Education April 17, 2018: McGill professors sign an open letter supporting students over complaints of sexual misconduct

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EDUCATION

McGill professors sign an open letter supporting students over complaints of sexual misconduct

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

McGill University students are getting some support from their professors in their fight with the administration over sexual misconduct by professors in the Faculty of Arts. About 150 professors signed an open letter and sent it to administration officials on Monday, April 16, 2018, supporting the students’ grievances against the administration. The letter comes after the Student Society of McGill University (SSMU) published an open letter demanding an external investigation, and staged a walkout protesting the administrations’ inaction over the misconduct of five professors in the Faculty of Arts. Tomorrow, Tuesday April 17, McGill students will be hosting a town hall meeting to discuss the issue.

The 148 professors made it clear that they support the SSMU’s call for an external investigation, their timeline to have it completed by June and the establishment of a single sexual violence policy covering both misconducts by students and faculty. The professors, who signed came from all the university’s faculties, not just Arts. They declared, “We stand in support of the students who have come forward with their experiences and with the student representatives and advocates who have supported these students.”

The professors wrote in the letter, “As teachers, we have a commitment to upholding a learning environment where students feel safe, supported and able to challenge themselves. It would be in violation of this duty for us not to add our voices to those of the students.” The professors also acknowledged that professor-student relationships should be prohibited. They wrote, “We believe that sexual relationships between students and faculty who are in a position to influence their academic and professional progress should be banned.”

The professors also reminded the administration that the issue affects the entire McGill community and the universities reputation. The professors pointed out to the administration, they have to “publicly acknowledge the fact that this issue affects the entire McGill community and the university’s reputation.”

The professors claim that the university has to keep in check professors that abuse their power because it also affects other faculty members. They indicated, “The lack of transparency concerning how complaints are handled against faculty members, who abuse their positions of power in this way, creates a toxic work and learning environment, and often places an invisible burden on other faculty members.”

History professor Shannon Fitzpatrick spoke to CBC News about the faculty’s open letter. Fitzpatrick finds it troubling that the administration is ignoring students complaints. Fitzpatrick told CBC, the administration is “actively shutting down a line of communication. That to me goes against the university’s mission of critical inquiry into social problems.”

Last Wednesday, April 11, 2018, a week after publishing an open letter to the university administration, students staged a walkout over the administration ignoring repeated calls over professors’ inappropriate and sexually violating behavior in the Faculty of Arts. McGill students were joined by neighboring Concordia University students, who have been dealing with complaints against professors in their Creating Writing program, which go back nearly 20 years. Around 1,000 students walked out of their classes at 2 p.m. and protested in front of the James Administration Building at McGill’s downtown campus in community square. The joint protest was organized by both schools students societies; Concordia Student Union and Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU).

Two weeks ago, on Wednesday, April 4, 2018, the SSMU published an open letter addressed to the administration calling for an investigation into the way the university and Faculty of Arts have been dealing sexual violence and harassment complaints against professors. The letter has been signed by over 2000 students and over 85 clubs and other student societies. The letter accuses administration officials of ignoring complaints against professors in the Faculty of Arts.

McGill students want an investigation conducted by a third-party investigation into the method McGill deals with complaints. They want the third-party to review and interview students who made informal and formal complaints to the Dean of Arts against professors for the last five years and review if tenure committees are aware of any complaints. The SSMU wants the findings by this June. They are also demanding McGill to have an inclusive sexual violence policy that addresses professor-student relationships and misconduct complaints against professors. Now the SSMU has added a threat to motivate the administration; they act by Monday, April 23, or the SSMU will file a complaint at the Quebec Ministry of Education that McGill is in violation of Bill 151, the law requiring a single sexual assault policy for Quebec universities.

For the past few years, there have been rumblings about five professors that have misused their positions among both the students and faculty. The professors are in five different departments in the Faculty of Arts; history, philosophy, political science, psychology and the Institute of Islamic Studies. Among the offenses are “holding office hours in bars with underage students, to routinely sleeping with students who are in their classes, to being in abusive relationships with students they’re supervising.” Additionally, the professors would “make sexually suggestive comments in person and in e-mails.”

Apparently, the situation with these professors is an “open secret” everyone knows what is happening, but nothing is being done to stop these professors from running amok. The McGill Daily in their article, “We have always known about McGill’s predatory professors” wrote that the survey they conducted confirmed decades of sexual misconduct and that students have used a word-of-mouth system. The Daily sent out this survey April 9, receiving “dozens” of testimonies from the word-of-mouth system going back to 2008 according to the article. Unfortunately, professors have been blurring the lines for many years before at McGill, and there have been more than the five at the heart of students’ protests now.

Students have been writing anonymous accounts of the misconduct for years in the Daily. This past year, however, the protests are louder because one of the accused professors are up for tenure, which led to student letters to his department and a grassroots protest movement this past fall semester.

Despite the knowledge of the misconduct, students, however, are and have been discouraged from filing complaints by the Faculty of Arts. The complaints process at McGill has not and still does not deal with complaints against professors, especially those who engage in relationships with students, despite a revised sexual violence policy passed in 2016.

McGill students have been looking to Concordia for inspiration and to show McGill, an investigation is needed and a policy enforced to address professor-student relationships. Seeing the quick action at Concordia, made McGill’s students take an active and official stand against the administration’s lax treatment of professors who abuse their power.

Tomorrow students are going to continue their protest with a town hall meeting at 6 p.m. The meeting will allow students “to share stories, concerns, thoughts and questions” and to discuss what else the SSMU can do to convince the administration to act. The event is closed to the public and the media, and can only be attended by current McGill undergraduate and graduate students.

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

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Education April 8, 2018: McGill University now has their #MeToo movement moment as students protest lothario professors 

HEADLINE NEWS

Headline_News

EDUCATION

McGill University now has their #MeToo movement moment as students protest lothario professors

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

Montreal universities are now being drawn into the #MeToo movement forced to confront years of sexual harassment and assault that was pushed under the table. First, it was Concordia University, now McGill University is getting barraged for their handling of complaints. On Thursday, April 4, 2018, the Student Society of McGill University (SSMU) published an open letter calling for an investigation into the way the university and Faculty of Arts have dealing sexual violence complaints against professors. The letter has been signed by nearly 1,500 students and over 50 clubs and other student societies. The letter accuses administration officials of ignoring complaints against professors in the Faculty of Arts and they are demanding a third-party investigation. The letter and calls are a long time in the making as students and professors have been writing and commenting about the actions of these professors in the Faculty of Arts, who engaged in so called consensual and unwanted inappropriate behavior against students for years.

The president of SSMU and its societies and five vice presidents addressed the letter to Principal Suzanne Fortier, Provost Christopher Manfredi, and Dean of Students Chris Buddle. The letter recounted the situation at the university, but did not name any professors, although students have been naming the professors in unofficial capacities for years. Neither does the letter describe the professors’ actions, although the chatter is quite loud on online forums, personal blogs and the student press, everyone on campus knows who these offenders are.

The letter claims, “These professors continue to teach and to supervise, in some cases teaching mandatory first year courses, leaving vulnerable the students who have not yet been warned about the predatory behaviours of certain professors. It has also been the case that student representatives over this past year have brought up these concerns multiple times to many different members of administration. It was clear that the majority of the administration who were met with knew which professors students are concerned about. And despite our expressing anxiety over the safety and well being of a particular student in one case – no action was taken.”

