President Alan Shepard confident in university environment: “The department is safe”
“I feel confident with the environment we have at the university and that the department is safe,” said Concordia president Alan Shepard after announcing the launch of an assessment of the university’s current environment on Jan. 10.
Following allegations of sexual misconduct by professors in Concordia University’s creative writing program, Shepard said he was “profoundly sorry.”
“We take this stuff very seriously, very seriously,” he said.
Shepard announced on Wednesday that the university will be launching an investigation into the allegations posted online by Concordia alumnus Mike Spry on Jan. 8. The investigation was one of three specific actions Shepard outlined during the press conference and in a press release sent to students. The release, written by Shepard himself, reads that the university will also be “meeting this week with students, faculty and staff in the creative writing program to listen, support and chart a path forward.”
The university’s third initiative is an assessment of the “current environment” at Concordia, which will be coordinated by deputy provost Lisa Ostiguy. Ostiguy previously chaired the Sexual Assault Policy Review Working Group, which reviewed the university’s sexual assault policies and made recommendations in August 2015.
“These are complicated matters, and we have to proceed with care. People’s lives are affected by these experiences, and people who are facing allegations also deserve due process,” Shepard said. “We take the allegations seriously. It’s not a case of us trying to sweep everything under a rug.”
Shepard invited students to consult the university’s Office of Rights and Responsibilities and the Sexual Assault Resource Centre (SARC).
When asked if the university had decided whether to suspend any professors, Shepard said “all investigations are confidential by law and by our policy.” He did not comment when asked if any professors accused of misconduct might still be employed by the university.
“One of the misconceptions I think about our university is that we get complaints about faculty members and we ignore the complaints. Nothing could be further from the truth,” Shepard said.
In 2014, Concordia alumna Emma Healey published an essay on the website The Hairpin making allegations of sexual misconduct against a Concordia creative writing professor. When asked about the university’s lack of response to previous allegations against professors from the program, Shepard said “I acted on Monday afternoon because I heard about it on Monday afternoon.”
Several former students have stated on social media that the creative writing department’s “toxic culture”—as Spry referred to it—has been an open secret dating back 20 years. According to Shepard, “it was not an open secret” to him. “I did my best to pay attention,” he added. “I deeply regret. This is not okay. This not acceptable.”
Feature photo by Alex Hutchins