university has gone far enough in terms of disclosing the nature of the allegations.

"I was contacted by two of the complainants ... they have told me what has gone on in some detail and it was absolutely shocking and, from my perspective, totally unconscionable that a professor, a teacher, anyone would engage in that type of behaviour," Cioe said.

UBC officials point to privacy legislation

University officials maintain that privacy legislation prohibits it from releasing details of the allegations.

"It's not that I'm not keen [to discuss the case], it's that I'm not legally allowed to talk about the details of any case or any processes regarding employment that may be ongoing or have occurred at the university," said Sara-Jane Finlay, associate vice president of equity and inclusion for UBC.

Finlay said sexual violence prevention efforts have been ongoing since the university instituted a new sexual misconduct policy in May 2017.

She added that a sexual violence and prevention response office has been established at both the Okanagan and Vancouver campuses.

'We need transparency'

"I understand why people are strongly concerned about protecting privacy, but at the same time, I think that [privacy] legislation has been used and continues to be used in a way which is not in the best interest of either the institution or society at large," said Cioe.

He has contacted senior university administrators, including the university president, to voice his concerns.

"In my opinion, the university needs to stand up, push the boundaries ... UBC is a large, powerful institution, which should be a leader, not a follower and I am saddened by the fact that UBC which is a venerated institution is not taking the lead on this," said Cioe.

"The fact that the university acted on this in a labour relations context ... indicated that the university has, in fact, operated appropriately and has not swept it under the carpet," he said.

"But at the same time, this issue of privacy, this issue of not giving all the details, leaves everybody wondering and that wondering is not what we need. We need transparency."

With files from CBC's Daybreak South and Chris Walker.