McGill accused of admissions impropriety

September 26, 2003

A Canadian university enrolled unqualified offspring of influential people and academically inferior varsity athletes, a former admissions director told a court during a hearing over her claim for wrongful dismissal.

Peggy Ann Sheppard is suing McGill University for more than C$1.4 million (£640,000) in a dispute that began in 1986, 15 years after she began working at the university. She said that during this time she suffered accumulated pressure from administrators, alumni, high-school teachers and coaches to admit below-par students.

Ms Sheppard told the court in Montreal that she felt pressure from the principal and vice-principal at the time to admit a student who "had a powerful father", but whose grade-point average was below McGill's minimum.

Judge Michele Monast agreed with Mc Gill lawyers not to disclose names, but in an earlier hearing it was revealed the student was the son of Robert Kaplan, a former provincial cabinet minister.

Ms Sheppard said demands also came from the director of athletics to admit a football player who had been rejected because of his marks.

Ms Sheppard's former boss, Edward Stansbury, who had been vice-principal and chairperson of the admissions committee, said in court that he felt pressure from parents and alumni to reverse rejections.

Dr Stansbury said that in one case, where the son of a prominent person unsuccessfully applied to an undergraduate programme, an associate dean reversed the decision by using a rarely used discretionary measure of categorising the applicant as "a special student", normally used for scholars who already hold an undergraduate degree.

Ms Sheppard, a former senior administrator, was known for sticking closely to the strict policies of the university and claims McGill pushed her out in part because of her opposition to the administration's alleged lapses of policy. This is the second hearing. The first was dismissed in February 2001 when a three-judge panel eventually agreed that the presiding judge had not given Ms Sheppard a fair hearing.

A McGill spokesperson said it would not comment on the case. Lead counsel William Atkinson said that the facts of the case would eventually disprove Ms Sheppard's allegations.

The case is expected to end in November.

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