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2 Concordia University profs stripped of teaching duties amid allegations of sexual misconduct

Two teachers at Concordia University have been suspended, just two days after the school's president denied hearing rumours of sexual misconduct within the creative writing program.

Letter shows university was warned of 'toxic' atmosphere in creative writing program in 2015

CBC News obtained a letter showing students tried to tell the school about the "toxic" culture for women in the program in 2015. (Concordia University)

Two teachers at Concordia University have been removed from their classrooms, just two days after the school's president denied hearing rumours of sexual misconduct within the creative writing program.

According to the student-run association CASE (Concordia Association for Students in English), two teachers accused of impropriety have had their courses given to other instructors. 

"As of this moment, the courses taught by the professors named online are being reassigned pending investigation, the books written by those faculty members have been removed from the display window on the sixth floor of the Webster Library Building, and a third party is conducting the investigation," said CASE in a statement released Friday afternoon.

A spokesperson for the university would not comment on the matter, citing privacy reasons, but did confirm that an investigation "will be conducted by an external investigator."

Letter sent in 2015

The suspensions follow a letter obtained by CBC News showing students tried to tell the school about the "toxic" culture for women in the program in 2015.

The six signatories on the letter, all students, wrote to the chair of the English department three years ago expressing concern with the culture in the creative writing program. 

They were responding in part to an essay by former student Emma Healey, published in the fall of 2014, which described an at-times abusive romantic relationship with a professor in the program.

But their letter went nowhere, said signatory Rudrapriya Rathore. After a meeting with a Human Resources employee, the subject was dropped.

This week, allegations of sexual misconduct rocked the creative writing program after an essay, published by former student Mike Spry, alleged professors were sleeping and drinking with students. He refers to professors routinely harassing students, as well as "drunken nights of misbehaviour."

Following Spry's essay, more than a dozen women have spoken to CBC, including celebrated writer Heather O'Neill, saying women have been warning each other about professors in the program for more than a decade.

'Toxic' atmosphere

The letter, addressed to the chair of the English department, describes a program reeling by the allegations made in Healey's piece.

"Student interaction with faculty as well as among peers has become strained," the letter read.

"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."

They received a note from Human Resources in February 2015 asking to discuss the issue further, but Rathore says the group of students was told Healey's piece constituted hearsay and because they were not abused firsthand, their concerns could not be elevated.

University denies prior knowledge

Concordia University president Alan Shepard said the university would not trying to 'sweep anything under the rug' after sexual misconduct allegations surfaced Monday regarding its creative writing program. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)
On Wednesday, Concordia President Alan Shepard denied any prior knowledge of impropriety in the creative writing progam.

"I've been reading it's an open secret," said Shepard. "But it's not an open secret to me, and I do my best to pay attention to these kinds of rumours."

Shepard has been president of the university since 2012.

A spokesperson for Concordia University said Shepard stands by the statement he made.

She said the 2015 letter was handled in the appropriate way, and the department did meet with the students at the time. 

"Over the last couple of years, like many institutions, we have adapted the way we handle allegations of sexual misconduct. A wider circle is now brought in and consulted on these matters," read the statement. 

Writer Emma Healey wrote about her experience in the Concordia creative writing department in 2014. In it, she describes a romantic relationship with a professor much older than her. (Submitted by Emma Healey)

Change is needed, student says

"Listening to Alan Shepherd was extremely disappointing," said Rathore in an emailed statement to CBC. 

She's calling on the university to make it clear what's appropriate and inappropriate in the context of student-professor relationships, and says institutional change is needed.

"It is reprehensible that the school has so far seemingly avoided creating a policy around student-teacher relations precisely because they would then have to answer to its guidelines. Those answers are long overdue," she said. 
 

About the Author

Kate McKenna

Kate McKenna is a journalist with CBC Montreal.