After Concordia, McGill faces its own #metoo moment

Students leaders at McGill University are alleging the school has done nothing to address complaints against at least five professors in the Faculty of Arts for "abusive" behaviour and allegations of sexual violence.

Student society says at least 5 profs known for 'abusive' behaviour and 'sexual violence'

The Students' Society of McGill University is alleging senior administrators in the Faculty of Arts are aware of allegations 'abusive' behaviour and sexual violence against at least five professors, but have failed to act. (McGill University)

Student leaders at McGill University are alleging the school has done nothing to address complaints against at least five professors in the Faculty of Arts for "abusive" behaviour and allegations of sexual violence.

The bad behaviour ranges from professors holding office hours in bars, to routinely sleeping with students who are in their classes, to being in abusive relationships with students they're supervising, according to ​Connor Spencer, vice-president of external affairs for the Students' Society of McGill University.

CBC News has not independently verified any of the allegations, and the SSMU didn't offer any specific details on the nature of the allegations.

Spencer described the behaviour of these professors as an "open secret" and said senior university administrators are aware of the allegations and the professors involved but have failed to act.

"Everyone's aware of where the problems are, and no one's doing anything to address it, year after year," Spencer said.

The SSMU has written an open letter to the university demanding an external investigation into the office of the Dean of Arts' handling of the complaints.

It's expected to offer more details at a news conference Thursday.

Victims discouraged from filing complaints

Spencer said several students have made informal complaints to individual department heads about problem professors within the faculty over the last five years. 

However, she said the department heads have little power to follow up, and complaints are often stalled at the office of the Dean of Arts.

She said the current system is set up to dissuade students from launching formal complaints.

"In some departments, students are too afraid to come forward because the professors in question are incredibly mobilized and have 'lawyered up,'" Spencer said.
Students' Society of McGill University vice-president Connor Spencer says the bad behavior of the five professors is an 'open secret.' (Leah Hendry/CBC)

"In other departments, students are really discouraged from filing a complaint. They're told their case would just be dismissed or that it's too complicated a process, and it's not worth them going through it," she added.

"There's a flaw in the system somewhere because what's happening on the ground is not getting up to the complaints process."

Spencer said the administration often falls back on the excuse that unless a formal complaint is filed, it has no power to act.

"I've been in rooms with high level administration where it's been very clear that they all know who these professors are, and they're not doing anything. It's frankly horrifying," Spencer said.

The goal of the letter is to get the administration to take a more proactive stance in creating a space where students feel comfortable filing complaints.

University responds

McGill University issued a statement Wednesday afternoon, saying that resources and policies are in place for people to come forward with these types of complaints.

"These are matters we take very seriously," said Louis Arseneault, the vice-principal of communication and external relations at McGill.

"Every report or complaint of sexual misconduct, abuse of authority through sexual misconduct or 'predatory behaviour' that contains sufficiently detailed facts is investigated," read the statement.

"Sexual misconduct is a very serious problem in our society, and we must remain vigilant and act to combat it."

McGill stated that due to Quebec privacy law, the university cannot disclose when it is conducting investigations or what results may come from an investigation.

Inspired by Concordia

Spencer said the SSMU was prompted to act in part by allegations of sexual misconduct in Concordia University's creative writing department.

Concordia has launched an independent investigation into those allegations, as a well as creating a task force to look at the climate university-wide.
Concordia University president Alan Shepard said the university was not trying to 'sweep anything under the rug' after sexual misconduct allegations surfaced regarding its creative writing program. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

"Watching what was going on at Concordia was simultaneously really exciting but really frustrating," Spencer said.

"Even if the Concordia admin's reaction was not the best, at least they committed to addressing these issues and launched an investigation," she said.

"That showed to us it can be done, despite having a lack of formal complaints."


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About the Author

Steve Rukavina

Steve Rukavina is a journalist with CBC Montreal.