Connor Spencer, vice-president of external affairs for the Students’ Society of McGill University had a press conference on Thursday, April 5, clarifying the allegations. According to Spencer there are five professors that have misused their positions. The professors are in five different departments in the Faculty of Arts; history, philosophy, political science, psychology and the Institute of Islamic Studies. Among the offenses are “holding office hours in bars with underage students, to routinely sleeping with students who are in their classes, to being in abusive relationships with students they’re supervising.” Additionally, the professors would “make sexually suggestive comments in person and in e-mails.”

Apparently, the situation with these professors is an “open secret” everyone knows what is happening, but nothing is being done to stop these professors from running amok, while students are being discouraged from filing complaints. Spencer told CBC News, “Everyone’s aware of where the problems are, and no one’s doing anything to address it, year after year.” Spencer explained to the Globe and Mail, “Everyone knows the names of the professors and it’s shared among students.” The problem has been happening for at least five years with these specific professors. Spencer recounted that female students have been warning incoming students with a list of professors “whose classes I was not to take.” Female students were warned to never be alone with these professors. Spencer told the Globe and Mail, “If she did take their courses, she was told never to go to their offices ‘if I wanted to keep myself safe.’”

Despite everyone in the university, from the students to the administration know about the problems, the administration refuses to take any actions, because of the lack of formal complaints. Spencer recounted to the Globe and Mail, “We’ve spoken about specific cases with administrators in meetings and still nothing has been done, even though they know that these are reoccurring issues.” Spencer told the Montreal Gazette the SSMU wants the university to take the problem seriously, “We are hoping with this open letter to change the culture of understanding and show (the administration) they need to investigate when there are serious problems that compromise the safety and well being of students … whether or not there are official complaints.”

The SSMU’s letter is a means to force the administration to launch an investigation. The SSMU letter also asked for a remedy to the ongoing problem, their solution a third-party investigation into the method McGill deals with complaints. They want the third-party to review and interview students who made informal and formal complaints to the Dean of Arts against professors for the last five years and review if tenure committees are aware of any complaints. The SSMU wants the findings by this June.

The SSMU made the request in their letter, “We understand that the Faculty of Arts is not the only faculty that has a problem with professors who abuse their power, and we hope that an external investigation into Arts will set a precedent so that in the future McGill will act when they become aware of departmental issues and that above all they will begin to prioritize the safety of their students before the legal liability or reputation of the institution.”

When asked to respond by the press Vice-Principal Louis Arseneault (Communications and External Relations) declined to comment. Arseneault only gave a generic politically correct response in a statement, saying, “McGill University has put in place staff, resources, policies and opportunities for individuals and groups to come forward with their concerns and complaints. These are matters we take very seriously. Every report or complaint of sexual misconduct, abuse of authority through sexual misconduct or ‘predatory behaviour’ that contains sufficiently detailed facts is investigated. If there are findings of sexual misconduct of any kind, appropriate measures are taken, following due process.” Arseneault cited privacy laws in the investigation, stating, “Because of Quebec law concerning privacy, the University cannot disclose when it is conducting investigations, nor reveal any results. Thus, the fact that results are not disclosed is not evidence that investigations did not occur or that they were faulty.”

Provost and Vice-Principal Manfredi also sent a personal responseto Spencer, insisting, “Every report and complaint of misconduct that contains sufficient details is investigated.” Manfredi told Spencer, “As you know from your own work on the Sexual Violence Policy Implementation Committee and from McGill administrators’ ongoing, direct engagement with SSMU executives – yourself included – McGill has in place extensive resources, skilled staff, and robust policies to address matters of sexual violence and to support survivors.”

Despite the university being on defensive as to investigating sexual misconduct complaints, the process deters students from filing a complaint or if they start they usually stop. As Spencer pointed out, “it’s so labour-intensive and retraumatizing.” As with women who file complaints against men in positions of power many are worried they would not be believed. The university has also in past situations attempted to discredit claims that are filed as a deterrent for students filing complaints. The complaints process is also steeped in confidentiality, it is meant to help the students, but does more to protect a an accused faculty member.

Student Geneviève Mercier-Dalphond writing in a March 2016, McGill Daily article entitled, “The vicious circle of professor-student relationships A follow-up investigation of McGill’s policies on sexual harassment” discussed the problems confidentiality in the process causes. Mercier-Dalphond explained, “On a broader level, it sends a message that normalizes student-professor relations, and sets an example for other professors that they can get away with this kind of inappropriate behaviour.”

In December 2016, McGill revised their sexual violence policy, Policy against Sexual Violence, to comply with Quebec’s new Bill 151, requiring schools to have a consolidated sexual violence policy (SVP) including addressing professor-student relationships by 2019. The new SVP deals with violence by the whole McGill community, especially students and operates under the Student Code of Conduct. The policy can “reprimand, expel or suspend a student.” The new policy was three years in the making, and was supposed to have a “survivor-centred approach.” Additionally, the policy “establishes measures that McGill will adopt with respect to prevention, education, support, and response to sexual violence.” The university also created a new sexual assault centre, “dedicated to sexual violence education and response.”

At the time the new policy was passed by the university senate; the students still had misgivings about how complaints would be handled under the new rules. Erin Sobat, the vice-president of university affairs for the SSMU during the 2016-17 academic year commented at the time to CBC News, “What it doesn’t do is address the disciplinary process past the process of filing a report.” Labour laws in Quebec, prohibit the publication of the procedures. The only way to file a complaint against a professor is by filing a complaint for” harassment, violence of coercion.”

The new policy also failed to address professor-student relationships, and complaints against professors; a central problem at the heart of the complaints against one of the professors the open letter is directed. The new SVP says very little about these relationships, writing, “an abuse of a relationship of trust, power or authority, such as the relationship between a professor and their student,” and agreeing they cannot be consensual. The only way to file a complaint against a professor is by filing a complaint for” harassment, violence of coercion.” The complaints are then processed through the Regulations Relating to Employment of Tenure Track and Tenured Academic Staff. Labour laws in Quebec, prohibit the publication of the procedures. The process is so complicated that it dissuades students from filing. Connor explained to the Montreal Gazette, “You have to consult at least six documents full of policy jargon after you’ve just experienced a trauma, and you are not really sure about wanting to do this, anyway. That would discourage anyone from coming forward.”

In December 2017, the McGill Tribune editorial board wrote an opinion piece opposing the lack of policy for such complaints entitled, “McGill’s sexual violence policy lacking on professor-student relationships.” They emphasized what an important gap this is in policy since these relationships cannot be consensual. The board pointed to the conflict of interest with such relationships, and indicated why. The board expressed, “Of more dire ethical concern is the question of consent in these relationships. The power differential between students and professors is enormous—whether acting as an intro-course lecturer or a master’s research supervisor, a professor has substantial control over their students’ success at McGill, and, by extension, their career prospects upon graduation. Given this compromised capacity to object to unwanted sexual advances, it is unethical for a professor to initiate any relationship with a student directly beneath them.”

The #MeToo movement is altering the definition of consent, especially there is a difference power between the two parties in evolved, such as professors getting involved in relationships, and sexually with their students. Students who believe they are getting involved consensually with professors seem to forget, with such a power difference, these relationships can never truly be consensual, because there is no equality. Mercier-Dolphand in the McGill Daily explained, “The student’s power in this dynamic is not comparable, and talking of equality between consenting adults in this case ignores the power differential on which the relationship is built.”

