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Margaret Wente

The Galloway affair: Salem comes to UBC Add to ...

I have a question about the Steven Galloway fiasco, now well into its second year. Why don’t they just burn the poor guy at the stake and get it over with?

Mr. Galloway is the most incendiary figure in Canadian literature today – not because of anything he wrote, but because of his mysterious removal as head of the creative-writing program at the University of British Columbia. Last November, the dean of arts notified the world that he had been suspended because of “serious allegations” against him, whose nature was unspecified. On social media, rumours abounded. In a memo, the dean said that UBC was “prioritizing” the safety of students and faculty. Other complainants were invited to come forward. A former B.C. Supreme Court judge, Mary Ellen Boyd, was hired to conduct an independent investigation. A few months later, Mr. Galloway was fired without severance and without further explanation. He has signed a confidentiality agreement.

No criminal charges were ever laid. Friends say he’s shattered.

Related: Steven Galloway case divides Canadian scholars

Related: Steven Galloway scandal creates divisions in the CanLit world

Read more: Authors wage social media battle over Steven Galloway's firing

In any ordinary time, reasonable people would conclude that Mr. Galloway had done something pretty terrible. But this is no ordinary time. This is a time when every campus in the land is running scared before the spectre of “rape culture,” when Jian Ghomeshi is the most monstrous predator who ever stalked the Earth and when a bunch of dental students nearly had their lives destroyed by a couple of coarse jokes on a private Facebook site.

In-depth investigations by both The Globe and Mail and The Walrus leave one doubting if Mr. Galloway is guilty of anything beyond bad judgment. The confidential report commissioned by the university – parts of which were leaked to the media – also found scant evidence of wrongdoing. The report dismissed the most serious allegation against him, along with all but one of the other ones.

It seems that Mr. Galloway’s troubles began when he started an extramarital affair with a middle-aged woman who wanted to get into his course. That didn’t sit well with some folks. It ended after three years. The woman made a shocking allegation about Mr. Galloway to another student, and that got the ball rolling. Mr. Galloway also invited his students out for beer once a week. For this lapse, he was accused of “plying” his students with alcohol in order to create a sexualized environment. The former judge rejected this claim out of hand. “The reality is that most of the crowd were sophisticated adults,” she wrote.

But on campus, fainting-couch feminism is the order of the day. Some of his accusers say the investigation into Mr. Galloway’s abusive behaviour has ruined their lives. “I thought I was going to be a novelist and that I was going to go to literary festivals and then this happened,” former student Chelsea Rooney told The Globe and Mail. “And that’s not my life any more.” (The judge found that Ms. Rooney’s allegations of harassment were “a gross overreaction.”)

Last week, many of CanLit’s leading lights – including Margaret Atwood, Madeleine Thien and Joseph Boyden – wrote an open letter to UBC to protest the absence of due process in the Galloway affair. They might as well have poured gasoline on the flames. They were promptly accused of silencing the victims, condoning rape culture and destroying young careers. The controversy has split the CanLit community in two. Author Lawrence Hill was one person who refused to sign. “I refuse to join any social movement that silences and hurts women who have brought forward complaints related to harassment or assault,” he wrote in The Globe. Oddly, he didn’t mention social movements that railroad the innocent.

Ms. Atwood – a writer who’s famous for her coruscating views on men – must be a bit bemused to find herself cast as an enemy of women. She is a few decades older than the fainting-couch feminists of today, and she also knows a thing or two about human nature. Writing on the Walrus website last week, Ms. Atwood maintained that to take the position that women are always right and never lie – and that men are always guilty – would do a great disservice to abuse survivors, by discrediting any accusations immediately. “The model of the Salem Witchcraft Trials is not a good one,” she wrote.

Let’s hope our leading universities take note. The sooner they stop trying to adjudicate the sexual and emotional conduct of everyone on campus, the better off everyone will be. We need a return to sanity – not another auto-da-fé.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article said some of UBC professor Steven Galloway's accusers said his behaviour had ruined their lives. In fact, it was the investigation into his behaviour.

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