HALIFAX (CUP) — Dentistry students at Dalhousie University were back to class Jan. 12 as the school’s senate debated disciplining men involved in the now-notorious Facebook scandal. The senate postponed a formal decision on stepping in with a discipline committee, despite a robust debate at that afternoon’s meeting.
Thirteen male students are taking separate classes and banned from degree-required clinic work. They’re said, by the school, to be members of a private Facebook group in which misogynistic and sexually explicit comments were posted, sometimes mentioning female classmates by name. Twelve of thirteen men identified as group members are participating in a restorative justice process under the school’s sexual harassment policy.
Letitia Meynell, senate member and professor of philosophy and gender and women’s studies, moved to have the senate take more control over the investigation into the involved male students. The senate oversees the university’s academic decisions, including using a discipline committee.
The motion Meynell submitted on Dec. 23 was postponed indefinitely after the senate ran out of time to continue the discussion.
Since then, the university independently has announced ways to handle the situation: an external investigation through a President’s Joint Task Force into misogyny, sexism, and homophobia in dentistry department and a faculty committee to assess the professional standards of the men. Those negate, said Florizone, the need for senate involvement. The senate ran out of time discussing this, so voted to postpone.
The faculty committee — the Academic Standards Class Committee (ASCC) — is made up of dentistry professors who teach fourth-year classes. They will judge whether the men meet professional and academic standards. While the process is secret, Dalhousie’s president has said it may result in public disciplinary action.
Many members of the Dalhousie community have expressed outrage through the social media hashtag #dalhousiehateswomen, a public statement and an online petition to expel the men, which almost 50,000 people signed. The community has also held two protests.
Students deserve ‘due process’: professor
Meynell said senate involvement is needed.
“There’s a real question about perception in the general public, and whether that will be enough to restore confidence in the faculty. I think it would be appropriate for the Senate to conduct that investigation itself rather than having it internal to the faculty.”
At issue is that staff and faculty have been implicated by the Facebook posts in the group itself. The Coast reported three male faculty and staff were mentioned by group members, who suggested their behaviour represented the group’s views. One group member wrote a professor was “under more heat for sexual harassment than anyone” and “gives a final with 69 questions. What a boss.”
Senate debate follows other process complaints
Fourteen women and 12 of the 13 men are also participating in an informal resolution — or restorative justice process — under Dalhousie’s sexual harassment policy. The process resolves complaints, according to the policy, and does not result in a finding of harassment, nor does it go on a student’s academic record.
Four female students wrote a letter Jan. 6 to President Florizone, disagreeing with the process.
“We feel that the University is pressuring us into this process, silencing our views, isolating us from our peers, and discouraging us from choosing to proceed formally. This has perpetuated our experience of discrimination,” wrote the four women in the letter. “This approach falls far below what we expected from you, and what we believe we deserve.”
The university rejected a complaint made by four faculty members on behalf of those students. It’s under the Student Code of Conduct, meaning a formal and transparent investigation with a clear decision of guilt or innocence, without having to name the women involved. The school said the ASCC is more than qualified to handle the investigation, along with the task force.
The school’s legal counsel said at the senate meeting no criminal charges have been filed to police regarding the men. Florizone said that, so far, the university has not found sufficient evidence.
Meynell’s motion was postponed indefinitely, but it could be back on the table at the next senate meeting, in conjunction with a second motion she attempted to file last minute regarding the concerns about the ASCC and whether or not that body could do its job effectively.
“There’s a question of timeline, and if you put it off too long, it might cease to exist.”
The next senate meeting is scheduled for Jan. 26. If enough senate members are so inclined, an emergency meeting could be called for next week.
—With files from Rachel Ward