Concordia University

http://www.concordia.ca/content/shared/en/news/main/stories/2019/03/07/update-on-our-efforts-to-promote-a-safe-and-respectful-learning-environment.html

Concordia welcomes the recommendations put forth in the Climate Review of the Department of English

President Alan Shepard discusses the implementation
March 7, 2019
|
By Alan Shepard

Update on our efforts to promote a safe and respectful learning environment

Dear members of the Concordia community,

I am writing to you today to inform you of the important steps we’ve been taking in our continued efforts to promote a safe and respectful environment in which all members of our community can learn, teach and work — a place free from sexual misconduct and sexual violence.

As you may recall, following allegations of sexual misconduct in January 2018, we announced three important measures:

  • An investigation into allegations;
  • A university-wide Task Force on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence; and
  • A Climate Review of the Department of English by external experts.

Climate Review

The mandate we gave the external experts was to solicit and listen to input from students, faculty, staff, alumni and other members of the Department of English in order to fully capture and understand any issues and concerns related to the overall culture and climate of the department, including issues related to sexual misconduct of any kind. In addition, the specialists were asked to make recommendations aimed at promoting a safe and respectful learning, teaching, working and research environment. 

More than 3,200 students, faculty, staff and alumni of the Department of English were invited to participate in the Climate Review. We thank the 109 people who chose to share their insights and experiences with us, some in the form of deeply personal stories. These came through in-person interviews, an anonymous online survey containing closed and open-ended questions, and confidential phone or video-conference conversations.

Findings

A report containing the findings as well as 13 recommendations is now available on our website.

I encourage those who are interested to read the report in its entirety. In the meantime, allow me to highlight a few key points:

Some of those surveyed described their perception of the Department of English’s environment as “unhealthy.” Naturally, this causes us concern. We care about the well-being of the Concordia community, and it is distressing to learn of such issues as real or perceived acts of sexual violence, favouritism, discrimination and mistrust towards the institution in the handling of complaints.

A significant number of respondents also spoke favourably about their experience in the Department of English and about the professional, devoted and respectful professors and staff who have had a profoundly positive impact on them.

Indeed, the findings indicate that a very small number of faculty members had been perceived as engaging in inappropriate or unacceptable conduct. The report also notes that negative experiences reported by current students are significantly less compared to the negative experiences reported by alumni.

Recommendations

Going forward, we want to be sure that we are doing everything we can to promote a safe and respectful learning and teaching environment for everyone.

We are reassured that the Climate Review recommendations align well with the many actions we have taken independently over the last year.

Indeed, the Climate Review report recommends that the university continue building on the work we have already begun, including:

  • Issuing, in January 2018, the guidelines regarding consensual romantic or sexual relationships between instructors and students. The guidelines were drafted by a committee of students, faculty and staff.
  • Since then, giving more than 60 presentations to departments and units across the university about the guidelines.
  • Issuing the report of our Task Force on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence last June, which made more than 40 recommendations to help promote a safe learning and teaching environment.
  • Creating, this past fall, the Standing Committee on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence, a permanent university committee of students, faculty and staff convened to revise and implement the university’s policy on sexual violence and coordinate efforts to prevent and respond to university sexual violence and sexual misconduct. Specifically, this group addresses, implements and monitors both the university’s obligations under Bill 151 as well as the university’s progress on the 2018 Task Force recommendations and priorities.
  • Carrying out work specifically on training and education of our community, including the development and production of a video training program, for staff, faculty and student association leaders, which will roll out in fall 2019. We have made the training program available free of charge to 100 Quebec universities and CEGEPs.
  • Hosting a recent meeting of Quebec universities and CEGEPs to share best practices surrounding the implementation of Bill 151.
  • Adopting, in December, an updated sexual violence policy that uses more survivor-centric language and provides more clarity on process and support services available to the community.
  • Holding a series of community conversations on sexual violence on both campuses to provide information regarding the work of the Standing Committee and to engage with our community regarding ongoing questions and concerns, with the most recent of such conversations having taken place just last week.

Moving forward

We welcome the recommendations put forth in the Climate Review report. We will work with our Standing Committee on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence and the Department of English to take the next steps in addressing the recommendations.

As we committed to doing at the onset of the Climate Review, we have presented the report to the Department of English’s faculty and staff in advance of sharing it with the broader Concordia community.

Going forward, we will continue to engage the department in building a healthier culture, promoting new initiatives that will benefit the entire Concordia community as well.

In closing, allow me to state unequivocally that coercion, abuse of power, sexual misconduct and sexual violence are unacceptable behaviours which Concordia will not tolerate from any member of its faculty or staff. Any allegations of misconduct are investigated thoroughly and, following investigation, may result in disciplinary measures up to and including dismissal.

We cannot discuss any specific matters regarding our faculty, staff or students for reasons of confidentiality and privacy, including privacy legislation. As an employer, we cannot divulge any information surrounding potential or actual investigations, including the results of any investigations or any other employment matters. We do understand this is particularly frustrating for the complainants, but this is the reality of the law.

We wish to acknowledge the courage of individuals who have shared with us their experiences. We know that it can take time — sometimes years — for survivors to come forward. We will always be ready to listen and receive accounts of past events and will strive to incorporate those perspectives and lessons into our path forward.

Support to survivors is available through our Sexual Assault Resource Centre as well as Counselling and Psychological Services. We urge members of our community — whether past or current — to report sexual violence or misconduct by contacting the university’s Office of Rights and Responsibilities by phone at 514-848-2424, ext. 8659, or by email at rights@concordia.ca.

This is a work in progress and our efforts continue, but I am confident that we are on the right path and, by working together, Concordians can promote a safe and respectful learning and working environment in which we can all take pride.

Best regards,

 

Alan Shepard
President & Vice-Chancellor



Back to top

© Concordia University