A former University of Calgary professor says he warned the school's administration years ago about the potential radicalization of some Muslim students, but nothing was done.

Aaron Hughes, who now teaches at the University of Rochester, N.Y., said he wanted to speak out after a series of CBC News stories revealed that several young Calgarians have headed overseas as jihadists in Iraq and Syria. 

“I was very much bothered by the conservative nature of the Muslim student body,” the religious studies scholar said.

Hughes

Aaron Hughes, a religious studies scholar who used to teach at the University of Calgary, says his warnings to school officials about possible radicalization of Islamic students were not heeded. He spoke to CBC News via Skype from Rochester, N.Y., where he now teaches. (CBC)

“They made teaching Islam from an objective perspective very difficult because they knew what the 'real' Islam was. Of course they didn't."

Hughes said that during his eight years as a religious studies professor at the U of C, there would always be a member of the Muslim students association monitoring his courses.

“It made it difficult because as you know, Calgary is a fairly diverse city and there are all kinds of different Muslims. And I know a number of Ismailis often felt threatened by the more Sunni Muslims who thought their version of Islam was the correct one," he said. 

“I was definitely aware of the potential for radicalization on campus.

“That is another venue in which potential radicalization could occur, so not just at mosques, but also on campus.”

Hughes said he took his concerns to university officials, but nothing was done.

“I had been mentioning the conservative nature of these students and the university; they just weren't interested in it,” he said.

School says prof's concerns should go to police

U of C officials responded to Hughes's comments with a statement on Tuesday, saying they're committed to fostering an environment of free and open debate of ideas. Any concerns with illegal activity should be taken to police, they added.

Calgary police say the issue is on their radar, confirming that they are aware of about two dozen youths who have left the city to fight overseas.

Hughes said he’s not surprised, but that when he lived in Calgary, he saw no evidence of police looking into the issue.

“When I was living in Calgary, I was probably the person objectively that knew more about Islam than anybody. Not once did I ever have a conversation with anyone from the Calgary police services,” he said.

“I really think it's an issue that needs to be addressed in places like Calgary where there's such a large Muslim population.”