Canada, CanLit, Education, Features

The Scandal at UBC Keeps Growing—but No One Has Been Held Accountable

Three years ago, the University of British Columbia suspended novelist Steven Galloway, who then chaired UBC’s creative writing program, following explosive allegations that he had sexually assaulted a UBC student. In response, a group of Canadian writers signed on to a movement called UBC Accountable, which highlighted the lack of due process in the proceedings against Galloway. While some members of the Canadian literary community vilified #ubcaccountable as an insult to rape victims, the movement was vindicated when the full facts of Galloway’s case became widely known.

Specifically, an internal investigation by a retired provincial supreme court judge concluded that Galloway hadn’t sexually assaulted anyone. Her report, whose contents were detailed in an exhaustive Quillette investigative report, suggested that the principal complainants were either confused or malicious fantabulists. Earlier this year, the Vancouver-based university was required to pay Galloway $167,000 in the wake of statements by UBC officials that violated the former professor’s privacy rights and, as Galloway argued, caused “irreparable reputational damage and financial loss.” Yet despite all this, the university still hasn’t fulfilled the main demand of UBC Accountable, which was to “establish an independent investigation into how this matter has been handled by the Creative Writing Program, the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and the senior administration at UBC.”

The school’s decision to suspend, smear and then fire Galloway on the basis of false allegations has snowballed into one of the greatest scandals in the history of Canadian education. UBC is a public institution, receiving about $600-million from provincial coffers every year. Yet absolutely no effort has been made to investigate the process that led to Galloway’s railroading. Just the opposite: School officials have spent the last three years circling the wagons in an effort to evade scrutiny. No administrator has lost his or her job over the scandal. And the same cabal of writers and teachers who first assembled on November 15, 2015 to engineer Galloway’s ouster remains entrenched in leadership roles at UBC’s writing program. If these faculty members were part of any normal, functional professional organization, almost every single one of them would now be out of a job.

In another age, students themselves might have been counted on to impose accountability on the UBC university administration. But thanks to the ideological dynamics at play, the opposite has been true. In one notorious case, the UBC student newspaper even dispatched an activist to vilify Andreas Schroeder, one of the few professors bravely demanding due process for Galloway, and to collect testimonials purporting to show that the #ubcaccountable movement was somehow traumatizing creative-writing students. (“Having to be in that class with [Schroeder] a day or two days after I had found out that he had signed that [#ubcaccountable letter] was a tough class,” a student apparently told self-described “settler scholar” Julia Burnham. “A lot of students in that class, I could see, were having a tough time.”)

Not that the administration has stood idle. Rather than address the roots of the Galloway scandal, UBC has instead launched an expensive branding campaign aimed at countering what the university gingerly calls “a series of negative news headlines through 2015 and into 2016.” UBC has launched a new slogan—“The potential is yours”—and has released a slick video featuring a scrupulously multicultural cast staring solemnly into the camera and waxing lyrical about cleaning the oceans and promoting equality. The authors of this campaign apparently consulted no fewer than 7,000 people during the creative process. While the university has not revealed the total cost of all this “higher brand level activity,” cryptic disclosures from the school’s brand director suggest it will run somewhere in the ballpark of $3-million to $4-million per year.

And now this week, it was revealed that the total cost of L’Affaire Galloway has been ramped up further: John Hall, the same arbitrator who awarded the original $167,000 lump sum to Steven Galloway over the summer, has tacked on another $75,000 award ($15,000 of which will go to the UBC Faculty Association) in response to improper remarks that outgoing UBC Vice President External Philip Steenkamp made about Galloway in media interviews.

Both Galloway and UBC were bound by wide-ranging confidentiality provisions set down by the arbitrator. But Steenkamp just couldn’t help himself once it became clear that the pendulum of public opinion was turning sharply against the university. In an interview, he claimed that “the allegations of sexual misconduct were not the only issues the university examined during its review of his employment,” and posted a statement on the UBC website declaring that the decision to fire Mr. Galloway was “fully justified.” The arbitrator, whose full written judgment has been obtained by Quillette, properly concluded that these statements amounted to the spread of “vague innuendo.”

The Galloway case is significant because it’s the first university-based PR disaster involving someone who has been publicly exonerated in the #MeToo era. While Galloway cannot prevent his main accuser from continuing to present herself as a “survivor,” there surely should be some reasonable expectation that the university itself would now exhibit a respect for due process and some baseline level of professionalism. Alas, no.

* * *

I’ve reported that not a single head has rolled at UBC. But, by way of epilogue, I will note that this isn’t quite true. UBC VP External Philip Steenkamp—head, body and all—is now rolling upward to the presidency of Royal Roads University in nearby Victoria, B.C. The announcement of his new job was made in mid-June, just days after Canada learned of the arbitrator’s first judgment against UBC, and just weeks before Steenkamp would blunder into the public sphere with the improper statements about Galloway that were the subject of censure (and a $75,000 award) in the arbitrator’s second judgment.

(Shockingly, Steenkamp also had declared that UBC faculty and staff “were professional and principled in all of their dealings,” a howler that the arbitrator rebuked by noting that the “university’s process were plainly found to have been defective.” If what played out really does represent Steenkamp’s idea of due process, one can only imagine how complaints of misconduct are going to be handled at Royal Roads.)

For future academics, the message is clear. A scholar who was falsely accused of committing a crime will now spend years trying to rebuild his livelihood and reputation. Meanwhile, a UBC officer who played public-relations maidservant to the scholar’s disastrously bungled inquisition will skip merrily across the Georgia Strait to a $300,000-a-year job while his former administrative colleagues at UBC use house money and a glitzy ad campaign to paper everything over.

If you were an upwardly mobile Canadian professor, keen to find a stable, lucrative job at a university, which career path would seem more enticing—creator and educator, or corner-office PR flack? Always remember: The potential is yours.

Jonathan Kay is Canadian editor of Quillette. Follow him at @jonkay 

 

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