Manitoba

U of M banning many faculty-student relationships in wake of sexual harassment allegations

The University of Manitoba will ban intimate relationships between faculty and the students they supervise, as an institution plagued by allegations of sexual misconduct comes to grips with the issue.

Move comes after several high-profile departures of faculty accused of sexual violence

The University of Manitoba has been plagued with allegations of sexual misconduct in recent years. (CBC)

The University of Manitoba will ban intimate relationships between faculty and the students they supervise, as an institution plagued by allegations of sexual misconduct comes to grips with the issue.

Manitoba's largest post-secondary institution revealed on Tuesday it would accept each of the 43 recommendations made by an independent report, which aimed to address sexual violence, harassment and discrimination on campus, including a ban on some romantic relationships.

"The teacher-student relationship is one built on a foundation of trust," said Helga Van Iderstine, one of the report's co-authors. "It makes intimate relationships between students and faculty untenable in our view."

The prohibition comes after several high-profile cases of sexual misconduct at the U of M in recent years.

The controversy continued Tuesday when current education Prof. Clea Schmidt came forward in a packed room as a survivor and told university president David Barnard she felt employees' concerns were left out of the report.

"Yesterday I received my 15-year award for 15 years of service at this institution, but rather than go online and pick a pen or a water bottle or a sweatshirt or something, I would just like my next 15 years at this institution to not be plagued by the sexual violence that I've experienced for the past 15 years," she said.

Reprisals for coming forward: prof

She told CBC she's been touched inappropriately and harassed by a male colleague on the job and said when she complained, it only made things worse.

"I was the one who received the reprisals. The individuals who perpetrated the sexual violence were believed over me, at least initially, until certain formal procedures finally vindicated me and established that sexual violence did occur."

Clea Schmidt, a U of M education professor, says she's been touched inappropriately and harassed by a male colleague on the job. She says when she complained, it only made things worse. (John Einarson/CBC)

Barnard said he hopes her next 15 years will be different and he's committed to fully accepting all of the recommendations.

"The intention is not to give short shrift to anyone. There were some specific issues about relationships between faculty and students, but the report is concerned more broadly with the broader issues of sexual violence."

Van Iderstine recommended the university set clear consequences for people who do not adhere to the new rules including "at least" a suspension without pay for anyone who violates the new policy.

University of Manitoba president David Barnard says he's committed to moving forward on the recommendations in the report. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

Barnard told the CBC faculty members who break the rules could be fired if warranted.

The policy would apply to all university students, including professional and graduate students. Van Iderstine said many American universities have these types of restrictions in place, and McGill University implemented a similar policy this spring.

Relationships between university employees who don't have a power imbalance over someone would still be permitted, and remain governed by the U of M's conflict of interest policy.

"There are people on campus who are couples … and we make that work," Barnard said, noting there are almost 30,000 students on campus and thousands of faculty members.

Students' union 'cautiously optimistic'

The report calls for the creation of a sexual violence resource centre on the school's Fort Garry campus ⁠— something the students union has long fought for.

"Overall we're cautiously optimistic," said University of Manitoba Students' Union vice-president advocacy Sarah Bonner-Proulx. 

"I think that the university has done some very laudable work in improving the environment here on campus with respect to sexual violence, discrimination and harassment."

University of Manitoba Students’ Union vice-president advocacy Sarah Bonner-Proulx says they are 'cautiously optimistic' about the proposed changes. (John Einarson/CBC)

The report also says the university should eliminate the current one-year time limit for victims of sexual violence to come forward.

"The evidence is that those who experience sexual violence often delay in reporting," Van Iderstine said.

The report recommends the university examine how it has handled its past sexual violence, harassment and discrimination cases to improve upon its actions.

Anonymous reporting

The report also proposes the university expand the use of a website, currently used by the faculty of medicine, where students and employees can report incidents of sexual violence anonymously.

It is recommended that the U of M establish a university-wide policy on equity, diversity and inclusion.

The University of Manitoba says it will strive to make the institution a safer place by working to eliminate incidents of sexual violence. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The report encourages specific attention be paid to Indigenous people.

A team has been struck to implement the report's recommendations, Barnard said.

Last September, the U of M revealed it had five open investigations into allegations against faculty members. Two of the investigations involved sexual assault. One involved sexual harassment and two involved human rights complaints.

The revelations came after police charged former U of M jazz professor Steve Kirby with sexual assault. That charge was stayed earlier this year.

Peter Jones, then director of the Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals at the University of Manitoba, was put on leave last year pending the outcome of an investigation by the university. (umanitoba.ca)

Peter Jones, the former director of the Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals, retired earlier this year, months after facing allegations of harassment and inappropriate relationships with students.

One of Jones' colleagues alleged he asked him to have a threesome with a graduate student and favoured students he had relationships with.

In 2015, Dr. Gary Allan Joseph Harding, who was accused of asking students for sexual favours, resigned from the university.

He was later stripped of his medical licence for six months by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba.

Barnard refused to say what the status of the five investigations is, citing privacy reasons. He also refused to say how many current investigations are open into sexual misconduct by faculty members ⁠— something he provided last year.

"Given another occasion to do that, I wouldn't give numbers and I'm not giving them now."

He couldn't say how many professors have been fired over the last five years for sexual misconduct or how much Tuesday's report cost.

U of M report on sexual violence Mobile users: View the document
U of M report on sexual violence (PDF KB)
U of M report on sexual violence (Text KB)
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