Mcgill pro­fes­sor ac­cused of sex­ual mis­con­duct

Stick­ers ap­pear in women’s wash­rooms warn­ing stu­dents of abuse

The McGill Daily - - News - Ma­rina Cupido The Mcgill Daily

Two weeks ago, stick­ers be­gan ap­pear­ing in women’s wash­rooms across cam­pus, al­leg­ing sex­ual vi­o­lence per­pe­trated by a cer­tain pro­fes­sor in Mcgill’s In­sti­tute of Is­lamic Stud­ies, whom they ex­plic­itly named. Not­ing that the pro­fes­sor is up for ten­ure this se­mes­ter, the stick­ers urged stu­dents to send tes­ti­monies of abu­sive be­hav­iour from fac­ulty and staff to ze­ro­tol­er­ance@ riseup. net.

The pro­fes­sor in ques­tion agreed to make a state­ment to The Daily, on the con­di­tion that his name not ap­pear any­where in our cover­age; af­ter con­sul­ta­tion with af­fected par­ties, we de­cided to com­ply with his re­quest.

“Anony­mous ac­cu­sa­tions have been posted around cam­pus about me that are cat­e­gor­i­cally un­true and con­sti­tute defama­tion,” wrote the pro­fes­sor in an email to The Daily. “I am deeply com­mit­ted to do­ing my part to make ev­ery stu­dent feel safe in my class­room and on Mcgill’s cam­pus.”

Tes­ti­mony from stu­dents would sug­gest oth­er­wise, how­ever. One for­mer stu­dent, who wished to re­main anony­mous, de­scribed her ex­pe­ri­ence with the pro­fes­sor’s “preda­tory” be­hav­iour.

“I fre­quently went to of­fice hours, [...] and [ the pro­fes­sor] and I de­vel­oped a friend­ship,” she ex­plained. “A sec­ond year stu­dent at the time, I was ex­cited to have a pro­fes­sor take such an in­ter­est in me and my aca­demic plans. How­ever, I soon re­al­ized this in­ter­est was not well in­ten­tioned. [ The pro­fes­sor] would con­stantly bring the con­ver­sa­tion back to our per­sonal lives ( in­clud­ing for­mer part­ners), would slide his chair next to mine so that we were al­most touch­ing, would in­sist on keep­ing the door to his of­fice closed, and mul­ti­ple times would as­sure me that he was not the one mark­ing my pa­pers ( I took this as him set­ting up why it was okay for us to have a sex­ual re­la­tion­ship when he was still my pro­fes­sor). I was not in­ter­ested in his ad­vances and noth­ing hap­pened, but I [...] ul­ti­mately re­duced my of­fice vis­its. [...] It dis­heart­ened me, and made me feel un­safe in my learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment.”

This tes­ti­mony echoes an open let­ter sent dur­ing the Win­ter 2017 se­mes­ter to Robert Wis­novsky, Di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute of Is­lamic Stud­ies. Writ­ten by the 2016-2017 ex­ec­u­tive team of the World Is­lamic and Mid­dle East Stud­ies Stu­dent As­so­ci­a­tion ( WIMESSA), the let­ter was cir­cu­lated in pe­ti­tion form to all stu­dents tak­ing cour­ses at the In­sti­tute.

“We ( WIMESSA execs) be­lieve that the depart­ment is par­tially not tak­ing this se­ri­ously, be­cause they don’t think many un­der­grads per­son­ally care,” read the pre­am­ble to the open let­ter. “There is also no ‘ pa­per trail’ of stu­dent con­cern which makes the depart­ment less ac­count­able to the uni­ver­sity.”

The let­ter it­self, ad­dressed to Wis­novsky, ar­gued that the pro­fes­sor in­volved had re­peat­edly “vi­o­lated [ the] stu­dent- pro­fes­sor con­tract” through his abu­sive be­hav­iour.

“As un­der­grad­u­ate stu­dents in the depart­ment,” it read, “we rely on our pro­fes­sors to act as teach­ers and role mod­els, and to up­hold mu­tual re­la­tion­ships of re­spect. Our pro­fes­sors hold im­mense power and au­thor­ity over us: they de­ter­mine our grades, they write rec­om­men­da­tion let­ters, they are of­ten our em­ploy­ers as well as teach­ers, and they act as key net­works for our fu­ture em­ploy­ment.”