Recently, even former White House intern Monica Lewinsky in a March 2018, Vanity Fair article entitled, “Emerging from the ‘House of Gaslight’ in the age of #metoo” re-examined her relationship with former President Bill Clinton. Lewinsky persistently claimed it was consensual and she was not a victim, but she is currently reconsidering it in light of the #MeToo movement. Lewinsky expressed, “I now see how problematic it was that the two of us even got to a place where there was a question of consent. Instead, the road that led there was littered with inappropriate abuse of authority, station, and privilege. (Full stop.)”

A former Associate Dean of Arts at York University, Shirley Katz wrote a policy paper on the very issue published in University Affairs in 2000, entitled “Sexual Relations Between Students and Faculty.” To Katz there cannot be consent because of professors’ “power over students” as the nature of role. Katz concludes the power difference is always there making consent in the traditional way impossible for students. Katz wrote, “because the professor’s powers affect the student’s life in a significant way, […] the student cannot say no to the relationship, so her consent is actually coerced compliance.”

Jason M. Opal, associate professor in the Department of History and Classical Studies at McGill commented in the 2015 McGill Daily article, “Let’s talk about teacher,” a student’s anonymous recount of her sexual relationship with one of the professors accused of inappropriate behavior. Opal concurred, the power dynamic affects consent. Opal wrote there are “profound inadequacies of ‘consent’ as a moral and social category.” Continuing, he said, “consent is better than coercion: that is the best thing we can say about it. Opal concluded that the professor student relationship is “inherently problematic, usually exploitative, and often predatory.” The unequal predatory nature is the reason professors involved have to face sanctions and punishments from the university, because they have an obligation to protect their students.

Some of the accounts coming from McGill describe sexual relationships, but they are not the only inappropriate ones. Others blur the line, friendships and emotional relationships that can tether on sexual harassment or impropriety, but avoid the messy sexual dynamic that is easier to prove crossed a line. Even if broken boundaries are easily proved, the university has not been kind to students filing complaints against professors after such relationships. They are not given the same weight as unwanted and forced sexual harassment and assault committed by other students. Universities have been enacting policies that prohibit any personal relationships between students and professors, especially if they are in as position to grade them for some timer already. McGill has yet to address the issue even after revising their sexual assault policy..

Students had a right to be concerned about the revised SVP seeing what is transpiring with the five Arts professors and the way complaints have been brushed aside. The SSMU has been working on an additional policycovering misconduct from students in McGill’s clubs and societies. Closing the “loophole” would make students more comfortable making complaints against fellow students. It would allow the SSMU clubs and societies to remove or sanction someone that has a complaint filed against them, even banning them from the SSMU building. Additionally, it would provide mandatory training in defining and preventing sexual assault for all SSMU associated university clubs and societies.

For over two years there has been rumblings of complaints of transgressions by professors in the Faculty of Arts, particularly, the Department of Political Science, incidentally Provost Manfredi’s old department and the Institute of Islamic Studies. Apparently, there are claims that there is a serial sexual harasser in the department of political science and a serial lothario in the Institute of Islamic Studies. This professor in the Islamic Studies is a central reason for the students and SSMU’s uproar over the university’s mishandlings of professors’ inappropriate behavior.

Former McGill political science professor Stephen Saideman, who taught at the department from 2002 to 2012 wrote about the actions of a professor in his department. Saideman repeatedly wrote about this particular professor in a number of blog posts. In his blog post entitled, “McGill’s Shame Continues” from March 2016, he specifically revealed that this professor was teaching Middle East and peace building studies in the department. Saideman explained in his post why he did not expose the name of the professor. The former McGill professor commented, “I have repeatedly referred to a particular serial sexual harasser […] but obliquely so. Why obliquely so? Because I am not sure what the consequences are for me of violating the confidentiality agreements of a place I used to work and because I didn’t want people to speculate about who received this guy’s unwanted attention.”

A student did successfully file a complaint this particular professor; however, the so-called punishment was hardly enough to deter him from continuing harassing students. Saideman recounted, “[the University] did find in favour of the student, and the provost found that something inappropriate happened at the time, but that it did not fit the definition at the time of sexual harassment. I do believe this is a failure on the part of that provost.” All the university did was change the professor’s office to one where he can be monitored and prevented him from taking on graduate students. In barely no time, the department lapsed, he was back in his old office, and supervising graduate students, even female ones.

In 2016, Saidemen claimed the major problem with the complaints process was confidentiality and the university refusing to name guilty professors. During his time at McGill Saideman used to discourage students from studying that area, as the only means of deterrence he could do. Saideman told the McGill Daily, “The core problem is how McGill has handled it. It was all treated confidentially, which has the effect of protecting the perpetrator…. the job of the University is to protect students.” Saideman was surprised that he was still teaching, saying, “I simply don’t understand why McGill has not fired him yet.”

Another story that brought out the problem of the professor accused of sleeping with his students was an anonymous article in the McGill Daily of a student recounting her nearly two-year affair with this professor, the one supposedly from the Institute of Islamic Studies The article published in September 2015 was entitled, “Let’s talk about teacher I slept with my professor and here’s why it shouldn’t have happened in the first place.” The explicit article described how this professor-student relationship developed from office-hour meetings to a working and sexual relationship that tore this student apart with the conflicting roles they played. In her recount, the working relationship played a prominent role in their developing relationship. The work relationship was the legitimate way for them to spend time in his office behind closed doors; a common excuse professors use to justify publicly their inappropriate involvement with a student. After the second year, the student discovered he had been sleeping with other students as well she was not the only one, but one of many.

The student described this professor as she saw him after everything ended, “He was a predator. He was a manipulator. He was a liar. He was using young women as vessels for self-validation. He was abusing his power, and he had no intention of stopping.” She also discovered this professor, “slept with, propositioned, sent inappropriate emails to, or generally made uncomfortable” other female students. The complaints process was daunting and these students feared retribution and reprisals that are so common so they did file. The article published nearly three-years-ago indicated that at that time there where problems also with five professors in different departments, “who had reputations of either serially harassing or sleeping with their students.” The student recounted, “Where some professors were concerned, students spoke of the incidents like they were common knowledge.”

At that point, there were no formal complaints filed against that professor. This fall the students were fed up with this Islamic Studies’ professor at the heart of this scandal as he was up for tenure this academic year, so they initiated their own grassroots protest. At the start of this academic year, stickers were posted in the women’s bathrooms with the Islamic Studies professor’s name, warning other female students. According to the McGill Daily, “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 responded with a denial, saying, “Anonymous accusations have been posted around campus about me that are categorically untrue and constitute defamation. I am deeply committed to doing my part to make every student feel safe in my classroom and on McGill’s campus.”

The university administration seemed to have backed up the professor with Angela Campbell, the Associate Provost (Policies, Procedures and Equity) writing a defending statement that admonished the students who revealed the professor publicly. Campbell stated, “The University takes all complaints of misconduct seriously.” Continuing Campbell expressed, “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.”

Additionally, in the Winter 2017 semester the 2016-2017 executive leaders of the World Islamic and Middle East Studies Student Association (WIMESSA) Sent an open letter objecting to the professor to Robert Wisnovsky, Director of the Institute of Islamic Studies. The letter read, “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.” WIMESSA asked the department not to grant the professor tenure, writing, “It is disconcerting that such an abuse of power appears to be going unreprimanded. 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 encourages the impending tenure committee to deny [the professor] tenure.”

