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The exterior of the University of Toronto's faculty of music.Tijana Martin/The Globe and Mail

An external review of the University of Toronto’s faculty of music – triggered last year by an open letter alleging misogyny and systemic inequalities – has found many students, faculty and staff reported experiencing sexual harassment or racial discrimination, according to a summary released Tuesday.

The review of the faculty of music’s climate and culture was commissioned by Dean Ellie Hisama shortly after she took over as dean of music last summer. It was conducted by the law firm Rubin Thomlinson LLP, and included 87 interviews and 470 responses to an online survey circulated to students, alumni, faculty and staff last fall.

Individuals reported experiencing sexualized comments, boundary violations between instructors and students and unwanted romantic advances from instructors and teaching assistants, the summary report said. Participants in the review also complained of racist comments and microaggressions.

The review also highlighted “a profound lack of confidence” in the ability of the faculty and university as a whole to respond to sexual violence concerns.

“Many participants also told us that they felt the faculty and/or the university were sweeping problems under the rug. They told us that there was a lack of transparency and accountability in how the faculty and university respond to complaints,” the review’s 23-page executive summary says.

The U of T released the summary of the review’s findings a year after an online open letter alleging “historical and ongoing misogyny and systemic inequalities” in the faculty of music was signed by more than 900 people, including more than 100 faculty and staff members.

The review’s conclusions come as universities across Canada struggle to address criticism from students, faculty and advocates over their handling of allegations of sexual violence and racism.

Participants in the review said the faculty of music’s “conservatory culture,” which refers to its focus on Western classical music and one-on-one instruction, fosters racism, sexism and harassment, the summary says.

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The power imbalance between professors and students and the amount of time they spend together in private lessons “places students in a vulnerable position and can contribute to sexual misconduct,” the report says. Students said instructors sometimes failed to ask for consent before touching them during lessons, such as for breathing exercises. Some noted it was difficult to raise concerns because of the “significance” of their relationship with their teacher.

The report also said many individuals experienced or witnessed racial discrimination, including during classes and in private conversations. Some racialized participants also said they felt they did not belong in the faculty.

The review also noted incidents of faculty members bullying other instructors and staff members.

The report makes a series of recommendations, including a code of conduct for professor-student interactions that requires instructors to ask for consent before touching a student and provides guidelines for appropriate conduct outside the classroom.

The report recommends protocols “to lessen the isolation of students in one-on-one lessons,” such as installing windows on practice room doors and encouraging instructors to record sessions with students. It also urges faculty-specific training on sexual harassment and equity, diversity and inclusion.

In addition, it recommends increasing the diversity of the faculty’s teaching staff and curriculum.

In a statement, the board of directors of the Faculty of Music Undergraduate Association called the review’s findings “disheartening,” but noted similar themes emerged in the open letter it launched one year ago. The student group said it is hopeful recommendations will “prevent further damage going forward.”

Dean Hisama pledged to help bring about changes in the faculty’s teaching and learning environment in a statement on Thursday that mentioned frustrations with university procedures.

“I have raised and will continue to raise with the University’s leadership the many concerns and frustrations about complaint processes related to allegations of racism, sexual violence and workplace harassment as described in the report and its appendices,” she said.

In a statement, the U of T said it was “troubling and distressing to learn about the experiences outlined in this review.” It declined to release the review’s full report “to preserve the anonymity of those who participated.”

The U of T said work is already under way to improve conditions in the faculty of music, including hiring an equity, diversity and inclusion director to help carry out the report’s recommendations. The university is currently reviewing its sexual violence policy.

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