'Ashamed to be your alumnus': Former U of M student returns degree after Steve Kirby allegations
Daniel Jordan says university’s handling of sexual harassment allegations reflects its complicity
A former University of Manitoba student has returned his degree because of the institution's handling of sexual harassment allegations against former jazz professor Steve Kirby.
Daniel Jordan put his degree for completing a bachelor of music in 2012 in an envelope, along with a letter for the faculty of music's dean and university's president, and mailed it back to the institution on Thursday afternoon.
"I felt incredibly sad. I felt sad that I wasn't going to have this piece of paper," Jordan said after mailing the degree.
"And I mostly felt sad that there were so many students, that in addition to the blood sweat and tears and the hard work that goes into a degree, also did that while being afraid and victimized and harassed."
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In September, a CBC I-Team investigation revealed that Kirby had left the university after an internal investigation report found he repeatedly made inappropriate sexual comments and unwanted sexual contact with a female student.
The student was critical of the university and said she was "angry" over how the internal investigation was handled, saying it didn't do enough to create a safe environment for female students.
According to the report, Kirby denied many of the points raised by the complainant and "denies all claims made of any sexual innuendo or outright sexual approaches."
That woman was part of a group of current and former students who made allegations of sexual misconduct against Kirby in February. Nearly a dozen former students and members of the university community spoke with CBC News saying concerns regarding Kirby's behaviour were well known and reported to the university for nearly a decade.
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Jordan said he thought it was incredibly brave the women came forward and initially "naively expected that a university was going to be progressive and lead the way in how this could be handled."
"When they chose not to say anything and not to take any action I was disgusted," he said.
Jordan said he called and emailed the dean of the Desautels Faculty of Music and the U of M president, but the answers were not forthcoming.
"When I realized they weren't going to take any action — even after repeated calls, even after the story had come out, even after the investigation had been done — this was the last thing I could think of doing," he said.
"I refused to be silent and not do anything when I see this kind of stuff happen because it's just too common, and it's silence and inaction that perpetuates this toxic culture of sexual harassment."
'No value to me except as a token of protest'
After the allegations against Kirby came to light, the university emailed staff and students asking for feedback about its sexual harassment and work environment policies. The University of Manitoba Students' Union told CBC News earlier this month that it is working with the university to see mandatory training for sexual violence and sensitivity training added for staff and faculty.
With allegations going back a decade, Jordan said the university should have already taken immediate action. He said the university has shown it won't face "the very real pain suffered at their institution" and is therefore complicit.
While letting go of his degree, thinking about the years of work he put into it, has been difficult, Jordan said he would only want it back if the U of M admits what happened, apologizes to the women, changes its policies, and demonstrates they are going to take action.
"If that apology is accepted by those women and the four things were done then I would consider wanting to have my degree back," he said.
"Until then it would actually have no value to me except as a token of protest."
He posted a photo of the degree on Facebook before mailing it, writing online that he hoped the university would find the courage to stand against sexual harassment and systemic abuse of power.
"Until then, I remain ashamed to be your alumnus, devoid of respect for you or your institution," he wrote.
In an email to CBC News, U of M public affairs executive director John Danakas said the university respects Jordan's thoughts and feelings and all concerns brought forward are taken seriously.
"The kinds of conduct described are unacceptable in any environment, and are not consistent with the values of the University of Manitoba. The University community is committed to working together to ensure a safe and respectful work and learning environment," he said.
"These are important matters that require collaboration among a wide variety of individuals and groups. The University welcomes input from all who care deeply about these issues, including this former student."
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