Students Allege Sexual Harassment by Concordia Philosophy Professor


Several students at Concordia University have accused a professor in its Department of Philosophy of sexual harassment.  One of the students has accused the university of “systemic failings of its sexual violence and sexual harassment policies,” filed a civil rights complaint against the school that includes a  request that the accused professor “face sanctions for his alleged behaviour,” and is suing for CA$60,000 (approximately $45,000) in damages.

The CBC reports:

“Alya” [not the student’s real name] was a Concordia undergraduate student in 2009 when she began receiving emails from her professor, asking her to party with him at bars. In the emails, obtained by CBC News, she told him she doesn’t drink. In one email, she reminded him of that fact.

“I could always slip some vodka into your pop when you weren’t looking!!!!!!!” he responded.

She deflected his advances in her responses, but he persisted. He began one email by writing “Hi [Alya], hug and kiss.”

In May 2009, another student filed a formal complaint about the same professor and Alya agreed to testify on that student’s behalf, reporting her experience dealing with him.

The stress of testifying, in addition to an end-of-semester illness, made it difficult to finish three of her final assignments. “I just didn’t want to go to class anymore,” she said. “I didn’t want to be around the department.” 

She wrote an email to the chair of her department, philosophy, asking for an extension to finish her assignments. The chair responded, calling her reason—the anxiety and stress associated with reporting the professor’s behaviour—“insufficient.” He also asked she not tell other members of the department about the ongoing harassment case. 

“It really made me realize what I was dealing with, in terms of who the chair and the department was out to serve, and it wasn’t me,” she said…

She went on to fail two of the courses, causing a permanent blemish on her academic record. She left Concordia and transferred to York University at significant personal expense.

Five years after the alleged harassment, Alya approached Concordia again, hoping to file a complaint about how she was treated. She said when she approached the university, she was shuffled from department to department, “like a ball in a pinball machine.”

First, she contacted the new chair of the philosophy department, who forwarded her emails to the school’s Office of Rights and Responsibilities.  She was told it was too late for her to file a complaint and was told to call the ombudsman or the dean. She contacted the ombudsman and received no response. Disheartened, she gave up.

But then, in 2017, she met another student who was enrolled at Concordia’s philosophy department. That woman told Alya she had recently been harassed by the same professor.

Alya said she was appalled the professor was still working at the university, and decided to file a human rights complaint, naming the school.

“It really indicated to me there is still a culture of inappropriate behaviour being tolerated in the department from the same person, almost 10 years later, and it disgusted me,” she said.

She said she met with officials from the school’s administration, who agreed to remove the failed classes from her academic record and instead mark them as incomplete. But by then, Alya had already been rejected for graduate programs, a fact she blames on those failed classes.

The CBC’s article is here.

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Alfred MacDonald
3 years ago

I don’t think this is more significant than any other alleged thing. If he is found guilty, I’d like to know, but allegations are cheap.

I get the impression I am supposed to care, but I don’t for the aforementioned reasons.Report

Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa
Reply to  Alfred MacDonald
3 years ago

Allegations are not cheap, as this piece (and experience paying attention to the world more broadly) makes clear. As the CBC piece clearly says in the material quoted in this post, Alya’s testimony— made to support another student— was very costly to her.

In part because allegations are not ‘cheap’, they do not tend to be made lightly. According to this CBC piece, there are now three allegations formal from three separate women against this professor.

I think it’s unfortunate that the first comment on this unpleasant story is from someone who thought it was important to tell the world that he doesn’t care. I wish you would care. But if I can’t have that wish, I wish you would keep your not caring to yourself. (When I don’t care about something I rarely comment on it.)Report

Professor Apricot
Professor Apricot
Reply to  Alfred MacDonald
3 years ago

What do you mean, “any other alleged thing”-?!Report

Alex Clark
Alex Clark
Reply to  Alfred MacDonald
3 years ago

Pretty messed up thing to say.Report

Brian Kemple
3 years ago

Not to make light of serious allegations and the possibility of perverse abuse of power, but… are they really giving out PhDs to people who write, “I could always slip some vodka into your pop when you weren’t looking!!!!!!!”?Report

Grad Student4
Grad Student4
Reply to  Brian Kemple
3 years ago

*disclaims making light of serious allegations*

*makes light of serious allegations and of a person in power threatening to spike an unknowing student’s drink*Report

Katrina Sifferd
Katrina Sifferd
3 years ago

Ugh, Alfred, really? Your assumption that she is lying until some legal or quasi-legal finding supports her account is extremely worrying. Why assume the (male) professor has done nothing wrong instead of assuming the woman’s story is accurate, especially as the CBC corroborated her story?

And Brian, yes, many professors with PhDs have said this and worse their students. When I was earning my PhD, one of my professors spent our tutorial time talking about the sexual dreams he had about me.

I applaud this woman for coming forward (for what, the third time?!?) in an attempt to hold her harasser accountable and to try to ensure he doesn’t continue to harass other women.Report

Brian Kemple
Reply to  Katrina Sifferd
3 years ago

Oh, I don’t doubt the salacious lewdness… I was more taken back by the juvenile tone, punctuation, and tense shift.Report

Professor Apricot
Professor Apricot
Reply to  Brian Kemple
3 years ago

Not sure this kind of facetiousness is helpful for us as a profession to solve these kinds of problems. Though understand the desire to defuse the awfulness of these described situations, somehow.Report

Michel
Michel
3 years ago

It’s probably worth putting this story in context–which is to say, it’s worth noting another department at Concordia (English; specifically, the creative writing program) was recently revealed to have a serious and long-standing sexual harassment problem protected by the administration.

One of the more recent CBC stories is here: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/another-concordia-creative-writing-prof-faces-harassment-allegations-from-former-students-1.4491142Report

Sikander
Sikander
3 years ago

I had heard of Concordia’s sexual harassment problem in context of a different department, but this is the first time I am hearing about the department of Philosophy having an alleged perpetrator. I am glad media attention is coming to this issue; at the risk of being presumptuous, it does look like Concordia has a sexual harassment problem. And, at the risk of being overly optimistic (if there is such a thing), the general bringing to light of the problems of sexual violence, especially against women, in recent months seems to constitute a considerable step forward on this issue.Report

Former Concordian
Former Concordian
2 years ago

Late to the game here, just to note that if you don’t click the link, all you see is the Concordia University name. There are at least ten colleges and universities in North America named Concordia, and the one in Montreal is not associated with most of the others.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
2 years ago

I think it’s important to distinguish the epistemological question of what most likely happened from the practical question of how to judge the accused. There’s a tradition of holding someone to be innocent until their guilt has been “proved” at trial. We might think that this principle should not always hold, and that’s certainly worthy of debate. But we should at least acknowledge the principle and the necessity of such debate.

This is especially important in internet threads, as you can see by looking at all the ways internet threads tend to go wrong. I recommend having a look at the work of Catherine Norlock on online shaming, and on the research about internet threads in general.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
2 years ago

Sorry – Kathryn Norlock, not “Catherine Norlock”.Report