Award-winning Canadian author Brian Brett is calling on the University of British Columbia to apologize for the suffering it has caused over the Steven Galloway case, saying UBC should consider staging a “truth and reconciliation commission” to allow students, staff and professors to publicly express their concerns about the handling of the situation.
Mr. Galloway was fired as chair of the creative-writing program last June.
In an open letter, Mr. Brett – who once taught in the program and is a former chair of the Writers’ Union of Canada – uses terms such as “inept,” “shoddy” and “flailing” to describe the university’s management of the case. And he says the fallout has had a devastating effect on the program.
“The university’s incompetent governance made everyone into victims of one kind or another, and it still refuses to admit that,” Mr. Brett writes in the letter addressed to UBC president Santa Ono and the Board of Governors.
The scathing missive repeatedly scolds the university for its handling of the case – a “convoluted fiasco,” Mr. Brett calls it. He says the result is that Mr. Galloway, the complainants, faculty, students and signatories of an open letter in which many prominent Canadian writers criticized the university over the controversy – the now infamous UBC Accountable letter – have all been harmed.
Mr. Galloway, a bestselling novelist, was suspended abruptly in November, 2015, from his position as chair of the creative-writing program. The Globe and Mail has confirmed a former student accused Mr. Galloway of sexual assault. He has said he had an affair with the student that lasted for about two years. She has said her complaint was not about an affair. Other complainants came forward, but none accused Mr. Galloway of sexual assault, according to Mr. Brett’s letter.
An independent investigator substantiated only one of the complaints against Mr. Galloway – and it was not the sexual assault complaint, according to Mr. Galloway’s lawyer.
Mr. Galloway was fired without severance. He is grieving his dismissal and a hearing was to take place late last month. The university, Mr. Galloway and his lawyer have refused to confirm any information about the proceeding. When contacted on Monday about Mr. Brett’s open letter, UBC once again refused to comment.
Mr. Brett, whose 13 books include the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize-winning Trauma Farm: A Rebel History of Rural Life, said he was abruptly dismissed, “without any formal notice or even a word,” as part of a “purge” to clear the creative writing program of outspoken supporters of Mr. Galloway.
His analysis of the situation has been informed by his own circumstances. While the Galloway case played out and the UBC Accountable issue was blowing up on social media and causing deep divisions within Canlit, Mr. Brett was dealing with very serious health issues: heart failure, liver cancer, and hepatitis.
“I’ve been so sick and I’ve thought a lot about this,” he told The Globe and Mail. “Watching the pettiness and the sadness and viciousness of the behaviour and thinking I could be dead tomorrow, writing out my will ... gives you a unique perspective.”
Mr. Brett is one of the more than 80 people who originally signed the UBC Accountable letter, which called for “clarity and fairness in UBC’s handling of the Steven Galloway case.” But critics on social media said the letter failed to show enough empathy for the complainants.
Mr. Brett says he stands by the letter, and a clarification that stated concern for all assault victims, but he is also enraged about the targeting of signatories – including those who themselves have been victims of sexual assault (as has Mr. Brett).
“We’ve witnessed women using social media to single out women signatories, threatening their jobs and mental health, and conspiring to create bullying campaigns designed to shame these assault victims out of their defence of fundamental justice, transparency, and due process,” Mr. Brett’s letter says. “Talk about showing concern for assault victims!”
For all to heal, Mr. Brett is calling for hearings that would allow students, staff and faculty to “publicly vent” their concerns if they want to, and make recommendations on a new sexual assault policy to help “prevent such a series of disasters from ever occurring again.”
He says there has been a “meltdown” at the UBC program; those remaining “have all suffered from UBC’s misdirection, procedural mayhem, and lack of clear guidance.” Students are stressed, the department is divided, the letter says.
“Now it is a shambles, with professors being confronted and insulted by students and other professors, fearing for their jobs and silenced by orders from management, while classes have been haunted by the wildly mishandled treatment of that assault complaint against Steven Galloway,” he writes.
“The flailing governance of UBC has led directly to the public ruin of this once-great department. One can only hope that it will recover.”Report Typo/Error