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Convocation speaker apologizes for 'Playboy' remark at Western University

Businessman and philanthropist Aubrey Dan has apologized for a remark he made during a convocation ceremony at Western University on Friday, which some faculty members deemed sexist.

Businessman Aubrey Dan cited magazine's 1980s assessment of school's female students

Businessman and philanthropist Aubrey Dan told Western University graduates on Friday that Playboy magazine's assessment of the women at the school led him to transfer there in 1983. (Western University)

Businessman and philanthropist Aubrey Dan has apologized for a remark he made during a convocation ceremony at Western University on Friday, which some faculty members deemed sexist.

During his address to the graduating class, Dan — an alumnus of the London, Ont., school — cited Playboy when he recalled his reasoning for transferring there as an adolescent.

"According to Playboy magazine, at that time, the women are among the best in North America, and obviously they still are," he said. His comments were followed by audible laughter. A video of the moment is on the university's website. 

I am sorry that anyone was offended by the comments in my speech.— Aubrey Dan

Dan — whose name is now attached to the university's Department of Management and Organizational Studies — also remarked that the old name, Administrative and Commercial Studies, "sounded so secretarial."

Johanna Weststar, an associate professor in the department, called on her colleagues to push for an apology. 

"I'm really embarrassed and offended by that. It's just not acceptable to be making comments like this," she told CBC News, describing the comments as "sexist" and "demeaning." 

"These comments have absolutely no place in our social discourse."

Prof. Julie Aitken Schermer said she was "disappointed" by Dan's comments. 

He's not apologizing for his actions, he's apologizing for how his words have been perceived.— Johanna Weststar, Western University

"You're supposed to be an inspiration to the students and if your name is on the department's title, then you're somebody that people look up to," she said.

Dan, who is the founder and president of Dancap Global Asset Management and Dancap Private Equity, said his comments had "nothing to do with being sexist at all."

"I am sorry that anyone was offended by the comments in my speech, which was far from my intention," he said in a statement emailed to CBC News. 

"My remarks were made to provide a context of what goes through a 19-year-old's mind when deciding back in 1983 to go to Western." 

He added that he commented on the program's old name because it "did not enhance the value of what the students were learning." 

University apologizes

In a separate statement, the university said it "values a respectful learning and work environment."

"We sincerely apologize to those who attended this Convocation ceremony and all others who were offended by these remarks."

But Weststar says Dan's apology falls short. 

"He's not apologizing for his actions, he's apologizing for how his words have been perceived," she said.

"I hope that he shows some learning and some acknowledgement of an appropriate contextual and contemporary reference on how we treat women… that's not an apology," she added.