Nova Scotia

Dalhousie dentistry report: University had culture of 'misogyny, homophobia and racism'

Dalhousie University’s faculty of dentistry permitted a culture of "sexism, misogyny, homophobia and racism," an independent report into a controversial Facebook group has found.

Report ordered after controversial Facebook group degrades female students at Halifax university

What the Dalhousie dentistry report says

8 years ago
Duration 55:09
What the Dalhousie dentistry report says

Dalhousie University's faculty of dentistry permitted a culture of "sexism, misogyny, homophobia and racism," an independent report into a controversial Facebook group has found.

The report, released Monday, identified several main themes behind the so-called Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen group.

The panel said the controversial incidents affected staff and students.

"Given the number, the duration and the range of people who told us about them, they cannot be dismissed as isolated," it said.

"One alumnus said that dentistry lived in a 'time warp,' oblivious to social progress that has rendered some behaviour unacceptable."

Other universities 'heaving sighs of relief'

Constance Backhouse, a university professor and university research chair at the University of Ottawa, led the panel. She said Dalhousie was not alone in having such a culture. 

"We heard repeatedly that other universities and faculties across the country were heaving sighs of relief that this scandal had not erupted in their backyards," she said. 

"The eruption comes from the courage and energy of the protesters and they complained because they think they might actually be heard."

She said there were no simple right answers, but there were some obviously wrong ones.

"Minimizing what happened would be wrong. This was not an isolated incident. And the status quo is unacceptable. Furthermore, allowing the defensiveness that we all feel when challenged on sexism and heterosexism and racism to blunt our ability to change is counterproductive," she said. 

Backhouse said several female professors reported sexist treatment from male colleagues. Female dental students recounted sexist comments and sexual harassment from their instructors.

"We were able to confirm that one male professor was terminated for cause two years ago because of sexual relationships with two female students. One professor showed a video of women in bikinis to his class. He was asked to apologize, which he later did," she said. 

Members of the task force, which was created after a controversial Facebook group came to light in late 2014, presented their findings to the media on Monday.

Dalhousie University president Richard Florizone said he accepts the report's findings. (CBC)

Dalhousie president Richard Florizone set up the group in January, and asked it to look at the culture, practices and policies within the faculty, and to consider broader policies and practices at Dalhousie. He said he accepted the report's findings and hoped to have the majority of the panel's recommendations in place within 24 months.

"We will have made substantial progress by then."

Florizone would not commit to establishing "a fully funded ombudsperson office" as recommended by the panel. "I will consider it," he said.

The task force's report said many distrusted the university's response to reports of discrimination, and the phrase "swept under the rug" kept cropping up.

The faculty has no formal complaints process, and most people seemed afraid to complain informally for fear of retaliation, the report found.

"They had little confidence that anything would be done anyway. Within the university, racist graffiti are simply painted over and most complaints are handled confidentially," it said.

Report calls for systemic change

The report said Dalhousie's overall policies and processes for dealing with equity issues are as good as or better than other Canadian universities. They don't need to be redrafted, it said.

"We think whistleblowers and others who lodge complaints need more support and protection from retaliation," it said.

It calls for systemic change through education and research. 

The panel said the report was not to assign blame.

"The evidence received gave us no cause to cast aspersions on the motives or intentions of any of the decision-makers."

Backhouse worked with Don McRae, a professor at the University of Ottawa, and Nitya Iyer, a lawyer with expertise in human rights and professional regulation.

It comes after an internal report last month into the same issue found a long history of sexism, homophobia and racism within the faculty. 

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