Violence, Sexual Violence, Harassment and Discrimination: Experiences from the UOIT Context

Abstract: What follows is a brief piece outlining the UOIT Faculty Association’s ongoing concerns surrounding harassment and discrimination at UOIT, and the Administration’s initiatives to create an umbrella violence, sexual violence, harassment and discrimination policy. Previous survey results indicate 47% of responding members have experienced and/or witnessed harassment and discrimination in their workplace. As such, we urge wide participation in the University’s consultation on this policy as outlined below. All comments should be submitted no later than November 4, 2016.

On Friday, October 14, 2016, at the public session of UOIT’s Board of Governors meeting, it was announced that the University’s draft Violence, Sexual Violence, Harassment and Discrimination Policy was tabled. The meeting was attended by a number of students who expressed concerns regarding insufficient consultation with students as mandated by Bill 132, Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act. During these presentations, it was also revealed that in the opinion of a policy advisor to a sitting Liberal MPP, the current draft of UOIT’s Violence, Sexual Violence, Harassment and Discrimination Policy is not in compliance with Bill 132, which calls for, among other things, a standalone campus violence policy. You can read more about these students’ concerns here.

On the one hand, this reinforces some of the concerns that the Association has expressed on draft policies presented to date – see here and here for written recommendations that have been submitted. While we are pleased to note that some of our recommendations have been incorporated into subsequent drafts, a number of our serious concerns remain unaddressed. One of these centred around the creation of a one-size fits all policy to deal with such large and diverse issues as violence, sexual violence, harassment and discrimination (note the absence of sexual harassment, which at the time of writing had still not been incorporated into the draft policy despite this being a stipulation of Bill 132 as it amends the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and draft procedures and other policy instruments).

As we await information on where we will go from here in terms of the draft policy and procedures, we are left with an out-dated harassment and discrimination policy that hasn’t been revised since 2004. This is particularly concerning for the Association; as reported elsewhere, we have been raising the alarm of a possible culture of harassment and discrimination at UOIT for some time. Such concerns were initially raised via individual allegations that representatives of the University told complainants that we don’t talk about discrimination here, refusals to secure independent investigators when supervisors were the subject of a complaint, and refusals to implement equity measures which are long-established practices at other universities. A realization of just how dire the situation was came when we surveyed our membership in advance of our last round of bargaining. When asked if faculty members had witnessed and/or experienced harassment and discrimination in their workplace, an overwhelming 47% of respondents indicated they had. Comments further revealed that rather than fostering an environment free of harassment and discrimination, some members believed HR contributed to the problem through their handling of complaints/concerns. The following are examples of anonymous comments the Association has received:

Note on the use of comments: While many more detailed comments could be made available on this subject, we choose those most reflective of common experiences; we have also taken great care to ensure anonymity by removing any and all statements or portions thereof that could in any way lead to the identification of any individual.

I was the recipient of an unprofessional and personal demeaning email….

I have heard of allegations of discrimination/harassment in the case of an assistant professor going through the tenure process.

…My disappointment is primarily with management failing to enforce certain standards of civilized behaviour.

I made the mistake to consult with HR…but the end result was that I was the offender….

A major issue I am aware of, and witnessed indirectly in some cases, is the discrepancy of treatment for female vs. male faculty….

I spoke to HR at this point and they rebuffed me, telling me that I must have been oversensitive to the situation…. 

…there could be improvements through things like sensitivity training.

I have heard people at our faculty discussing that there might be some tendency of racial discrimination at our faculty, but it’s always hard to find solid evidence.

[My Dean] has personally made life [difficult] for many, who have now left. Even with all this evidence, the charges are really very difficult to prove. So all the legislation in the world will not help this situation, and [he/she] knows it.

There has been a tremendous amount of paternalism and cronyism in our faculty and UOIT in general….

The discrimination has to do with…my research program. I also have colleagues who are being actively discriminated against on the same basis….

I have experienced discrimination and harassment based upon my gender and my race by both by those within my Faculty and those outside of it.

Academic bullying is an issue and should be considered.

I know someone who has been subject to discrimination at UOIT for speaking out about unfair treatment.

I put forth a…complaint…. It took a great deal of effort to get HR to pursue the complaint…. I hope this process improves as harassment issues are rampant at UOIT!

Workplace environment is terrible and the faculty is generally unhappy….

There need to be clearer procedures around annual reviews and tenure and promotion so the faculty member is given clear guidance as to expectations and is confident that proper formal procedures will be followed rather than subjective ones. There also has to be a harassment and discrimination policy that a member will feel able to use in terms of their ability to report without feeling that there will be repercussions for them that will affect their reviews or ability to work in their Faculty.

The Association has raised harassment and discrimination concerns repeatedly through grievances, Joint Committee, the Joint Health and Safety Committee and bargaining. At least one complaint was submitted by someone in the workplace to the Ministry of Labour over the university’s lack of compliance with harassment and discrimination legislation. Often, there is a refusal to acknowledge harassment and discrimination are problems at UOIT. This has been evidenced through a past practice of having threatening and/or discriminatory comments from student course evaluations removed before they were submitted to faculty members; unfortunately, the associated scores were not removed, which can in effect whitewash inappropriate root causes of low evaluations, which in turn can impact hiring, tenure and promotion decisions. While there appears to be a commitment to improve this practice moving forward, that will not erase potential past negative implications.

We did have some success in bargaining, including the establishment of a Joint Committee on Employment Equity to examine systemic discrimination and recommend an action plan to address this. However, measures to further enhance equity initiatives at the university were rejected by the employer in bargaining. Rejected proposals include equity training for those involved in hiring, tenure and promotion decisions, a broadened and more inclusive equity statement in job postings, and the creation of an anomaly fund to address pay differentials for equity-seeking groups. While we have recently been given cause to be more optimistic about equity training for hiring committees, many issues remain unaddressed. And so the more things change, it seems, the more they stay the same.

Now that the draft violence, sexual violence, harassment and discrimination policy has been tabled, we are left once again with a policy that has remained unchanged for twelve years. This is the same policy under which an unacceptable number of faculty members have continued to feel subject to harassment and discrimination in their workplaces. UOIT prides itself on being a futuristic institution; as such, it’s time for the University to step into the 21st century and start implementing measures that cultivate an environment free of all forms of harassment, discrimination and violence, because even one incident is one too many.

The University has recently announced it will be engaging in the following broad-based consultations with the campus community:

  • Tuesday, November 1 from 8 to 10 a.m. (Gordon Willey Building, Room G213 – dining room)
  • Wednesday, November 2 from noon to 2 p.m. (Science Building, Room 2240)
  • Wednesday, November 2 from 6 to 8 p.m. (Gordon Willey Building, Room G213 – dining room)
  • Thursday, November 3 from 9 to 11 a.m. (61 Charles Street Building, Room 216)

You can also submit comments online before November 4 here.

Please use this opportunity to make your voice heard, and help bring policies and procedures into place that will foster a campus environment free of all forms of violence, harassment and discrimination. You can also contact the Association anytime should you wish to have any issues raised on your behalf.


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