Sexism charge prompts closure

July 21, 1995

The University of British Columbia has closed admissions in the wake of a controversial inquiry that found "pervasive racism and sexism" in its postgraduate political science course.

The sanction is one of the strongest ever responses by a Canadian university to allegations of on-campus harassment.

University president David Strangway said: "It is not a draconian measure. A necessary precondition of academic freedom is freedom from harassment."

The internal inquiry was launched last summer in response to complaints by a group of 12 postgraduates about repeated harassment by professors. The university hired Vancouver lawyer and labour arbitrator Joan McEwen to carry out the ten-month investigation which involved interviews with dozens of students and academics in the political science department.

In her report, Ms McEwen concluded that "a basis exists" for students' complaints that the department - where 20 of 25 full-time professors are white men - is hostile to women and minorities.

"I am satisfied that the 'culture' which so markedly dominates the department may well have an adverse impact on those students who do not share its prevailing characteristics," she said.

Ms McEwen cited many specific examples of harassment, including a white, male professor who told a female potential student that he would support her application if she went out with him, and another who grabbed a female student by the hips and shouted "hey, baby". In one of the most controversial cases, a white, male professor called a black, female student "one big, bad, black bitch".

But the outcry caused by the report has been increased because it does not identify any complainants or professors and does not even try to prove whether the incidents cited actually took place.

Professor Strangway said this was decided by the university administration - they wanted the inquiry to explore the "climate" of the department, rather than establish guilt. Some professors and newspapers have used the lack of evidence to attack the report's credibility. They say any complaints ought to have been dealt with on a case-by-case basis, using the university's existing sexual and racial harassment codes, rather than with a "climate" report.

Donald Blake, head of the political science department, called the closure of admissions "harsh".

"(The report) does not jive with my sense of what the department is about and how we treat our students," he said .

He also complained that the anonymity tars innocent professors, pointing out how the report explicitly states that half the faculty received no criticism from students. He further criticised the report for burying the professors' responses to the allegations in an appendix.

However, Professor Blake conceded that students perceive problems in the department and that communications between tutors and students must be restored.

Graduate students feel pleased and "validated" by the report, according to Steve Wilson, director of the UBC Graduate Student Society, which long supported the complaints of the original 12 students. "Now we can tell the university, 'you don't have to just believe us, you only have to believe your own commissioned report.'" Professor Strangway said the closure of admissions will not affect students already accepted for the autumn and he hoped to solve the department's problems before 1996 admissions begin.

The university planned to adopt other recommendations of the report, including giving all new graduate political science students copies of the report and asking the faculty association to draft a formal declaration against harassment.

The UBC's controversy is only the latest in a string of similar cases at other Canadian political science departments. Two years ago, a report at the University of Victoria discovered similar harassment by professors, and in the spring the only two female professors in the political science department of the University of Manitoba resigned, citing widespread faculty sexism.


Monash University of University of University of University of University Canterbury Sheffield Toronto Illinois Tuition Fees 10, 1 16, 966 11, 074 9, 092 12, 868 Living Costs 7, 532 7, 303 7, 876 7, 818 7, 988 Health Insurance , 169 , 2 ,000 ,400 , incl Annual Costs 17, 973 24, 541 18, 950 17, 310 20, 856 Visa Costs , 100 , 097 , 063 , 075 , 050 Air Fare Costs , 5 , 702 , 956 1, 6 , 870 Once Only Costs , 6 , 799 1, 019 1, 351 , 920 Course Duration 2 yrs 15 mths 12-15 mths 2 yrs 2 yrs

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