The program director never publicly responded, and this year’s WIMESSA executives issued a statement. The statement backtracked and avoided mentioning the particular professor. The executives wrote, “In light of recent events regarding the Islamic Studies Institute, 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.”

It is too easy for the lines to be blurred in academia. For professors they are presented with wide-eyed naive students in awe, many enamored with the professors’ charm, sophistication and brilliance, and they easily take advantage of the situation. Many of the young faculty members are often less than then ten years older than the students they teach, for others they never want to see themselves as older than the students. They behave as friends, buddies cross the line into sexual harassment, sexual relationships, but the power dynamic is always there. Professors and students are never equals and it is inappropriate for them to think it is even possible.

Research has proven that power alters the minds of men, making them believe they have the right to behave in the controlling manner that leads to sexual harassment and assault. They believe they have a privilege to behave the way they do and many fail to see how wrong they are. The #MeToo movement in a short six months has swept through the entertainment industry, politics, business and journalism. The movement gave a voice and credibility to women who for years had experienced harassment, abuse and assault in the hands of men in positions of power and then suffered in silence fearing reprisals.

Now it is sweeping academia, but there are set backs. Tenure has always given professors an extra boost in their power, giving them an air of invincibility. Tenure has and is still protecting professors preventing universities from firing professors who behave inappropriately with students. Professors, however, believe universities owe their students to deal with the accused professors, not just fire them, which would allow them to continue their behavior elsewhere. The SSMU’s open letter wants an investigator to examine tenure and tenure-track professors as well, to see if complaints against professors are presented to the tenure committee and to see whether tenure status “can be reassessed following formal complaints against a faculty member.”

The students realize tenure cannot be overturned and the system changed overnight, but they do believe there should be consequences for tenured professors. Spencer commented to the Montreal Gazette, “Right now, if a prof has tenure, they are untouchable. Some of the profs (who are the subjects of repeated complaints) have tenure and some don’t. For the ones who do have tenure, why would anyone bring a complaint forward? … It’s not about, one complaint, therefore fire them, but we need to explore what a procedure for processing complaints against a tenured prof looks like.”

In Montreal, there have already been cracks in that invincibility. This past January at neighboring Concordia University, former students and graduates of the school’s creative writing program came forward against four professors without tenure with allegations going back two decades. The university acted swiftly and dismissed three of the living professors, then launched an investigation. Within two weeks the university issued guidelines on how to deal with professor-student relationships acknowledging there is a “conflict of interest” and an “imbalance of power.”

The events at Concordia inspired SSMU to take action now, and force the university to confront the way they have been dealing or not dealing with complaints against these five repeat offending professors. Spencer commented the press, “We were told that it couldn’t happen, and then we looked over at our neighbour and they were doing it, so we didn’t accept that anymore…I thought, ’If not now, then when,’ If something doesn’t happen now, I don’t know when it’s going to happen.”

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

Education April 8, 2018: McGill University now has their #MeToo movement moment as students protest lothario professors 

HEADLINE NEWS

Headline_News

EDUCATION

McGill University now has their #MeToo movement moment as students protest lothario professors

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

Montreal universities are now being drawn into the #MeToo movement forced to confront years of sexual harassment and assault that was pushed under the table. First, it was Concordia University, now McGill University is getting barraged for their handling of complaints. On Thursday, April 4, 2018, the Student Society of McGill University (SSMU) published an open letter calling for an investigation into the way the university and Faculty of Arts have dealing sexual violence complaints against professors. The letter has been signed by nearly 1,500 students and over 50 clubs and other student societies. The letter accuses administration officials of ignoring complaints against professors in the Faculty of Arts and they are demanding a third-party investigation. The letter and calls are a long time in the making as students and professors have been writing and commenting about the actions of these professors in the Faculty of Arts, who engaged in so called consensual and unwanted inappropriate behavior against students for years.

The president of SSMU and its societies and five vice presidents addressed the letter to Principal Suzanne Fortier, Provost Christopher Manfredi, and Dean of Students Chris Buddle. The letter recounted the situation at the university, but did not name any professors, although students have been naming the professors in unofficial capacities for years. Neither does the letter describe the professors’ actions, although the chatter is quite loud on online forums, personal blogs and the student press, everyone on campus knows who these offenders are.

The letter claims, “These professors continue to teach and to supervise, in some cases teaching mandatory first year courses, leaving vulnerable the students who have not yet been warned about the predatory behaviours of certain professors. It has also been the case that student representatives over this past year have brought up these concerns multiple times to many different members of administration. It was clear that the majority of the administration who were met with knew which professors students are concerned about. And despite our expressing anxiety over the safety and well being of a particular student in one case – no action was taken.”

Connor Spencer, vice-president of external affairs for the Students’ Society of McGill University had a press conference on Thursday, April 5, clarifying the allegations. According to Spencer there are five professors that have misused their positions. The professors are in five different departments in the Faculty of Arts; history, philosophy, political science, psychology and the Institute of Islamic Studies. Among the offenses are “holding office hours in bars with underage students, to routinely sleeping with students who are in their classes, to being in abusive relationships with students they’re supervising.” Additionally, the professors would “make sexually suggestive comments in person and in e-mails.”

Apparently, the situation with these professors is an “open secret” everyone knows what is happening, but nothing is being done to stop these professors from running amok, while students are being discouraged from filing complaints. Spencer told CBC News, “Everyone’s aware of where the problems are, and no one’s doing anything to address it, year after year.” Spencer explained to the Globe and Mail, “Everyone knows the names of the professors and it’s shared among students.” The problem has been happening for at least five years with these specific professors. Spencer recounted that female students have been warning incoming students with a list of professors “whose classes I was not to take.” Female students were warned to never be alone with these professors. Spencer told the Globe and Mail, “If she did take their courses, she was told never to go to their offices ‘if I wanted to keep myself safe.’”

Despite everyone in the university, from the students to the administration know about the problems, the administration refuses to take any actions, because of the lack of formal complaints. Spencer recounted to the Globe and Mail, “We’ve spoken about specific cases with administrators in meetings and still nothing has been done, even though they know that these are reoccurring issues.” Spencer told the Montreal Gazette the SSMU wants the university to take the problem seriously, “We are hoping with this open letter to change the culture of understanding and show (the administration) they need to investigate when there are serious problems that compromise the safety and well being of students … whether or not there are official complaints.”

The SSMU’s letter is a means to force the administration to launch an investigation. The SSMU letter also asked for a remedy to the ongoing problem, their solution a third-party investigation into the method McGill deals with complaints. They want the third-party to review and interview students who made informal and formal complaints to the Dean of Arts against professors for the last five years and review if tenure committees are aware of any complaints. The SSMU wants the findings by this June.

The SSMU made the request in their letter, “We understand that the Faculty of Arts is not the only faculty that has a problem with professors who abuse their power, and we hope that an external investigation into Arts will set a precedent so that in the future McGill will act when they become aware of departmental issues and that above all they will begin to prioritize the safety of their students before the legal liability or reputation of the institution.”

