Several dozen faculty at Brock University issued an open letter to the school's president Wednesday calling for action in the wake of a CBC News investigation that revealed the school's administration attempted to silence a student who was sexually harassed by a professor.  

Seventy-four faculty and staff members at the university in St. Catharines, Ont., who signed the letter to Jack Lightstone are calling for a number of changes to the way the school handles sexual harassment and assault, including:

  • a significant commitment of resources to a fully functioning human rights office
  • a considered, clear, and responsible survivor-centred process for handling such complaints
  • clear instructions for faculty, staff and students when a complaint is reported.

Last week, a CBC News investigation revealed that Brock had warned a former student to keep quiet about an internal investigation that determined her history professor, David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye, gave her alcohol and tried to force himself on her sexually in October 2014. The professor continued to teach history at the university up until two weeks ago.

Following the CBC News investigation, the university said that a professor who was found to have sexually harassed one of his students late one night in his office is no longer "assigned to a class and is not on campus."

CBC News requested an interview with Schimmelpenninck van der Oye, but he did not return emails. He told the university's investigator that he was too drunk to remember the incident.

'It is reprehensible'

In the open letter, the Brock faculty also offered their support to the student who came forward, who did not want to be identified.

"We are deeply troubled by the news of this case ... It is reprehensible that this student's trust has been abused, and we salute her courage for speaking out," the letter states.

Margot Francis, an  associate professor of Women's and Gender Studies at Brock and one of the organisers of the open letter, told CBC News that it was "shameful" that Schimmelpenninck van der Oye was still teaching classes until recently.

margot francis

Margot Francis, associate professor of women's and gender studies at Brock University. (CBC)

"I think it's really critical that survivors know when they report, something will happen," she said.

The open letter follows a campus demonstration on Tuesday attended by more than 60 students, who demanded action be taken to create a campus culture that makes survivors feel safe to come forward and confident that their voices are heard.

The demonstrators chanted, "Shame on Brock" and  "We want justice!"  and waved protest signs.

The students demanded that the accused professor resign, the administrator who handled the complaint resign and that the university hire a dedicated sexual assault administrator.

Lightstone came to the demonstration and accepted a signed statement from students outlining the changes they would like to see.

Quicker action needed

Carissa Taylor, one of the student organizers, said she was "horrified" by the situation.

"It's our view that as soon as an investigation was launched and a complaint was made, he should've been off with pay to ensure that the campus was a safe working and learning environment for people who go here," she said.

"Once the [university] investigation found that he was, in fact, guilty, the university should've taken very quick actions to make sure that he was properly penalized."

Brock students protest

Earlier this week, several dozen Brock students organized a protest on campus objecting to the school's handling of the October 2014 incident involving Schimmelpenninck van der Oye and a former student. (CBC)

The woman who initially came forward to CBC News also spoke out online Wednesday thanking Brock students for their support and for demanding changes.

She also addressed some of the details of her case and statements made by Lightstone after the story broke, including that he spoke "directly with the complainant" and that "Brock staff were supportive and responsive as soon as they learned of the complaint."

"Frankly, I'm insulted by the statements Dr. Lightstone has released," she wrote in a Facebook post.

"Don't claim that you 'spoke to the complainant' but not mention that I chewed you out on the phone for 15 minutes while you played your best version of PC principal. Most definitely, don't claim that this was handled quickly and efficiently.

Jack Lightstone

Students at a campus protest Tuesday directed their calls for change at Brock University president Jack Lightstone, front. Students and faculty at the school in St. Catharines, Ont., have criticized how Lightstone and other members of the administration handled a sexual harassment complaint against a professor from a student. (CBC)

"For 113 days, I spent all of my time refreshing my email, hoping that I would have an update on what was happening. I nearly failed out of the program I am currently in and, more importantly, I nearly lost my mind."

However, the student stressed, she still doesn't regret her time at Brock.

"This is a problem of administrative policy and lack of accountability and shouldn't reflect your opinion of the education you've received from the many excellent academics who value their students."

For confidential tips on this story, please contact Timothy Sawa at timothy.sawa@cbc.ca or 647-382-7789, or Lori Ward at lori.ward@cbc.ca or via CBC Secure

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With files from Diana Swain