Concordia Announces Upcoming Policy on Student-Faculty Relationships

Student Senators Express Concerns Over Timeline of Investigation

  • Shepard was originally scheduled to go on a trip with the Quebec government to China to discuss higher education opportunities, but canceled in order to be present at the senate meeting. Senate is Concordia’s highest academic decision making body. Archive Brandon Johnston

Concordia University will be releasing a clarification to their conflict of interest policy regarding intimate relationships between students, staff and faculty.

The policy was supposed to be released at the end of the month, but due to recent allegations in the English department, will likely be released next week, Concordia President Alan Shepard announced.

“Under the law, [Bill 151], we don’t have the opportunity to ban them outright,” Shepard said at a Senate meeting Friday. “What we can do is say we strongly discourage such relationships and if you’re in one or going to be in one, there are steps that the employee must take under a conflict of interest policy.”

Bill 151 is the Quebec government’s new law which aims to prevent sexual violence on campus. It states higher education institutions must have a policy to fight sexual violence before Jan. 1, 2019.

The conflict of interest clarifications will state that if a student and professor are in a relationship that is deemed to be a conflict of interest, the professor will be unable to grade them, sit on committees that award them scholarships, supervise or teach them, Shepard said.

“We’re taking all of these allegations very seriously,” he said. “I wanted to express an apology on behalf of Concordia for all of the anguish that are being reported by alumni, current students, and others for the experiences that they’re reporting.”

Shepard was originally scheduled to go on a trip with the Quebec government to China to discuss higher education opportunities, but canceled in order to be present at the senate meeting. Senate is Concordia’s highest academic decision making body.

On Jan. 8, 2018, former Concordia student Mike Spry published a blog post title “No Names, Only Monsters.” The blog post details several accounts of sexual misconduct by professors in the creative writing program. While Spry’s account wasn’t the first to be published, it gained widespread media attention and kicked off Concordia’s investigation.

Shepard held a press conference soon after, where he said the school was going to address the allegations and investigate them.
Shepard hopes to have the investigation on the sexual misconduct allegations in Concordia’s creative writing program finished by the end of this semester.

The third party investigator has already been hired, and is currently signing a contract with Concordia, said Shepard, who added that he couldn’t reveal who the investigator was due to legal reasons.

Shepard also said that in addition to the task force, led by Deputy Provost Lisa Ostiguy, another third party will be looking at the English Department as a whole in order to make sure other situations of sexual misconduct do not happen again.

Student Concerns

Student senators expressed concerns regarding the school’s timeline to complete the investigation, out of fear of a lack of transparency and accountability in the process.

“If we don’t have any idea of what’s happening [in a] 3 month window, how can we be sure that [the process will] wind up there in the end,” said Leyla Sutherland, the Concordia Student Union’s student life coordinator.

She added that if a timeline isn’t respected, there’s a risk of the investigation going past mandates of many student senators, that will therefore, lose their ability to speak up about the issue and hold the school accountable.

Sutherland also said that while it’s great that the university has clarified the guidelines for their conflict of interest policy, it’s not as relevant as people seem to think it is.

“[The policy] is about consensual relationships, and every person who’s come forward has expressed how these things are not consensual and harassment,” she said. “It doesn’t really have any impact on how those things happened in the past, and how they will be treated moving forward.”

The Concordia Association for Students in English also had many concerns and demands regarding the investigation into the allegations of sexual misconduct, and the review of the english department.

Included in the list was a demand that Concordia apologize for dismissing an article written by Emma Healy in 2014, in which she recounted her experience of sexual assault at the hands of a professor, and that they hire a student-approved third party organization to provide survivor-oriented support to affected students and alumni.

While CASE’s concerns were not directly addressed at senate, Shepard said that Concordia’s English Department will be meeting with CASE as soon as an investigator is hired to review that department.

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