When asked to respond by the press Vice-Principal Louis Arseneault (Communications and External Relations) declined to comment. Arseneault only gave a generic politically correct response in a statement, saying, “McGill University has put in place staff, resources, policies and opportunities for individuals and groups to come forward with their concerns and complaints. These are matters we take very seriously. Every report or complaint of sexual misconduct, abuse of authority through sexual misconduct or ‘predatory behaviour’ that contains sufficiently detailed facts is investigated. If there are findings of sexual misconduct of any kind, appropriate measures are taken, following due process.” Arseneault cited privacy laws in the investigation, stating, “Because of Quebec law concerning privacy, the University cannot disclose when it is conducting investigations, nor reveal any results. Thus, the fact that results are not disclosed is not evidence that investigations did not occur or that they were faulty.”

Provost and Vice-Principal Manfredi also sent a personal responseto Spencer, insisting, “Every report and complaint of misconduct that contains sufficient details is investigated.” Manfredi told Spencer, “As you know from your own work on the Sexual Violence Policy Implementation Committee and from McGill administrators’ ongoing, direct engagement with SSMU executives – yourself included – McGill has in place extensive resources, skilled staff, and robust policies to address matters of sexual violence and to support survivors.”

Despite the university being on defensive as to investigating sexual misconduct complaints, the process deters students from filing a complaint or if they start they usually stop. As Spencer pointed out, “it’s so labour-intensive and retraumatizing.” As with women who file complaints against men in positions of power many are worried they would not be believed. The university has also in past situations attempted to discredit claims that are filed as a deterrent for students filing complaints. The complaints process is also steeped in confidentiality, it is meant to help the students, but does more to protect a an accused faculty member.

Student Geneviève Mercier-Dalphond writing in a March 2016, McGill Daily article entitled, “The vicious circle of professor-student relationships A follow-up investigation of McGill’s policies on sexual harassment” discussed the problems confidentiality in the process causes. Mercier-Dalphond explained, “On a broader level, it sends a message that normalizes student-professor relations, and sets an example for other professors that they can get away with this kind of inappropriate behaviour.”

In December 2016, McGill revised their sexual violence policy, Policy against Sexual Violence, to comply with Quebec’s new Bill 151, requiring schools to have a consolidated sexual violence policy (SVP) including addressing professor-student relationships by 2019. The new SVP deals with violence by the whole McGill community, especially students and operates under the Student Code of Conduct. The policy can “reprimand, expel or suspend a student.” The new policy was three years in the making, and was supposed to have a “survivor-centred approach.” Additionally, the policy “establishes measures that McGill will adopt with respect to prevention, education, support, and response to sexual violence.” The university also created a new sexual assault centre, “dedicated to sexual violence education and response.”

At the time the new policy was passed by the university senate; the students still had misgivings about how complaints would be handled under the new rules. Erin Sobat, the vice-president of university affairs for the SSMU during the 2016-17 academic year commented at the time to CBC News, “What it doesn’t do is address the disciplinary process past the process of filing a report.” Labour laws in Quebec, prohibit the publication of the procedures. The only way to file a complaint against a professor is by filing a complaint for” harassment, violence of coercion.”

The new policy also failed to address professor-student relationships, and complaints against professors; a central problem at the heart of the complaints against one of the professors the open letter is directed. The new SVP says very little about these relationships, writing, “an abuse of a relationship of trust, power or authority, such as the relationship between a professor and their student,” and agreeing they cannot be consensual. The only way to file a complaint against a professor is by filing a complaint for” harassment, violence of coercion.” The complaints are then processed through the Regulations Relating to Employment of Tenure Track and Tenured Academic Staff. Labour laws in Quebec, prohibit the publication of the procedures. The process is so complicated that it dissuades students from filing. Connor explained to the Montreal Gazette, “You have to consult at least six documents full of policy jargon after you’ve just experienced a trauma, and you are not really sure about wanting to do this, anyway. That would discourage anyone from coming forward.”

In December 2017, the McGill Tribune editorial board wrote an opinion piece opposing the lack of policy for such complaints entitled, “McGill’s sexual violence policy lacking on professor-student relationships.” They emphasized what an important gap this is in policy since these relationships cannot be consensual. The board pointed to the conflict of interest with such relationships, and indicated why. The board expressed, “Of more dire ethical concern is the question of consent in these relationships. The power differential between students and professors is enormous—whether acting as an intro-course lecturer or a master’s research supervisor, a professor has substantial control over their students’ success at McGill, and, by extension, their career prospects upon graduation. Given this compromised capacity to object to unwanted sexual advances, it is unethical for a professor to initiate any relationship with a student directly beneath them.”

The #MeToo movement is altering the definition of consent, especially there is a difference power between the two parties in evolved, such as professors getting involved in relationships, and sexually with their students. Students who believe they are getting involved consensually with professors seem to forget, with such a power difference, these relationships can never truly be consensual, because there is no equality. Mercier-Dolphand in the McGill Daily explained, “The student’s power in this dynamic is not comparable, and talking of equality between consenting adults in this case ignores the power differential on which the relationship is built.”

Recently, even former White House intern Monica Lewinsky in a March 2018, Vanity Fair article entitled, “Emerging from the ‘House of Gaslight’ in the age of #metoo” re-examined her relationship with former President Bill Clinton. Lewinsky persistently claimed it was consensual and she was not a victim, but she is currently reconsidering it in light of the #MeToo movement. Lewinsky expressed, “I now see how problematic it was that the two of us even got to a place where there was a question of consent. Instead, the road that led there was littered with inappropriate abuse of authority, station, and privilege. (Full stop.)”

A former Associate Dean of Arts at York University, Shirley Katz wrote a policy paper on the very issue published in University Affairs in 2000, entitled “Sexual Relations Between Students and Faculty.” To Katz there cannot be consent because of professors’ “power over students” as the nature of role. Katz concludes the power difference is always there making consent in the traditional way impossible for students. Katz wrote, “because the professor’s powers affect the student’s life in a significant way, […] the student cannot say no to the relationship, so her consent is actually coerced compliance.”

Jason M. Opal, associate professor in the Department of History and Classical Studies at McGill commented in the 2015 McGill Daily article, “Let’s talk about teacher,” a student’s anonymous recount of her sexual relationship with one of the professors accused of inappropriate behavior. Opal concurred, the power dynamic affects consent. Opal wrote there are “profound inadequacies of ‘consent’ as a moral and social category.” Continuing, he said, “consent is better than coercion: that is the best thing we can say about it. Opal concluded that the professor student relationship is “inherently problematic, usually exploitative, and often predatory.” The unequal predatory nature is the reason professors involved have to face sanctions and punishments from the university, because they have an obligation to protect their students.

Some of the accounts coming from McGill describe sexual relationships, but they are not the only inappropriate ones. Others blur the line, friendships and emotional relationships that can tether on sexual harassment or impropriety, but avoid the messy sexual dynamic that is easier to prove crossed a line. Even if broken boundaries are easily proved, the university has not been kind to students filing complaints against professors after such relationships. They are not given the same weight as unwanted and forced sexual harassment and assault committed by other students. Universities have been enacting policies that prohibit any personal relationships between students and professors, especially if they are in as position to grade them for some timer already. McGill has yet to address the issue even after revising their sexual assault policy..

Students had a right to be concerned about the revised SVP seeing what is transpiring with the five Arts professors and the way complaints have been brushed aside. The SSMU has been working on an additional policycovering misconduct from students in McGill’s clubs and societies. Closing the “loophole” would make students more comfortable making complaints against fellow students. It would allow the SSMU clubs and societies to remove or sanction someone that has a complaint filed against them, even banning them from the SSMU building. Additionally, it would provide mandatory training in defining and preventing sexual assault for all SSMU associated university clubs and societies.

