Steven Galloway’s life the past two years-plus can be summarized aptly: a brutal firestorm. It’s included near-constant suicidal thoughts as he’s confronted the prospect of bankruptcy, being shunned by swaths of a literary community of which he was once stood at the shining centre and, worst of all, being depicted as a sexual predator.
While he takes responsibility for certain actions that preceded his firing as the chair of the University of British Columbia’s creative writing department, the acclaimed author also believes that what happened to him is unconscionable – not just the abysmal, ham-fisted way in which he believes the university handled the allegations levelled against him, but also the fact that charges he’s insisted all along were groundless have left his reputation in ruins.
“It’s darn near killed me,” Mr. Galloway told The Globe and Mail in the first interview he has granted since his ordeal began in the fall of 2015. “And truthfully, I still think about killing myself on a daily basis. I just don’t see much of a future for myself. I’m trying. I’m fighting it. But it’s hard.”
On Friday, an arbitrator awarded Mr. Galloway $167,000 stemming from a grievance launched by the UBC faculty association over the former chair of the creative writing department’s firing in the summer of 2016. The arbitrator found that certain communication by the university disseminated at the time of Mr. Galloway’s dismissal contravened his privacy rights and caused harm to his reputation.
While Mr. Galloway is satisfied with the award, it is a bittersweet victory. He says it doesn’t give him back the single greatest thing he lost in this whole saga - his name. And he believes that’s something that’s gone forever. He insists that the allegations of sexual misconduct made by a student he had a two-year affair with were always untrue and that many of the other complaints against him were frivolous.
When the allegations from the main complainant (MC) first surfaced in November, 2015, the university hired former B.C. Supreme Court judge Mary Ellen Boyd to investigate. She concluded that “based on the balance of probabilities” the incidents likely didn’t happen. She looked into a handful of other complaints as well, including everything from allegations of crude jokes to abusive behaviour. They were also disregarded by Ms. Boyd.
She did find he was wrong in having an affair with a student in his department. Nevertheless, despite being cleared of many of the charges, he was still fired for what the school called “a record of misconduct that resulted in an irreparable breach of trust.” The school said it took into consideration allegations which were not subject to Ms. Boyd’s investigation and were never disclosed.
“People call it a witch hunt but that’s almost a trite way of describing it,” said Mr. Galloway, sitting in the oak-panelled living room of his home in suburban New Westminster, B.C. “It’s a totalitarian state when a finger pointed is automatically guilt. It’s just absurd and even to this day there are people out there who have the audacity to say I got away with it. Got away with it?
“I haven’t got so much as an e-mail about writing in two years. I have no publishing prospects. I will never teach again. We’ve [he and his wife have four children between them] been living on a credit line. I’ll be bankrupt as soon as this thing is settled. I will have to sell my house. I didn’t win anything. I’ve won a moral victory but my life is destroyed.”
He accepts there are some, perhaps many, who will feel little sympathy for him. He accepts that his Thursday night beer-drinking gatherings with students in his program opened him up to problems. He concedes now it was likely a mistake to treat his students “as friends and adult equals” instead of as people in his charge that he was there to teach. Some of his complainants called him petty, vindictive and mean-spirited. While he rejects those characterizations of him, he doesn’t dispute he could get angry sometimes and maybe let small issues become bigger than they should have.
For the first time, Mr. Galloway detailed the three separate incidents of sexual assault that MC levelled against him. He said she accused him of choking and trying to rape her aboard a sailboat he co-owned and doing the same thing in his office after an end-of-term party. In a third charge, MC said she woke up naked on the floor of his office in the late afternoon one day in a disoriented state, leaving the door open to the suggestion he drugged and raped her. Mr. Galloway was allegedly watching a hockey game on his computer when she opened her eyes.
He turned over more than 200 pages of text messages he says undermined the credibility of MC’s story. For instance, she’s alleged to have said that during the incident on the sailboat, she thought Mr. Galloway was going to kill her and throw her body overboard. But he presented Ms. Boyd with messages and postings after the incident was said to have occurred in which future outings were discussed. (He says there were many.) After the three alleged incidents, the pair went on to have a two-year affair, which MC never denied. However, she explained this as a form of Stockholm Syndrome known as “traumatic bonding.” Justice Boyd had reservations about various aspects of her story, although she was careful not to call her a liar.
In 2013, Mr. Galloway broke off the affair. He says while MC was initially extremely upset, they eventually established a friendship that included occasional conversations at school and over the phone.
Two years later, Mr. Galloway believed that MC was about to tell school authorities about their affair. He left her a couple of phone messages, including one in which he used the phrase “turn myself in.” He says he was talking about confessing to their affair to his superiors, not to any alleged abusive behaviour. He says those words got twisted by his accusers, who suggested it was him admitting to raping MC. Mr. Galloway says the voice messages were later played at an off-campus meeting held by members of the creative writing department faculty to discuss the allegations against him. He would be suspended shortly afterward.
“This is the meeting where people were told there would be as many as 19 complainants coming forward with allegations against me, which of course would never happen,” Mr. Galloway said. “Nevertheless, after that the lynching was on.”
He doesn’t dispute the affair was wrong. “Even if she was five years older or had a decade of teaching experience, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “It was unethical and a stupid thing to do. But that morphed into something completely different and wrong and I will likely be paying the consequences of it for the rest of my life.”
Mr. Galloway feels horrible that his case ignited an ugly, internecine war in the CanLit community, with prominent authors and poets choosing sides. Margaret Atwood was drawn into it. Many signed a letter posted on a website called UBC Accountable. It mostly demanded an investigation into UBC’s atrocious handling of the matter, although it was seen by some as the literary establishment taking sides with one of its own, against his young accusers. The feud still simmers.
Seeing the fallout from that has plunged Mr. Galloway into some of his darkest times. He was moments away from a suicide attempt when his wife discovered him. She has taken him to the hospital when she has felt he might do himself harm. He’s on anti-depressants. The job of keeping him alive, and keeping the house running, has fallen to his wife, Katie.
“We have four kids that have to be looked after,” she said, after taking a seat beside her husband. “You have to try and pretend nothing’s happening although that’s difficult when they hear us crying behind closed doors, talking about money. It’s impossible to shield them from everything.”
She has cried in public places. When she thinks things can’t get worse, they do. She wants to believe they can now start getting their lives together, but is afraid to.
Mr. Galloway knows he’s not the only one who has been affected by this entire matter. It has touched many lives. There will be books written about it one day, he thinks.
He doesn’t know what he’s going to do now.
“The only thing I know is I have a limited amount of time to figure it out,” he said.