McGill profs back students in call for investigation into sexual misconduct allegations

Nearly 150 McGill University professors have come out in support of the student union in its call for an external investigation into the handling of complaints of sexual misconduct involving faculty members.

Response goes 'against the university's mission of critical inquiry into social problems,' prof says

A statue of James McGill is pictured on the McGill University campus Tuesday, June 21, 2016 in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Nearly 150 McGill University professors have come out in support of the student union in its call for an external investigation into the handling of complaints of sexual misconduct involving faculty members.

In an open letter to the administration, the professors say they have a commitment to upholding a "learning environment where students feel safe." 

"The lack of transparency concerning how complaints are handled against faculty members, who abuse their positions of power in this way, creates a toxic work and learning environment, and often places an invisible burden on other faculty members," says the letter, signed by 148 professors.

The professors urge the university to come up with a clear policy that bans sexual relationships between students and faculty who are in a position to influence their careers. It also asks for a stand-alone sexual violence policy.

The letter says McGill needs to "publicly acknowledge the fact that this issue affects the entire McGill community and the university's reputation."

History professor Shanon Fitzpatrick, one of signatories, said she's disappointed by McGill's reaction to the students' complaints. Provost Christopher Manfredi said in a university-wide email earlier this month the administration does not ignore reports of sexual misconduct and every formal report or complaint is duly investigated.

'Shutting down a line of communication'

But Fitzpatrick said it's clear students don't agree. She feels the way McGill responded is not encouraging people to come forward.

"It's actively shutting down a line of communication," said Fitzpatrick. "That to me goes against the university's mission of critical inquiry into social problems."

Last week, hundreds of students from McGill and Concordia universities organized a walk-out together. They argued their schools are not doing enough to address complaints about alleged abusive behaviour and sexual misconduct. 

Hundreds of students from McGill and Concordia universities organized a walk-out together earlier this month, saying their schools are not doing enough to address complaints of abusive behaviour and sexual misconduct. (CBC)

The walk-out followed an open letter from McGill's student union at the beginning of April, now signed by more than two thousand students.

McGill's student union said in an email Monday that unless the university responds to its demand for an investigation by the end of the day, they will ask the Quebec government to step in.

McGill University did not immediately return a request for comment Monday.