For over two years there has been rumblings of complaints of transgressions by professors in the Faculty of Arts, particularly, the Department of Political Science, incidentally Provost Manfredi’s old department and the Institute of Islamic Studies. Apparently, there are claims that there is a serial sexual harasser in the department of political science and a serial lothario in the Institute of Islamic Studies. This professor in the Islamic Studies is a central reason for the students and SSMU’s uproar over the university’s mishandlings of professors’ inappropriate behavior.

Former McGill political science professor Stephen Saideman, who taught at the department from 2002 to 2012 wrote about the actions of a professor in his department. Saideman repeatedly wrote about this particular professor in a number of blog posts. In his blog post entitled, “McGill’s Shame Continues” from March 2016, he specifically revealed that this professor was teaching Middle East and peace building studies in the department. Saideman explained in his post why he did not expose the name of the professor. The former McGill professor commented, “I have repeatedly referred to a particular serial sexual harasser […] but obliquely so. Why obliquely so? Because I am not sure what the consequences are for me of violating the confidentiality agreements of a place I used to work and because I didn’t want people to speculate about who received this guy’s unwanted attention.”

A student did successfully file a complaint this particular professor; however, the so-called punishment was hardly enough to deter him from continuing harassing students. Saideman recounted, “[the University] did find in favour of the student, and the provost found that something inappropriate happened at the time, but that it did not fit the definition at the time of sexual harassment. I do believe this is a failure on the part of that provost.” All the university did was change the professor’s office to one where he can be monitored and prevented him from taking on graduate students. In barely no time, the department lapsed, he was back in his old office, and supervising graduate students, even female ones.

In 2016, Saidemen claimed the major problem with the complaints process was confidentiality and the university refusing to name guilty professors. During his time at McGill Saideman used to discourage students from studying that area, as the only means of deterrence he could do. Saideman told the McGill Daily, “The core problem is how McGill has handled it. It was all treated confidentially, which has the effect of protecting the perpetrator…. the job of the University is to protect students.” Saideman was surprised that he was still teaching, saying, “I simply don’t understand why McGill has not fired him yet.”

Another story that brought out the problem of the professor accused of sleeping with his students was an anonymous article in the McGill Daily of a student recounting her nearly two-year affair with this professor, the one supposedly from the Institute of Islamic Studies The article published in September 2015 was entitled, “Let’s talk about teacher I slept with my professor and here’s why it shouldn’t have happened in the first place.” The explicit article described how this professor-student relationship developed from office-hour meetings to a working and sexual relationship that tore this student apart with the conflicting roles they played. In her recount, the working relationship played a prominent role in their developing relationship. The work relationship was the legitimate way for them to spend time in his office behind closed doors; a common excuse professors use to justify publicly their inappropriate involvement with a student. After the second year, the student discovered he had been sleeping with other students as well she was not the only one, but one of many.

The student described this professor as she saw him after everything ended, “He was a predator. He was a manipulator. He was a liar. He was using young women as vessels for self-validation. He was abusing his power, and he had no intention of stopping.” She also discovered this professor, “slept with, propositioned, sent inappropriate emails to, or generally made uncomfortable” other female students. The complaints process was daunting and these students feared retribution and reprisals that are so common so they did file. The article published nearly three-years-ago indicated that at that time there where problems also with five professors in different departments, “who had reputations of either serially harassing or sleeping with their students.” The student recounted, “Where some professors were concerned, students spoke of the incidents like they were common knowledge.”

At that point, there were no formal complaints filed against that professor. This fall the students were fed up with this Islamic Studies’ professor at the heart of this scandal as he was up for tenure this academic year, so they initiated their own grassroots protest. At the start of this academic year, stickers were posted in the women’s bathrooms with the Islamic Studies professor’s name, warning other female students. According to the McGill Daily, “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 responded with a denial, saying, “Anonymous accusations have been posted around campus about me that are categorically untrue and constitute defamation. I am deeply committed to doing my part to make every student feel safe in my classroom and on McGill’s campus.”

The university administration seemed to have backed up the professor with Angela Campbell, the Associate Provost (Policies, Procedures and Equity) writing a defending statement that admonished the students who revealed the professor publicly. Campbell stated, “The University takes all complaints of misconduct seriously.” Continuing Campbell expressed, “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.”

Additionally, in the Winter 2017 semester the 2016-2017 executive leaders of the World Islamic and Middle East Studies Student Association (WIMESSA) Sent an open letter objecting to the professor to Robert Wisnovsky, Director of the Institute of Islamic Studies. The letter read, “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.” WIMESSA asked the department not to grant the professor tenure, writing, “It is disconcerting that such an abuse of power appears to be going unreprimanded. 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 encourages the impending tenure committee to deny [the professor] tenure.”

The program director never publicly responded, and this year’s WIMESSA executives issued a statement. The statement backtracked and avoided mentioning the particular professor. The executives wrote, “In light of recent events regarding the Islamic Studies Institute, 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.”

It is too easy for the lines to be blurred in academia. For professors they are presented with wide-eyed naive students in awe, many enamored with the professors’ charm, sophistication and brilliance, and they easily take advantage of the situation. Many of the young faculty members are often less than then ten years older than the students they teach, for others they never want to see themselves as older than the students. They behave as friends, buddies cross the line into sexual harassment, sexual relationships, but the power dynamic is always there. Professors and students are never equals and it is inappropriate for them to think it is even possible.

Research has proven that power alters the minds of men, making them believe they have the right to behave in the controlling manner that leads to sexual harassment and assault. They believe they have a privilege to behave the way they do and many fail to see how wrong they are. The #MeToo movement in a short six months has swept through the entertainment industry, politics, business and journalism. The movement gave a voice and credibility to women who for years had experienced harassment, abuse and assault in the hands of men in positions of power and then suffered in silence fearing reprisals.

Now it is sweeping academia, but there are set backs. Tenure has always given professors an extra boost in their power, giving them an air of invincibility. Tenure has and is still protecting professors preventing universities from firing professors who behave inappropriately with students. Professors, however, believe universities owe their students to deal with the accused professors, not just fire them, which would allow them to continue their behavior elsewhere. The SSMU’s open letter wants an investigator to examine tenure and tenure-track professors as well, to see if complaints against professors are presented to the tenure committee and to see whether tenure status “can be reassessed following formal complaints against a faculty member.”

The students realize tenure cannot be overturned and the system changed overnight, but they do believe there should be consequences for tenured professors. Spencer commented to the Montreal Gazette, “Right now, if a prof has tenure, they are untouchable. Some of the profs (who are the subjects of repeated complaints) have tenure and some don’t. For the ones who do have tenure, why would anyone bring a complaint forward? … It’s not about, one complaint, therefore fire them, but we need to explore what a procedure for processing complaints against a tenured prof looks like.”

In Montreal, there have already been cracks in that invincibility. This past January at neighboring Concordia University, former students and graduates of the school’s creative writing program came forward against four professors without tenure with allegations going back two decades. The university acted swiftly and dismissed three of the living professors, then launched an investigation. Within two weeks the university issued guidelines on how to deal with professor-student relationships acknowledging there is a “conflict of interest” and an “imbalance of power.”

