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Another Concordia creative writing prof faces harassment allegations from former students

At least two former students in the creative writing program at Concordia University in Montreal have filed formal complaints of sexual harassment against a professor who remains in the English Department, CBC News has learned.

Toronto novelist Ibi Kaslik is 1 of 2 women to file formal complaints with the Montreal school

The new allegations of sexual harassment involve a professor still in Concordia University's English Department. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

At least two former students in the creative writing program at Concordia University in Montreal have filed formal complaints of sexual harassment with the school against a professor who remains in the English Department, CBC News has learned.

The allegations date back to the 1990s. 

The two former students have told CBC that the professor would routinely switch appointments with female students from his office to his home or to another off-campus location, and then make sexual advances.

The professor is not one of two whose classes were reassigned last week. 

Mary-Jo Barr, a spokesperson for Concordia University, said the professor in the latest case is not currently teaching.

'I felt sick. I felt gross. I felt violated,' woman says

In the most recent allegations, one of the former students, who is not being named by CBC News to protect her privacy, said she was uncomfortable with meeting the professor at his home, as he had requested, but he routinely refused to discuss her work in class, so she felt she had no choice.

She said she was even more uncomfortable once she got to the man's house.

"He had the table set for two," the former student alleged. "The first thing he showed me was his bed, which he told me was very convenient.

"He showed no interest in speaking about my work. He just said, 'Yes, yes, it's great. Keep going as you are.'

"I was very uncomfortable. He offered me alcohol. I said no. He didn't like that. I started getting more and more nervous, and he started talking about women's dirty underwear," the former student said.

She said at that point, she told the professor she had to leave, and he got angry, demanding to know why. Finally, she said, she was able to get away.

"I felt sick to my stomach. I felt disgusting; I felt sick; I felt gross. I felt violated by this man."

She said it also made her doubt her writing skills.

"It had been sullied completely by this experience," she told CBC.

The former student said she never filed a formal complaint at the time, but spoke to other professors she trusted and expressed her concerns about the professor's attitude towards women on the teacher-evaluation form at the end of the semester.

She never heard any more about it.

A male friend of the former student who also did not want to be named confirmed to CBC that she told him about the incident at the time.
Novelist and University of Toronto Prof. Ibi Kaslik is one of two former Concordia University creative writing students who have filed complaints in the last week about alleged sexual harassment by a professor in the 1990s, CBC has learned. (Ibi Kaslik/Facebook)

When the allegations of widespread sexual misconduct in the university's creative writing program surfaced last week, the former student was shocked to discover that the professor with whom she had had such a harrowing encounter, according to her allegations, was still working at the university.

"I wanted to scream for everyone that's been through his class in the last 25 years. He's had a lot of time to hone this power imbalance," she said.

"He should not be there. There's no way he should be there. I don't think he should have been there for the last 25 years."

'It was very clearly, in his mind, a date'

Ibi Kaslik, now a novelist and University of Toronto creative writing professor, held back tears as she told CBC about her recollection of a similar experience with the same professor in the late 1990s.

Kaslik stressed that she had mostly positive experiences in the program, except for her alleged dealings with this one professor.

She recounted how she showed up at the professor's office for a scheduled meeting to discuss her work.

"There was a note on the door with an address and my name, and it was the McGill faculty lounge, in the middle of an afternoon."

Kaslik said she went to the lounge to meet him, and was puzzled by the professor's behaviour.

"I was given a tour. There were some of his cronies there. I was introduced. It was very clearly, in his mind, a date," she said.

Kaslik alleged she spent an uncomfortable three hours with the professor at the lounge before she found an excuse to leave.

Kaslik told her boyfriend at the time, Jim Knox, about what had happened, which was confirmed by Knox.

Knox urged her to complain at the time, but Kaslik said she decided against it when she heard that the professor had tenure, thinking the complaint would go nowhere and could threaten her chances of being accepted into the university's graduate program.

Like the other former student, she decided to complain to the university's Office of Rights and Responsibilities after hearing about the controversy about her old program.

"I never thought we would get this opportunity. I feel compelled to do this for my students, for my daughter and for this generation of women now in their 40s," said Kaslik.

Concordia University president Alan Shepard said last week the university would not 'sweep anything under the rug' after he learned of allegations of sexual misconduct by professors in the university's creative writing program. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

In an interview with CBC, a third student from the 1990s, Sarah Faber, recalled an occasion when she was talking with the same professor in a university hallway.

"I don't even remember what exactly we were talking about, but he just, quite suddenly, tried to kiss me," alleged Faber.

"I remember being quite taken aback and sort of pulling away. It took me off guard. He was a lot older than me."

Faber said she never had any other problems with that professor.

CBC also spoke to a fourth woman, a more recent student in the program, who said the same professor invited her to meet him off-campus when she tried to set up an appointment with him to contest a grade.

"He called me on my cellphone and said if I wanted to meet, it would have to be at his studio," said Laura Lalonde.

She said she was uncomfortable with the idea and after asking friends, she decided not to meet the professor and gave up contesting the grade.

Male students confused

The alleged experiences with this professor has left some male students in the creative writing program, and who were their acquaintances, bewildered.

Knox, Kaslik's former boyfriend, told CBC that Kaslik's experience with this professor affected their relationship.

"It was super upsetting for both of us. I was an insecure young man, and here was this established professional writer showing this inappropriate interest in my girlfriend. We didn't know what to do," said Knox.

A male friend of the other complainant from the 1990s said he once witnessed the professor hitting on his date at a party.

"As soon as we got to the party, he ignored everybody and went straight after my girlfriend in an attempt to seduce her," said the man, who didn't want to be named.

He said it was a confusing time.

Concordia response

CBC tried to reach the professor in question for comment, through Concordia's English Department but had not yet responded as of this article being published.

Barr, the Concordia spokesperson, said Wednesday evening that all allegations will be investigated.

"Any form of sexual misconduct is unacceptable, in direct violation of our values and policies, and will not be tolerated," Barr said in a statement.

"Any allegations of misconduct will be thoroughly investigated and following investigation, when warranted, may result in disciplinary measures up to and including possible dismissal." 

Barr added that several meetings were held last week to come up with new measures that will "help us strengthen the safety and security of our community."

About the Author

Steve Rukavina

Steve Rukavina is a journalist with CBC Montreal.