Ontario university cancels return to classroom of professor disciplined for sexually harassing student

Ontario university cancels return to classroom of professor disciplined for sexually harassing student
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An Ontario university has reversed its plan to let a professor who was disciplined for sexually harassing a female student return to the classroom — announcing on the eve of his first lecture that the history course David Schimmelpenninck was scheduled to teach this winter has been cancelled.

Students at Brock University in St. Catherines intended to stage a silent sit-in protest at Schimmelpenninck’s classroom door as the course got underway on Thursday after a provincial arbitrator ruled the professor, who hadn’t taught at Brock since an investigation into his conduct concluded in 2016, should be allowed to resume his regular duties.

The university emailed students in the undergraduate course, a second-year elective entitled War and Peace in the Modern Age, on Wednesday morning to inform them it would no longer be held this semester.

A Brock spokesperson declined to explain why the course was cancelled or to specify when the decision to cancel it was made, noting the university doesn’t comment on personnel matters.

Prof. David Schimmelpenninck

In a written statement Schimmelpenninck said, “I regret my past behaviour, and if I could undo it, and the harm I caused, I absolutely would.

“I had a drinking problem for a very long time. I have gotten help for my alcoholism and stopped drinking completely. Over the past three years I have worked very hard to address my problems and done everything the university has asked of me.

“I made serious mistakes and the university has disciplined me for them. I know that some people will never accept me back at the school. I have devoted my life to being an educator, and my only hope is that I will be able to give back to the university community the best way I know, as an educator.”

Students have called for Schimmelpenninck to resign in light of his behaviour one night in October 2014.

Schimmelpenninck had met some of his students at a bar after class when he suggested to one male and one female in the group that they accompany him to his office to keep drinking. An internal Brock investigation later sided with the female student, who has not been named, when she alleged Schimmelpenninck made sexual advances and comments to which she objected after her male counterpart left the professor’s office and went home.

Last month, Ontario labour arbitrator Kevin Burkett directed Brock to let Schimmelpenninck return to the classroom, citing the university’s collective agreement with its faculty association. His second-year course was made available to students following that decision — until Wednesday, when the dean of Brock’s Faculty of Humanities advised enrolees to get in touch with an academic advisor if they wanted help switching classes.

“It’s a good first victory,” said Jessica Falk, a fourth-year undergrad who helped plan the proposed sit-in.

I regret my past behaviour

Alex Perna, a graduate student in geography at Brock, said she was pleased to hear Schimmelpenninck’s course had been cancelled, but added that she would continue to protest his employment. She, Falk and other students still planned to hold a public demonstration on campus Thursday afternoon, shortly before Schimmelpenninck’s first lecture was to have started.

“When you overstep your boundaries of power, it’s very difficult to step back from that,” Perna said. “I also think because his statement very heavily focused on his dealings with alcoholism and maybe having a problem, he wasn’t as open to actually admitting the fact that he was found to have perpetrated sexual violence against a student.

“If he is sorry, I think that’s good, but if he really cared about his role as an educator, he would resign from his position without a payout from the university.”

In addition to saying Schimmelpenninck should resign, Perna and Falk have asked Brock to create a mandatory in-person training regimen to educate members of its faculty association on how to deal with harassment and abuse. They also want the faculty association to craft a code of ethics forbidding its members from maintaining sexual relationships with students.

Brock, for its part, said in a statement Wednesday that it would expedite a scheduled review of its sexual violence and harassment policy, a week after saying it had implemented such a policy and hired a sexual violence response and education coordinator in the years since Schimmelpenninck was investigated.

Brock’s faculty association declined to comment.

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