The events at Concordia inspired SSMU to take action now, and force the university to confront the way they have been dealing or not dealing with complaints against these five repeat offending professors. Spencer commented the press, “We were told that it couldn’t happen, and then we looked over at our neighbour and they were doing it, so we didn’t accept that anymore…I thought, ’If not now, then when,’ If something doesn’t happen now, I don’t know when it’s going to happen.”

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

Education December 14, 2016: Harvard College’s most selective early action admissions year for Class of 2021

HEADLINE NEWS

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EDUCATION

By Bonnie K. Goodman

harvard_shield_wreathDecember is the first time of the academic year high school senior’s heart’s get broken as they discover of they are offered early action or decision admission to the university of their choice. No colleges are more selective in the process than the Ivy League. Harvard University released their Class of 2021 data on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016, announcing they admitted just 938 students or 14.5 percent of their early applicant pool.

As has been the trend, Ivy League, and elite universities are becoming more selective, and their early action admission rates are falling even though some might be accepting more students after receiving, even more, applications. This year is no different if Harvard’s numbers are an indication the Ivy League and elite universities are on track for their most selective year as they choose the Class of 2021. So much so they last year’s most selective school Stanford University refused to even release their early admissions data for the Class of 2021.

On Tuesday, Harvard announced they admitted just 938students out of 6,473 applications to their early admissions program for the Class of 2021. Their admissions represented just 14.5 percent of the applicant pool down only 0.3 percent from last year. Harvard admitted a smaller percentage of students than last year to the Class of 2021 when they admitted 914 students out of 6,167 applicants representing 14.8 percent. In total, Harvard only accepted 5.2 percent of applicants in the regular admission cycle to the Class of 2020 out of 39,000 applicants.

William R. Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid, commented on the record number of early admissions’ applicants and the process. Fitzsimmons expressed, “Early admission appears to be the ‘new normal’ now, as more students are applying early to Harvard and peer institutions than ever before.” The Admissions Dean explained the perfect recipe for a Harvard acceptance, “At the same time, we have continued to stress to applicants, their families, and their guidance counselors that there is no advantage in applying early to Harvard. The reason students are admitted – early or during the regular action process – is that their academic, extracurricular, and personal strengths are extraordinary.”

Harvard’s Class of 2021 is even more diverse than last year. More women were accepted representing 48 percent up from last year’s 47.4 percent for the Class of 2020. More minorities were admitted as well, 12.6 percent of African-American applicants were admitted this year up last year’s 9.4 percent. Fitzsimmons commented, “It does appear, say relative to the time when we gave up early admission, that there is greater ethnic and greater economic diversity in early pools these days, and therefore, in the admitted pool.”

There were, however, a decrease in diversity among other minority groups. Only 8.8 percent of Hispanics were admitted this year while last year 9.5 percent were admitted. Only 1.1 percent of Native American and Native Hawaiian were admitted down from last year’s 1.8 percent. The largest minority group accepted last year; Asian-Americans also saw a decrease in admissions with only 24.1 percent accepted down from 24.2 percent admitted last year through early action.

Early decision is binding, meaning a student who applies and then is accepted is required to attend the university or college, while early action is non-binding, a student can be accepted and then decide against going to that particular school and can turn down their admission offer. Applying for early admission is not without its risks either, some schools have policies where if a student is rejected in the early admission cycle, cannot reapply for regular admission, however, some universities who do not accept students that applied for early admission, automatically consider them for regular admission.

Politics July 19, 2016: Melania Trump’s political plagiarism scandal is not the first, and not the last

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POLITICS

Melania Trump’s political plagiarism scandal is not the first, and not the last


Did Melania Trump really plagiarize Michelle Obamas 2008 Democratic convention speech?

By Bonnie K. Goodman

It was supposed to be presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump’s wife, Melania’s big campaign debut, instead, it descended into controversy, as does everything in the Trump campaign. On Monday evening, July 18, 2016, Melania Trump gave the keynote address on the first night of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. Introduced by her husband, Melania’s job was to humanize Trump, who has been caricatured for much of his career and the campaign. Instead, her big moment was overshadowed by the similarities of two paragraphs with First Lady Michelle Obama’s 2008 Democratic Convention speech and accusations of plagiarism.

Both Melania and Michelle’s passages in their speeches emphasized family values imbued by their parents and passing them to the next generation. The themes were similar and also common for the type of convention speech. Although the words were similar, the sentences were for the most part different with some similar points, and certain keywords, possibly invoking the paraphrasing or copying for verbatim debate. Only one phrase was copied verbatim, “your dreams and your willingness to work for them.” Plagiarism is described as “The practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own.”

According to Harvard University‘s Faculty of Arts and Science “In academic writing, it is considered plagiarism to draw any idea or any language from someone else without adequately crediting that source in your paper. It doesn’t matter whether the source is a published author, another student, a Web site without clear authorship, a Web site that sells academic papers, or any other person: Taking credit for anyone else’s work is stealing, and it is unacceptable in all academic situations, whether you do it intentionally or by accident.” Harvard also lists different types of plagiarism, which include” “verbatim, mosaic, inadequate paraphrasing, uncited paraphrase, uncited quotations.” The only exception according to Harvard is “common knowledge.”

Melania’s speech excerpt read:

“My parents impressed on me the values: that you work hard for what you want in life. That your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise. That you treat people with respect. They taught me to show the values and morals in my daily life. That is the lesson that I continue to pass along to our son. And we need to pass those lessons on to the many generations to follow. Because we want our children in this nation to know that the only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.”

To compare here is Michelle’s speech from 2008:

“And Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you’re going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don’t know them, and even if you don’t agree with them. And Barack and I set out to build lives guided by these values, and pass them on to the next generation. Because we want our children — and all children in this nation — to know that the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.”

Almost immediately, after Melania delivered her speech, a journalist specializing in interior design and not politics, Jarrett Hill called Melania out on Twitter accusing her of plagiarism. In his tweet, Hill wrote, “Melania must’ve liked Michelle Obama’s 2008 Convention speech since she plagiarized it.” Hill, who is African-American, has a history of Trump bashing and is a fan of the Obamas, already, had a biased view of the situation. Still, the news media picked up on the story, and it swept through a media who already negatively bashes Trump and his rhetoric and policy positions. Melania’s similar words just was another chance for criticism.

Just as quickly Trump’s campaign denied the accusation. Senior communications adviser Jason Miller issued a statement after the accusations, which read, “In writing her beautiful speech, Melania’s team of writers took notes on her life’s inspirations, and in some instances included fragments that reflected her own thinking. Melania’s immigrant experience and love for America shone through in her speech, which made it such a success.”

According to the campaign, chairman Paul Manafort appearing on CNN’s “New Day” telling Chris Cuomo that the allegation is “just really absurd.” Manafort dismissed the claims, saying, “To think that she would do something like that knowing how scrutinized her speech was going to be last night is just really absurd.” Continuing Manafort explained, “There’s no cribbing of Michelle Obama’s speech. These were common words and values. She cares about her family. To think that she’d be cribbing Michelle Obama’s words is crazy.”

Manafort then, in turn, blamed presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Trump campaign manager made his accusation, saying, “This is once again an example of when a woman threatens Hillary Clinton, she seeks out to demean her and take her down. It’s not going to work.”

