Enrolment suspended after report finds UVic Indigenous Governance program left students 'traumatized'

The University of Victoria is suspending new student enrolment for its Indigenous Governance program after a third-party review of the program found evidence of "dysfunctional classroom dynamics" that left current and former students "traumatized."

University of Victoria plans to redesign program during year-long hiatus

The 'environmental review' of the Indigenous Governance program began last fall after the dean received a complaint in June 2017.

The University of Victoria says it's "truly sorry" after a third-party review of its Indigenous Governance program found evidence of "dysfunctional classroom dynamics" that left current and former students "traumatized."

The university has decided to suspend new student enrolment for the graduate program, known as IGOV, for the 2018-2019 academic year to allow time for a revamp, said Nancy Wright, associate vice-president for academic planning.

"We see redeveloping this program as part of a process of healing and reconciliation," said Wright.

A confidential "participant's report," prepared by two conflict resolution experts and based on interviews with 30 current and former students and faculty, said the program suffered from "discrimination" and "hyper-masculinity" that provided little classroom space for diverse points of view.

"Most of those we heard from described the IGOV learning environment as stressful, in part, because of difficult classroom dynamics caused by a sense of entitlements, competition and unpredictability," said the April 19 report, released to participants and obtained by CBC News.

"From our interviews, it was apparent that the emotional and psychological impact of dysfunctional classroom dynamics can be profound."

The university hired Madeleine Kétéskwew Dion Stout, a retired professor and nurse who specializes in Indigenous health, racism, lateral violence and trauma, and Jamie Chicanot, a partner with ADR Education, a firm specializing in workplace conflict resolution, to conduct the review.

Concerns may already be well-known to school, says report

The report said there was a feeling the program had "little tolerance for LGBTQ and two-spirited individuals" along with "inherent tensions" connected to the role and inclusion of "non-Indigenous students in the program."

The report recommended the university improve the program's "professionalism and classroom dynamics" by developing protocols "based on local Indigenous teachings and traditions."

It also recommended land-based education and creating more culturally and academically appropriate support systems along with anti-bullying and racism training.

The report also found that there was an "overarching impression that the concerns expressed to us are well known to the university."

Jeff Kanohalidoh Corntassel is the former director of the Indigenous Governance program. The university says he has taken on a new role with the Indigenous Studies department. (YouTube image/University of Victoria Indigenous law research unit)

Wright said the university appointed Dion Stout and Chicanot to lead the "environmental review" of the program last fall after the dean received a complaint in June 2017.

"In this case we implemented a specific university process ... to evaluate strengths and challenges," said Wright.

"It's not a fault-finding exercise and to assign blame."

Wright said former IGOV director Jeff Kanohalidoh Corntassel had decided to take a new position with the Indigenous Studies department, but it was not directly connected to the outcome of the review.

"He has chosen that opportunity," said Wright.

University to work toward rebuilding trust with students

In a letter to IGOV alumni, Valerie Kuehne, provost and vice-president academic, said the university would be working with a team of Indigenous scholars and local Elders and community members to guide the redesign of the program.

"The university recognizes that there is work to be done in rebuilding that essential element of trust with students, faculty, staff, alumni of the program and the community," wrote Kuehne, in an April 19 letter obtained by CBC News.

The report noted that the program, which began in the late 1990s, was too good to let fail.

"The fundamental value and importance of a program such as IGOV is undeniable," said the report.

"It is an essential contributor to and catalyst for scholarship and academic discourse on issues such as decolonization, nationhood, resurgence and reconciliation."

The program currently has 24 master's and seven PhD students enrolled. The university said about 11 new students — 10 master's and one doctoral — were scheduled to take the program in the coming year. Wright said those students would be accommodated.


Jorge Barrera is a Caracas-born, award-winning journalist who has worked across the country and internationally. He works for CBC's investigative unit based out of Ottawa. Follow him on Twitter @JorgeBarrera or email him