New Brunswick

U of M drama professor fired after allegations of sexual harassment

The University of Moncton has fired drama professor Andréi Zaharia after an independent investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct, the university announced Thursday in a news release.

Harassment complaints to the university ignored for years, graduates say

Andréi Zaharia's name appeared in accusations by former students on social media. (Radio-Canada)

The University of Moncton fired drama professor Andréi Zaharia after an independent investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct, the university announced Thursday in a news release.

Former students had accused Zaharia of harassment, sexism and misogyny. 

U of M said it commissioned an investigation into the allegations, which came from people who attended the university between 1997 and 2017.

"The Université de Moncton intends to act in an exemplary manner. It is not only a duty, but a responsibility," rector and vice-chancellor Dr. Denis Prud'homme said in the news release.

CBC News tried to speak to Zaharia, but he was not available for comment.

Denis Prud'homme, the new president and vice-chancellor of the University of Moncton, pledged to deal with any complaints 'rigorously.' (Radio-Canada)

'The damage is done'

Alumni Stacy Arsenault said the University of Moncton announcement is a relief, but for her, "the damage is done."

Arsenault said she was verbally harassed by Zaharia throughout her time at the university, from 2012 to 2017. 

"Being asked straight up to my face in a course if I had gained weight. How is that supposed to be about the play we were learning?"

Arsenault complained to the faculty of arts director anonymously along with four other victims. She also raised her concerns with the university ombudsman.

For years, no action was taken and Zaharia's comments got worse, Arsenault said.

Stacy Arseneault was a drama student at the University of Moncton from 2012 to 2017 and had to take courses from Zaharia to graduate. (Wildinette Paul/Radio-Canada)

Arsenault said she started seeing the university psychologist because he was affecting her mental health.

"You are, like, 'OK, I'm not good enough. I won't be into that working field.' It messes with your mental health. I can say that it has with mine. Still today."

Arsenault also met with a conflict resolution person at the university, described the harassment and asked to be allowed to graduate without taking more Zaharia courses.

The answer was no.

In 2018, months after graduating, Arsenault heard the university had hired an intervener for sexual and verbal harassment cases.

"I told her my whole story. They said I couldn't do an official complaint because I was no longer a student."

So Arsenault decided to share her story on social media.

She said when the news media checked into the allegations shared online, "that is when U of M started the investigation that resulted today."

The sisterhood

Writer and director Emma Haché, based in Lamêque, said that in 1997 when she was a University of Moncton student, older women warned younger ones about Zaharia.

"We would hear those kinds of things for years. 'Be careful, don't stay alone with him,'" she said.

Arsenault said she was warned, as well. 

Emma Haché, an Acadian writer and director, thought the university took too long to respond to the problem. (Emma Hache/Facebook)

"It was like a sisterhood."

For Haché, the most important question is how this behaviour could go on for almost 30 years without colleagues noticing.

"This man could not do what he had done with this attitude and if the people, professionals around him, did not accept that kind of action or comments. Why did the people around him accept it?"

Heard for the first time

Even though it took more than four years for actions to be taken, Arsenault said she is thankful the University of Moncton eventually acted.

"For the first time, we were heard," she said.

"Thank you for listening to us and taking real action. That was where it was supposed to go from day one. I guess as a society, we were not there yet."