University community briefed on Katz report
About 250 members of the Memorial University community attended an open meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 13, to hear a briefing by Dr. Axel Meisen, Memorial’s president, on the findings of Dr. Shirley Katz.
Dr. Katz was commissioned by the president to undertake an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the employment experience of the late Dr. Deepa Khosla, to study whether Memorial’s policies, procedures and practices on harassment are disseminated and effective, and to determine whether the university’s climate is supportive and welcoming to women.
The report from Dr. Katz was received by the university in mid-August. At that time Dr. Meisen explained that the report contained a great deal of personal information that raised individual privacy-protection issues. He said that the university would work to address these concerns before engaging in fuller communications with the community about the results of the investigation.
Aspects of the review are still ongoing, however the open meeting of the university community was arranged to enable the president to present a briefing on the findings.
During the briefing Dr. Meisen provided background on the matter, including the mandate, the nature of the investigation, issues surrounding the report, key findings and recommendations. He also added some conclusions that he had drawn from his review of the report.
Dr. Meisen explained that the report was detailed, especially regarding Dr. Khosla. He explained that he has been advised that privacy issues prevent publication in full.
“I want to see the maximum amount of the report published,” he said. “However, I want to see privacy protected, in accordance with the law.”
He indicated that it appears the report would have to be “severed” (i.e., blacking out statements protected under privacy legislation), which would shorten it considerably. “However, I do not want university staff or our legal counsel doing the severing,” he said.
The president explained that he will seek an expert who is totally independent of the university to undertake the task of severing. He said that once that work is done, the report will be made available to the university community.
Dr. Meisen explained that the key findings he presented had been reviewed with Dr. Katz and she indicated her concurrence.
The findings included:
On the Khosla matter
• The interactions between Dr. Khosla and a particular student were brief and apparently benign. The last interaction occurred on Sept. 12, 2005.
• Dr. Khosla’s concerns regarding interaction with the student developed over time because she did not know and could not find out the risk (or non-risk) the student posed.
• The units which were approached by Dr. Khosla, and the administrators who approached her, responded with alacrity and utter good faith to her concerns.
• Deficiencies in the administration’s response were identified having to do with its processes of decision-making and information gathering.
• The administration determined that the student did not objectively pose a threat or danger to others.
• There was no reasonable basis on which to ban the student from campus, and the university, correctly, did not ban the student from campus.
• Dr. Khosla was not referred to the Office of the Sexual Harassment Advisor, and it was not possible to determine with certainty whether she was aware of the office. She had been provided with materials about the office during her orientation; there were distinctive posters posted on the campus, and the website was easily accessible and informative.
Because of limited time and resources, the report presents only a partial view of the climate for women at Memorial, based on a small, non-representative and in some respects self-selected sampling of opinion and experience. The findings were:
• While some emphasized the positive environment, many of those interviewed reported evidence of a serious malaise and masculine culture.
• Serious deficiencies in policy development and dissemination were identified.
The report made 12 recommendations. Memorial has already taken action on a number of the recommendations, including the creation of a tenure-track position in the Women’s Studies Program last spring.
The recommendations are:
• A crisis and risk management team should be established.
• In-house training for academic administrators, recently instituted in April 2006, should be continued.
• Better lines of communication should be established between and among units and divisions.
• Unionized employees who have ongoing complaints against the administration should be dealt with decisively and resolutely.
• The general area of policies and procedures and in particular, policy formulation, development and dissemination, should be reviewed.
• The specific policies governing student conduct and student complaints should be reviewed so that remaining ambiguities are addressed. The policy and procedures concerning sexual harassment should urgently be revised.
• Certain lacunae (i.e. gaps) in policies should be addressed. A policy on personal harassment should be a priority.
• A Centre for Human Rights and Equity should be established.
• A position of Advisor to the President on the Status of Women should be created immediately.
• A survey should be conducted by the Centre
for Institutional Analysis and Planning for the purpose of obtaining the views of women employees on a variety of subjects including compensation, career development and conditions of employment.
• The Sexual Harassment Advisor should, in the immediate future, provide informational sessions to meetings of faculty councils, departments, and senior administrators so that all are familiar with what sexual harassment is and how it is dealt with at Memorial.
• The Women’s Studies Program should be supported and strengthened as a matter of urgency, in accordance with the report on the Women’s Studies Program dated April 13, 2005.
Dr. Meisen thanked all members of the university community who participated in the process. “The women who came forward were genuine and sincere,” he said. “I am concerned about what they said. While their number may be small, that does not diminish the experiences and feelings of these women. Given their view of the environment, they were brave to come forward and I commend them for speaking up.”
The president told the meeting that he would continue to report to the university community on progress relating to the report and its recommendations. He also invited comments and suggestions relating to the issue.
Further information, including an archived video of Dr. Meisen’s briefing to the university community and the full contents of his presentation can be found at www.mun.ca/marcomm/home/katz_report.php.