U of T received formal complaints against ex-Trinity College provost accused of sexual harassment, but he wasn’t punished
|Toronto Star 21 Oct 2021 at 23:29|
The University of Toronto received formal complaints on at least two occasions about former professor Andy Orchard alleging sexual advances and inappropriate touching of graduate students. But it was the victims of his advances, and not the professor, who faced repercussions, the Star has learned.
Orchard, a world renowned scholar of English and medieval studies who was the provost and vice-chancellor of Trinity College from 2007 to 2013, with his students and sexually harassed others over the course of years, according to a blockbuster Al Jazeera report published this week on sexual misconduct in academia.
Orchard did not respond to the Star’s request for comment. Orchard’s lawyers sent a five-page letter to Al Jazeera disputing the allegations, but he did not permit any of it to appear in the report.
The Star has obtained a letter confirming that two students complained Orchard isolated a student in conversation and would not let go of her hand at a pub near U of T campus, where he would routinely meet students outside of class. The letter, written by the acting director of the Centre for Medieval Studies in 2008, informs Orchard “it is inappropriate to interact with students in pubs or while under the influence of alcohol.”
“... as reported, the conduct was inappropriate and in breach of the University’s Conflict of Interest Policy and the provost’s guidelines regarding close personal relations with students,” the letter states. “I must advise you that the alleged conduct may have also been in violation of the University’s Policy and Procedures on Sexual Harassment.”
Despite these alleged transgressions, Orchard faced no consequences. He was told not to do it again.
“I must caution you that in future you must take care never to place your personal interests in conflict with your students,” the letter states.
But the students involved in the incident were reassigned new thesis supervisors.
Orchard now teaches at Oxford University in the U.K. In his response to the letter, he wrote in 2008 that his “recollection of events is at significant variance with what I gather has been alleged.”
“Neither do I force or coerce anyone (students or otherwise) to sit in the pub with me; as you have witnessed yourself, it is rather the case that folk seek me out,” he wrote. He characterized the department’s reaction a “witch-hunt.”
This was not the first time students had complained about Orchard.
In 2004, a report was made to U of T’s Sexual Assault and Harassment Office on behalf of three female graduate students alleging they were sexually harassed by Orchard.
The response: they were given a new supervisor to “get them out of harm’s way,” said Professor Emeritus David Klausner, who made the report on their behalf.
Klausner said he was told to warn other graduate students about Orchard’s behaviour.
“What was recommended was I spoke to quite a number of the female graduate students … and warned them to be careful, make sure you don’t wind up in a room with Andy alone, with the door closed,” he said.
On Tuesday, an investigative report by Al Jazeera on sexual harassment at universities put forward allegations from several female academics, including a current vice-president at the University of Toronto, that said Orchard, who was a professor and provost at Trinity College, had sexually harassed staff and students and also had inappropriate relationships with students.
While the University of Toronto released statements Wednesday calling the claims “troubling to all of us,” and as Trinity College said it will be conducting an external probe into the issue, Klausner said it was clear the sexual violence support centre knew about Orchard’s alleged conduct 17 years ago.
“[The sexual support centre’s] advice was to get the students out of harm’s way as soon as possible,” he said, which meant moving the students to new supervisors.
They “certainly knew what was going on, or knew what was said to be going on,” he said.
Asked to confirm Klausner’s report, the university said it had no further comment.
In mid-2004, Klausner said three female graduate students came to him to report Orchard’s conduct as Klausner was the former director of the Medieval Studies program at the university, and Orchard was a professor in the department.
The three students said Orchard had touched them inappropriately while out for drinks with him. Orchard was known for holding student gatherings and meetings at a nearby pub.
“Andy tended to be ‘all hands’ in regular meetings with students in the local pub. What the students told me was that he ‘didn’t know where to stop putting his hands,’” he said.
“It makes me sick, to be perfectly honest,” said Klausner referring to Orchard’s behaviour. “Why in the hell would he be doing something unbelievably stupid like this,” he said was his reaction at the time.
Klausner said he was advised by the sexual harassment office to speak to Orchard about his conduct. The day after he reported the alleged harassment he said he arranged a meeting with Orchard.
“I told him to cut it out,” he said. Orchard did not react well to the confrontation, he said.
“But by that time the damage had been done,” said Klausner. He said over the next few years, the behaviour of Orchard was known and he continued to warn female graduate students about Orchard, because that’s what the sexual assault centre recommended he do.
When Klausner saw the Al Jazeera report published, he said he felt relieved and not surprised.
“It’s been 15 years, but I knew at some point this thing was going to blow up,” he said.
While he said he felt the support centre was taking the incident seriously at the time and the students made it clear to him that they were satisfied with the outcome, of not having to work with Orchard anymore, he told the Star this type of harassment should now be handled very differently.
“I think things have improved immensely. I don’t think what happened with Orchard would be possible in the atmosphere we have now,” said Klausner. “It wouldn’t have been kept quiet in the way the Orchard case was. I think the university is doing a much better job of it now.”