UBC faculty air concerns about sexual-assault policies in open letter

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      An open letter from university faculty members is the latest addition to the ongoing public and media scrutiny of UBC's policies and procedures for sexual assault.

      The letter, dated January 6, was initially signed by 43 UBC academics. It has since risen to over 80, with names being collected and added by UBC philosophy associate professor Jonathan Ichikawa.

      The letter makes reference to interim president Martha Piper's email that UBC must act in a “more timely and effective manner” and promised to “begin a discussion with students, faculty, and staff” on developing a sexual assault policy.

      Piper's message was sent out in the wake of an investigative report by CBC's fifth estate. In November, the fifth estate revealed that the university took over a year and a half to act against a grad student after complaints of harassment or sexual assault by at least six women. History PhD student Dmitry Mordvinov was expelled in November.

      The signatories of the letter state that the problems go beyond timeliness and efficiency and that more than a discussion is needed. They also state that wanted to publicly acknowledge the additional harm that current policies and procedures have inflicted upon concerned students and alumni.

      The signees pledge to actively pursue improvements to sexual assault policies and procedures, and safety and equity, and to ensure new policies and procedures are in place by the start of the 2016-17 academic year in September.

      The letter states: 

      In recent weeks, it has become clear that there are serious problems with UBC’s sexual assault policies and procedures. President Martha Piper’s broadcast email to the UBC community after the fifth estate report acknowledged that UBC must act in a “more timely and effective manner” and promised to “begin a discussion with students, faculty, and staff” on developing a sexual assault policy.

      The current problems, however, do not seem limited to efficiency or timeliness, and we need more than a discussion. It is clear that some students and alumni who brought forward reports of sexual assault have suffered additional harm due to UBC’s policies and procedures. We, as a group of UBC faculty members, wish now publicly to acknowledge this harm that resulted from a failure of UBC to take as seriously as it should its duties of care to members of its community. As faculty members, we share in a responsibility to ensure that UBC fulfill its obligations to protect its community. We apologize to the people affected for not doing and not demanding better.

      We now pledge to the UBC community that we will take an active part in improving UBC’s policies and procedures regarding sexual assault and related matters of safety and equity. This action will include gathering material relevant to improving UBC policies and procedures, discussing sexual assault among faculty and with students and staff, consulting with experts both within and beyond the UBC community, and helping to ensure that UBC engages in a fully consultative process regarding new policies and procedures in order to have those new policies and procedures in place no later than the start of classes for the 2016–17 academic year in September.

      UBC has faced a string of unrelated controversies in the news over the past few months.

      Arvind Gupta stepped down from his position after his first year as UBC president in August, leading to questions about the reasons for his unexplained departure.

      In November, UBC creative-writing chair Steven Galloway was suspended with pay due to an investigation into "serious allegations". The announcement of the investigation was later criticized by the UBC Faculty Association.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at twitter.com/cinecraig.