Dalhousie senate rules out external probe in Facebook scandal

Professors, students scrutinize Florizone's response to campus controversy

Letitia Meynell, associate professor and senator at Dalhousie, speaks to Dalhousie president Richard Florizone at a senate meeting on Monday. Photo: Thoshlae Smith

Some members of the Dalhousie senate aren’t convinced that justice will be served in the faculty of dentistry.

On Monday, the same day 13 male dentistry students returned to school in segregated classrooms, Dalhousie’s senior academic governing body discussed the dentistry Facebook scandal.

Associate philosophy professor Letitia Meynell urged officials to launch an external investigation of misogyny on campus, and have that body report its findings to the senate.

Meynell explained that the motion, which senators voted to defer indefinitely, was similar to the Dal Respect task force announced last week by Dalhousie president Richard Florizone. The task force, which will be led by Constance Backhouse of the University of Ottawa, will investigate misogyny, sexism and homophobia on campus.

Meynell said she is concerned whether the task force will investigate actions by faculty and staff of Dalhousie University in the events that led to the suspension of the 13 students.

“The specific handling of the issue from December on through the whole process, I’d like to know exactly what happened because I don’t feel confident our policies were particularly effective,” Meynell told reporters after the meeting.

She suggested an arrangement in which the senate would work with this body as a joint task force, and sign off on any decisions made.

“I think there’s a real question about perception in the general public and whether or not that will be enough to restore confidence in the faculty,” Meynell said.

“The task force looks great and I have every confidence in (Constance) Backhouse, … (but) I think it’s important that the president’s office and the senate itself owns that particular investigation.”

Her concerns were echoed by a number of other senators, with one student representative suggesting students have “little faith” in the faculty’s ability to deal with the issue. One senator said four women who have sought a just process have not been able to find it.

“I feel a little bit tied in knots,” responded Florizone, who added he was not concerned about appearances and donors, but about justice.

Senate chairman Alan Pinder said that making such a change would interfere with a process already underway, and be unfair to the students involved.

A second motion was brought forward by Meynell to replace the current Academic Standards Class Committee (ASCC) reviewing the actions of the students involved. She wanted to include individuals who are not part of the current dentistry faculty. Senate turned down a motion to extend the meeting by 15 minutes to discuss this, but will look at holding an emergency meeting to discuss the motion this week.

Jacqueline Skiptunis, vice-president of academic and external of the Dalhousie Student Union, expressed concerns about the timeliness of the investigation.

“I think they’re moving too slowly and not deliberately for students,” she said. “An extra 15 minutes shouldn’t have been difficult.”

Florizone said he understands frustrations from senate and the public.

“I know that it’s tough for people, I know people are impatient and want answers but we know we must have a just process.”

Timeline: Keili Bartlett