The report mandated by U of M president David Barnard in fall 2018 to address sexual violence on campus has arrived with over 40 recommendations and a six-month deadline.
The independent review, titled “Responding to Sexual Violence, Harassment & Discrimination at the University of Manitoba: A Path Forward,” was presented Tuesday in an open community meeting and includes 43 recommendations to the university.
Barnard said the university has accepted all 43 recommendations and will be initiating the first immediately — that the U of M establish an implementation committee chaired by one of the university’s vice-presidents to oversee action regarding the recommendations.
Barnard said he is committed to a timeline where the committee will “identify clear plans and timelines for each of the recommendations within the next six months.”
“It will be the responsibility of the implementation team to consider any relevant implications and establish the best means to bring the recommendations to life,” he said.
Historical complaints common, inappropriate behaviour often starts in social situations
The report was prepared by two lawyers — Helga Van Iderstine, who was in attendance at the presentation and briefed the audience on the report, and Donna Miller. It contains research including some that resulted from more than 35 interviews with people in the U of M community. Review for the report took place from November 2018 to June 2019.
The U of M also provided the reviewers confidential access to recent external investigation reports, all of which had been brought to the office of human rights and conflict management and then investigated externally.
Van Iderstine emphasized the report is not meant to be investigative on a case-by-case basis.
“One of the things that we did not do, that was not part of our mandate, was to cast blame, or to re-investigate complaints and investigations that had been previously reviewed,” she said.
The report found that complaints included “sexual misconduct […] personal harassment, favouritism and reprisals.” Not all of the complaints were substantiated, and some were not in violation of current U of M policies.
Historical complaints, those filed past the university’s limitation period, were also part of the collection. The report noted these were more likely to be complaints from a student against a faculty member, and students in this scenario often expressed concerns over how the complaint could affect their degree.
Social activities, including off-campus field trips, were found to be a common source of inappropriate behaviour.
”No wrong door” model criticized, resource centre recommended
One of the main concerns touched on in both the presentation and the full report is the university’s “no wrong door” approach to reporting sexual violence.
This model provides multiple points of accessibility to someone seeking services or support. The report refers to the policy as “valuable” because of its inherent accessibility, but notes that “a survivor/victim of sexual violence or racism, for example, may disclose their experience to virtually anyone at the [U of M.]”
The concern with this approach stems from the fact that “the survivor/victim may be required to tell their story to multiple individuals” and that “an issue that warrants further investigation may not be investigated if it’s not brought to the attention of the [office of human rights and conflict management or its equivalent,]” according to the report.
Research also found that many interviewees were not sure of the exact process of making a formal complaint at the university.
The report recommends the U of M create a sexual violence resource centre, which would become a central point of contact for any person in the U of M community affected by sexual violence.
“This is to provide advice and follow-up so consistency occurs and people — and problems — don’t slip through the cracks,” Van Iderstine said at the presentation.
“The centre would make coming forward more accessible and would help correct the weaknesses I described earlier in the current ’no wrong door’ model, where disclosures can be made, but there can be a lack of follow through.”
The “no wrong door” approach has been implemented widely at the government level since 2018, when Premier Brian Pallister announced it would be part of a new harassment policy.
Ban on student-teacher relationships where teacher supervises student recommended
Currently, the U of M requires any personal relationship between a university employee and a student they hold any authority over to be disclosed to the university, and while these relationships are discouraged, they are not prohibited.
The report recommends this be pushed to an outright ban on intimate student-staff relationships where the staff supervises the student in any capacity.
“The teacher-student relationship is one which is built on a foundation of trust,” Van Iderstine said.
“This involves a power imbalance. It makes intimate relationships between students and faculty untenable.”
This policy, if fully implemented, will apply to both undergraduate and graduate students, and disciplinary measures will “at least” include suspension without pay.
UMSU released a statement in January calling on the university to implement policies prohibiting certain student-faculty relationships.
The report recommends intimate relationships between university employees where a power dynamic is present continue to fall under the conflict of interest policy.
A timely report
The review comes after Barnard publicly apologized to students affected by inappropriate behaviour on campus following several prominent sexual assault cases at the university in recent years.
In 2017, jazz professor Steve Kirby was allowed to retire and received what some called a positive recommendation from the university even after allegations of sexual harassment were found to hold merit.
In August 2018, former associate dean at the faculty of medicine Gary Allan Joseph Harding was convicted of professional misconduct and stripped of his medical licence after he allegedly made non-consensual sexual advances toward two students.
In December 2018, professor and director of the Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals Peter Jones was placed on leave when it was revealed he had been accused of misconduct, including inappropriate student relationships.
The same day Barnard apologized to students, it was revealed five open investigations under the U of M’s respectful work and learning environment policy and sexual assault policy were underway at the time. There have been no public updates on the investigations since.
The full report can be found here.