Sex scandal takes its toll

January 9, 1998

A SAGA that began with a case of alleged sexual harassment involving a swimming coach and a students has ended with the resignation of the university president.

John Stubbs, president of Simon Fraser University, had been at the centre of a highly-publicised sex harassment case at the British Columbia university.

He decided to fire varsity swimming coach Liam Donnelly last May only to rehire him in July when it was discovered that the sexual harassment hearing procedure had been flawed.

In an open letter to the university last year, Mr Stubbs said he was suffering from depression. Last month, a couple of weeks before six months' medical leave was due to end, the university announced that Mr Stubbs would not be finishing his first term of office. He had been recommended for a second term to begin in August 1998.

Although it has not been officially confirmed, many see the pressure from the sexual harassment case as the cause of Mr Stubbs's depression and eventual resignation.

The case began with allegations from a student who described to a sexual harassment panel how, in 1995, she was date-raped by her coach. The panel recommended the dismissal of the coach, despite never having heard his version of events because he refused to participate in the hearing.

The coach did request a meeting with the president but Mr Stubbs refused to meet him, saying that he should have participated in the process. The student was awarded Can$12,000 (Pounds 7,500) in compensation and the coach went public with his story. He contended that it was he who had been pursued by the student and revealed some explicit emails and photos to back his story.

After much internal pressure, an independent arbitration board reviewed the dismissal and highlighted several "flaws in the procedures". The president had broken a policy when he had appointed the panel himself instead of consulting campus constituencies; the student's statements revealed inconsistencies; and the student developed a friendship with the sexual harassment policy coordinator (who has since left the university).

More blows felled the president when the board of governors rehired the coach and acting president David Gagan alleged publicly that Mr Stubbs knew of but chose to ignore the relationship between student and sexual harassment policy coordinator.

The drama was played out in the full glare of media attention, an uncomfortable experience for a university that is more accustomed to winning publicity through high league-table rankings. "This has been an incredible strain on John," David Bond, chairman of the board of governors, told reporters after announcing the president's resignation.

University of Waterloo president James Downey, who has known Mr Stubbs for the past ten years, said: "Any of us who watched this unfold, we asked ourselves, 'What would I have done faced with that situation?'" Mr Stubbs leaves his post with a Can$315,000 severance package and will return to Simon Fraser as a history professor in January, 1999.

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