According to a Republican close to the situation, recounted the process involved in crafting Melania’s speech. According to the “operative”, several aides edited the speech and gave suggestions to Melania. Manafort approved the speech in the end. The recount contradicts the account from Trump’s wife who claims to have a written the speech herself. Melania revealed to to NBC‘s Matt Lauer, “I read once over it, that’s all, because I wrote it … with (as) little help as possible.” Melania is not facing the brunt of the backlash but rather Trump’s speechwriters and even Manafort, although no one has been fired for the error.

President Obama’s former speechwriter, Jon Favreau, who was partly responsible for Michelle Obama’s speech, did not seem offended or upset by the possibility of plagiarism. After the accusations had started flying, Favreau tweeted and joked, “(To be honest), I was more offended by just about every other speech than Melania’s plagiarized paragraphs.”

The problem is writers, and academics and even students get away with plagiarism all the time. With the vast amount of information on the internet, many believe that it is fair game, especially if it is a blog or non-traditional source. Academics who plagiarize believe they will not be caught because they are taking ideas from someone they deem less educated and less well known. More often than not if someone does not bring the plagiarized passages up the one, who plagiarizes usually gets away with it.

As a writer, I have experienced being plagiarized, from a woman posting an entire article of mine that was an excerpt from my thesis taken verbatim without any credit, with listing it as her own. To a former professor who for years continually liberally borrows my ideas, themes from my articles for his, even phrases but manages to get away with it because they have the doctorate and the professorship although according to Harvard’s definitions what they have done is considered plagiarism.

Just last week in the UK’s the Guardian Higher Education section a writer on the Academic Anonymous blog recounted finding a creative writing Ph.D. dissertation with 100 passages plagiarized verbatim. When the academic discovered the plagiarism reported it to the dissertation advisor at the British university, the professor protected their student by ensuring copies of the dissertation were removed from the university’s library and made unavailable in any other form to the public. Only a year later was the thesis put back on the shelves, but the Ph.D. graduate was never stripped of their degree or even reprimanded for the extensive and blatant plagiarism, in the most important capstone project of their university education.

Melania Trump’s plagiarism case is hardly the first involving politicians that rocked the political world. The most famous case is Vice President Joe Biden who in 1987, had to withdraw from the 1988 Democratic presidential race after it was discovered that he plagiarized a speech with passages from former Democratic candidates Hubert Humphrey, Robert Kennedy, and former President John F. Kennedy. Other notable political plagiarism scandals include Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, Montana Senator John Walsh, Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, and even President Barack Obama.

In 2007, then Democratic candidate Obama lifted some passages from then-Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s lines from a 2006 speech when he delivered a speech at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Wisconsin. Rival Hillary Clinton’s campaign revealed what Obama did. Obama dismissed it all as nothing much saying, “Deval and I do trade ideas all the time, and you know he’s occasionally used lines of mine. I would add I’ve noticed on occasion Sen. Clinton has used words of mine as well. As I said before, I really don’t think this is too big of a deal.”

Donald McCabe, a retired business professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey, conducted a survey in 2010 and determined a prevalence of cheating and plagiarism among college undergraduate and graduate students.

The following are the results of his survey:

  • 36% of undergraduates and 24% of graduate students admit to “paraphrasing/copying few sentences from Internet source without footnoting it.”
  • 38% of undergraduates and 25% of graduate students admit to “paraphrasing/copying few sentences from written source without footnoting it.”
  • 14% of undergraduates and 7% of graduate students admit to “fabricating/falsifying a bibliography.”
  • 7% of undergraduates 4% of graduate students and admit to copying materials “almost word for word from a written source without citation.”
  • 7% of undergraduates and 3% of graduate students admit to “turning in work done by another.” Finally, 3% of undergraduates and 2% of graduate students admit to “obtaining a paper from term paper mill.”

Another survey conducted in 2011 by the Pew Research Center and The Chronicle of Higher Education asked college presidents about plagiarism and cheating at their respective colleges among students. Of the 1,055 presidents asked, 55 percent said that there had been an increase in plagiarism in the ten preceding years, and they predominately, 89 percent, blamed the internet for rampant cheating.

In this case, Melania or most precisely her speechwriters used a common theme for conventions and wives’ of the running mates but made the mistake of staying too closely to a recent and famous speech from a beloved first lady. Viewed by millions, with enough people opposed to Trump, Melania’s first major foray was bound to be scrutinized.

The moment caught the press the Trump campaign wanted but not for the reasons they wanted. Trump, however, will survive the plagiarism scandal as the world can be forgiving just ask historian Doris Goodwin Kearns and even Joe Biden and Barack Obama, who plagiarized speeches once and still ended becoming a popular vice president and president.

Education July 1, 2016: STEM and business top college majors with the best starting salaries

HEADLINE NEWS

Headline_News

EDUCATION

By Bonnie K. Goodman

When choosing a college major if one wants to make the most money upon graduating it is best to choose a STEM, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math or business major. Michigan State University’s Collegiate Employment Research Institute (CERI) released their annual report according to a Forbes article published on June 30, 2016. The report documents the top majors that lead to the “highest starting salaries” after graduation. Engineering degrees seem the best certain path to the highest starting salaries with chemical, computer, and electrical engineering dominating the top three spots.

Phil Gardner, a “college labor market expert,” operates Michigan’s CERI. The annual report looked at the majors yielding the highest starting salaries. To determine the top degrees they researched data from 4,730 employers and “200 career service centers.” The report compiled “respondents recruiting… for full-time positions, internships, and co-ops.”

The top bachelor degree is in chemical engineering where graduates earn between $34,850 and $100,600, with an average $63,389 each year. Computer engineering is in second place with an
average starting salary of $63,313, while electrical engineering is third with a mean salary of  $61,173. The rest of the list predominantly includes degrees relating to science mostly engineering, math and computer science, and business majors.

In CERI’s list from last year, electrical engineering was the top-paying major; with a $57,000 starting annual salary, computer engineering, and mechanical engineering occupied the second and third place respectively. This year’s top earning major chemical engineering was in sixth place.

The top majors yielded starting salaries with $23,000 at the low end and just over 100,000 at the high end, with an average of just over 43,000 to over 63,000. CERI also lists the lowest-earning majors, which consist of Psychology with a mean salary of $36,327, “Public Relations ($36,235) and Advertising ($35,733).”

CERI also includes top earning Masters Degrees, which almost mirrors the top earning undergraduate degrees. The top Masters Degrees are Engineering with an average starting salary of $68,000, “Computer Science & IT ($67,735), and Masters in Business Administration, MBAs ($62,345).”

The report also included the best paying Doctoral degrees. The top earning Ph.D. is Engineering & Computer Science with an average starting salary of $76,702, in second place is the “Physical & Biological Sciences ($63,809) and Business ($62,454).”

Here are the top 20 bachelor degrees and their average starting salaries:

Chemical Engineering, $63,389
Computer Engineering, $63, 313
Electrical Engineering, $61,173
Software Design, $60,104
Mechanical Engineering, $59, 681
Computer Programming, $58,995
Computer Science, $56,974
Civil Engineering, $55,879
Management Information Systems, $51,690
Construction, $49,672
Finance, $48,785
Accounting, $47,834
Supply Chain, $47,147
Economics, $46,270
Human Resources, $45,737
Chemistry, $45,209
Mathematics includes applied, $44,609
Marketing, $43,481
Biology, $43,404
Agricultural Business, $43,214

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