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UBC faculty members apologize for inaction on sexual assault

The University of British Columbia campus is pictured in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Dozens of University of British Columbia professors have signed an open letter apologizing for not doing more to protect students and alumni from sexual assaults, amid continued scrutiny of the school's handling of such cases.

The letter, which was dated Jan. 6 and by Thursday evening had 69 signatories hailing from a diverse group of faculties, says the university's systems for reporting sexual harassment and assault caused additional harm to victims.

"We apologize to the people affected for not doing and not demanding better," it says. "We, as a group of UBC faculty members, wish now publicly to acknowledge this harm that resulted from a failure of UBC to take as seriously as it should its duties of care to members of its community. As faculty members, we share in a responsibility to ensure that UBC fulfill its obligations to protect its community."

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The school has appointed an independent investigator to examine how it responded to complaints of sexual harassment and assault from a number of female students against a graduate student. A CBC documentary that aired in November reported that it took the university a year and a half to investigate these complaints before it eventually expelled the grad student.

In the letter, the faculty members pledge to take "an active part in improving UBC's policies and procedures regarding sexual assault and related matters of safety and equity," and put pressure on the university to implement reforms before the next school year starts in September.

The professors say the school's problems "do not seem limited to efficiency or timeliness, and we need more than a discussion."

Sara-Jane Finlay, UBC's associate vice-president of equity and inclusion, said two separate reviews are under way.

"You will see things begin to happen very quickly over the next few months," she said Thursday. "I understand that there's a real desire for expediency and we feel that as well."

The independent investigator, Paula Butler, a Vancouver-based labour lawyer who specializes in workplace harassment and discrimination, is to report back by mid-February on how the university treated several women who brought complaints to the equity office. A summary of her report will be publicly released but, to protect the women, details of the investigation will not be made public, UBC has said.

Ms. Finlay said that by next week, she and her colleagues will be finished crafting the terms of reference for a much larger, systemic review into improving UBC's policies and practices in addressing sexual assault and harassment.

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That will include consultations with a wide range of faculty, students and staff at the university, and result in an "action plan" to roll out substantive reforms over the next year or two, she said. She couldn't say when this systemic review might be finished, but added that interim president Martha Piper expects results before her term ends on June 30.

"She will want to see these things under way or in place prior to her departure," Ms. Finlay said.

Jonathan Ichikawa, an associate professor of philosophy who first published the letter, said the idea for the "rather symbolic" gesture came together when a handful of academics met in December to discuss the disturbing revelations of the CBC documentary.

"There's a sense in which there's not a whole lot that we, as individuals, can do," he said on Thursday. "Which is why one of the things that we felt was important was to take our place in the UBC community and advocate for taking these issues seriously."

"We know how big organizations can work. It's easy for these things to just drag out for years and it's important to us that that does not happen."

Prof. Ichikawa said he has already received a positive online response from students appreciative of his group's solidarity.

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In an unrelated case, the university is also investigating unspecified allegations made against author Steven Galloway, who was suspended as chair of the creative writing program.

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About the Author
News reporter

Mike Hager is a general assignment reporter at the newspaper’s B.C. bureau. He grew up in Vancouver and graduated from the University of Western Ontario’s Huron College and Langara College. Before joining The Globe and Mail, he spent three years working for The Vancouver Sun. More

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