Make sexual harassment training mandatory at U of M, says advocate
Says handling of Steve Kirby situation was 'horrifying'
A women's rights advocate says she is outraged that former U of M jazz professor Steve Kirby was able to retire in June and then get a new job teaching at a college in Boston, even though an internal investigation found his conduct at the University of Manitoba constituted sexual harassment.
"It's pretty horrifying," said Julie Lalonde, an Ottawa-based advocate for safe campuses who educates groups about sexual harassment and violence.
"The University of Manitoba at the very least needs to take accountability for what they've done, to make a statement to students talking about how they failed them, how they were not transparent, how they are moving forward in changing their policies and protocols and the way they do things in the future," said Lalonde.
She said training about sexual harassment should be made mandatory for all staff and students at the University of Manitoba.
"It's happening elsewhere. It's not that expensive, it's not difficult to do. The biggest barrier is the willingness," Lalonde said.
The idea of mandatory training about sexual harassment is something the university is considering, said executive director of public affairs John Danakas, in an email to CBC News.
He said that when the university's new Respectful Work and Learning Environment policy was introduced in 2016, mandatory training was not initially included but is "certainly something that has been and will continue to be explored."
Steve Kirby was hired by the University of Manitoba in 2003 but the university has said he retired in late June 2017 after being on leave for six months.
During the time that he was on leave, Kirby was under investigation by the university after a group of current and former students came forward in February with allegations of sexual harassment.
CBC has seen two reports from that investigation in June that found Kirby's behaviour constituted "sexual harassment" and would have created an "intimidating, humiliating or offensive work or learning environment" for female students.
February wasn't the first time the university had been told there were concerns with Kirby's behaviour.
In 2012 another former student had filed a human rights complaint to the university alleging personal harassment. That complaint was tossed out because it was filed too long after the alleged events to meet the time requirements of the university's complaints policy.
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"This was a failure of epic proportions on so many levels," said a woman we are calling Susan, referring to the way the university handled the Kirby situation. She spoke with CBC News on condition of anonymity.
She said she met with the dean of music Edmund Dawe in 2012 to tell him her concerns about Kirby's behaviour.
"Bullying, intimidating behaviour. Lack of professional and personal boundaries. Unprofessional, collegial expectations. General lack of any type of professional protocol. All of it, laid it on the line," she said.
She said she was never informed of any action taken about the concerns she raised, nor did the dean point her to any other policies or places within the university where she could lodge a formal complaint.
"I understand that there are policies and procedures that are instituted to protect faculty and have due process," she said. "This situation underscored the need for universities to first think of students as who they should be protecting."
"It demonstrates all the failures to protect victims of sexual harassment, specifically on college campuses, and that we need to find new ways," Susan said.
She's also greatly dismayed Kirby was able to secure a new position at Berklee College of Music in Boston, seemingly with no inkling there had been any concerns about his conduct at the University of Manitoba.
"What happened between the University of Manitoba and Berklee — that lack of communication signals a severe failure of process and policy," she said. "We need to have a more clear policy on how institutions of higher education communicate with each other when a faculty is leaving under less than favourable circumstances."
Lalonde agrees with Susan and condemns the U of M's handling of complaints against Kirby.
"The harassment policy also needs to be transparent," she said. "So that if I go forward and make a complaint against someone, I should be informed as to whether or not that person has had similar complaints made against them of a similar nature."
"You don't need to say who those people are, you don't need to talk about the nature of the complaint. But if I come forward and say that I have been sexually harassed by a professor, and it turns out that I'm the second person to make that complaint, I should be informed of that," Lalonde said.
The university says it is committed to making the safety of its campus community a priority and reviews its sexual harassment and sexual assault policies every three years.
A spokesperson for the university said no one from Berklee contacted the faculty of music nor the human resources department for a reference for Steve Kirby. After CBC called Berklee College to ask if it knew about the investigation, the University of Manitoba has confirmed it has now been in touch with the Boston-based college about Kirby.
Steve Kirby has not responded to CBC's many attempts to contact him.
In an internal University of Manitoba report obtained by CBC, he denied "all claims made of any sexual innuendo or outright sexual approaches."
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