Anti-vaccination instruction at Queen's needs review, students urge
University begins investigation into teaching on vaccines and health
The teachings of Melody Torcolacci, a professor who allegedly promotes anti-vaccination views at Queen’s University, have prompted calls by a student group asking for her course information to be reviewed and fact-checked.
When students in Torcolacci’s first-year physical determinants of health class took a test Tuesday on vaccination materials, some took to social media to complain about how she cited a disproven study linking autism to vaccines.
The course description for HLTH 102 in the school of kinesiology and health studies lists "vaccines and health" as part of a course to "help you appreciate that it is cumulative, long-term exposures to seemly [sic] harmless things that can ultimately affect your health."
Torcolacci, a former national champion shot putter and Queen's track coach, is listed by the Kingston, Ont.-based university as a continuing adjunct.
The Alma Mater Society, which represents students to the university and externally, is raising objections to the course.
"The knowledge portrayed in the slide show for this course in no way meets the scholarly objectives set forth by the university," said Colin Zarzour, academic affairs commissioner for the society.
"Students and professors from Queen's and elsewhere are deeply, deeply concerned by the fact it's being taught in a university-level course and specifically that students are being graded on this."
Students have been talking about the professor for two years, but the discussion has recently amplified on social media channels, Zarzour said.
Dr. Ian Gemmill, Kingston's medical officer of health, said he wrote to Queen's two years ago to object, after he saw the slides from a friend's child.
Zarzour is seeking reassurance from the university that a review is in place on the quality of courses at Queen’s to ensure the situation doesn’t happen again, while continuing to respect academic freedom.
"It's a pretty popular course at Queen's," said Steven Patterson, who was shocked by the slides, videos and lack of credible information presented when he took the course.
"There's not always two legitimate sides," Patterson said.
Zarzour also wants to help create a better tool to help the university tap into student feedback.
On Wednesday, Queen’s principal Daniel Woolf tweeted: "I am aware of the situation regarding HLTH 102 and have asked the provost to work with Arts and Science to gather more information."
Provost Alan Harrison said he's started an investigation.
"We have expectations of all our faculty members that they will present available scientific evidence and they will do so comprehensively. If they have biases, they have to make them known," Harrison said in an interview.
Torcolacci did not respond to requests for comment from CBC News.
With files from CBC's Kim Brunhuber and Melanie Glanz