The open let­ter went on to de­scribe the var­i­ous ways in which women study­ing at the In­sti­tute had been im­pacted by the pro­fes­sor’s per­sis­tent in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iour, in­clud­ing avoid­ing his classes when pos­si­ble ( though he some­times teaches manda­tory cour­ses), chang­ing their the­sis sub­jects so as not to have to work with him, and feel­ing un­com­fort­able and un­safe in the In­sti­tute.

“It is dis­con­cert­ing that such an abuse of power ap­pears to be go­ing un­rep­ri­manded,” read the open let­ter. “As it stands, women are at a dis­ad­van­tage within the Is­lamic Stud­ies depart­ment, and this in­equal­ity needs to be cor­rected. For th­ese rea­sons, WIMESSA ve­he­mently en­cour- ages the im­pend­ing ten­ure com­mit­tee to deny [ the pro­fes­sor] ten­ure.”

It is un­clear what steps Wis­novsky took in re­sponse to this let­ter. The pro­fes­sor in ques­tion has con­tin­ued to teach, and Wis­novsky de­clined to an­swer The Daily’s ques­tions on this mat­ter fol­low­ing the ap­pear­ance of the stick­ers.

This year’s WIMESSA ex­ec­u­tive, mean­while, re­leased a pub­lic state­ment that ex­pressed sup­port for stu­dents at the In­sti­tute with­out nam­ing the pro­fes­sor con­cerned, or mak­ing ref­er­ence to any con­crete de­tails of the sit­u­a­tion.

“In light of re­cent events re­gard­ing the Is­lamic Stud­ies In­sti­tute,” read their state­ment, “we want to ex­tend our ser­vices to the com­mu­nity and sup­port our stu­dents in any way we can. [...] Sex­ual vi­o­lence is a se­ri­ous is­sue that we do not tol­er­ate and we rec­og­nize the in­sti­tu­tional vi­o­lence that this in­her­ently causes. [...] This is a mat­ter that we are tak­ing very se­ri­ously and we are work­ing as much as we can within our power to en­sure trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity.”

The ex­ec­u­tive team de­clined to re­spond to The Daily’s spe­cific ques­tions about this pro­fes­sor and the al­le­ga­tions against him.

When asked about the stick­ers’ as­ser­tion that Mcgill has made lit­tle sub­stan­tive ef­fort to ad­dress the is­sue of abu­sive profs, leav­ing stu­dents alien­ated and un­safe, As­so­ciate Provost (Poli­cies, Pro­ce­dures and Eq­uity) An­gela Camp­bell replied that “the Uni­ver­sity takes all com­plaints of mis­con­duct se­ri­ously.” How­ever, said Camp­bell, “sur­vivors can and should re­port through the ap­pro­pri­ate chan­nels,” and “Mcgill’s ad­min­is­tra­tion dis­ap­proves of at­tempts to ad­dress such mat­ters through anony­mous posters such as [the stick­ers] found on cam­pus and is tak­ing mea­sures to re­move th­ese.”

In­deed, Mcgill per­son­nel seem to be mak­ing an ef­fort to re­move the stick­ers quickly, but more con­tinue to ap­pear across cam­pus. It re­mains to be seen what con­crete ac­tion, if any, the In­sti­tute of Is­lamic Stud­ies will take, and what tac­tics the stick­ers’ cre­ators will re­sort to next.

Not­ing that the pro­fes­sor is up for ten­ure this se­mes­ter, the stick­ers urged stu­dents to send tes­ti­monies of abu­sive be­hav­ior from fac­ulty and staff to ze­ro­tol­er­ance@ riseup.net.

“I was not in­ter­ested in his ad­vances and noth­ing hap­pened, but I [...] ul­ti­mately re­duced my of­fice vis­its. [...] It dis­heart­eed me and made me feel un­safe in my learn­ing. en­vi­ron­ment.” –Anony­mous Is­lamic Stud­ies Stu­dent

“It is dis­con­cert­ing that such an abuse of power ap­pears to be go­ing un­rep­ri­manded.” –2016-2017 WIMESSA ex­ec­u­tive team

“Our pro­fes­sors hold im­mense power: [...] they de­ter­mine our grades, they write rec­om­men­da­tion let­ters, they are of­ten our em­ploy­ers, [...] and they act as key net­works for our fu­ture em­ploy­ment.” –2016-2017 WIMESSA ex­ec­u­tive team

A pho­to­graph of one of the stick­ers. Claire Gre­nier | The Mcgill Daily

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