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Canada UBC suspends chair of creative writing program pending an investigation

Steven Galloway seen here at UBC April 11, 2014.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Steven Galloway, the acclaimed Canadian novelist and chair of the creative writing program at the University of British Columbia, has been suspended from his position at UBC after "serious allegations," and an investigation is to be launched imminently.

A memo sent to students, faculty and staff on Wednesday and posted on the program's website said Mr. Galloway has been suspended with pay pending an investigation.

"I don't even know what the allegations are," Mr. Galloway said when reached by The Globe and Mail on Wednesday. He said he had been advised by the faculty association not to comment.

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UBC's dean of arts, Gage Averill, who wrote the memo, confirmed that Mr. Galloway has not been told what the allegations are.

"He will have a chance as part of the investigation … to hear all the allegations and to respond to them," Prof. Averill told The Globe. "This is emergent right now and we want to make sure we have a fulsome and entire sense of what's coming up, so we haven't shared any details yet."

Prof. Averill said the university is looking for an external investigator and that the investigation will be conducted at arm's length.

According to the memo, "The usual process involves hearing the complaints, providing the respondent with an opportunity to respond, and making a determination on the allegations." It also points out: "Please keep in mind that the investigation has not yet commenced and no findings have been made about any wrongdoing by Prof. Galloway."

Mr. Galloway, 40, is the author of four novels, including The Cellist of Sarajevo, an international bestseller that was nominated for the prestigious International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and long-listed for the 2008 Scotiabank Giller Prize. His most recent novel, The Confabulist, about the death of Harry Houdini, was published last year.

He became acting chair of the UBC program on July 1, 2013, and chair on July 1, 2015.

Prof. Averill said he learned of the allegations on Sunday afternoon, when he was contacted by "members of the program." He was told that allegations had surfaced and they were concerned. He would not specify who made the allegations nor if they came from a student or faculty member. "There will be some areas where I'll have to demur because the investigation is going to be under way and we want to give it the full support, allow it to proceed, make sure that it's a really integral process."

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The suspension notice reached Mr. Galloway on Monday afternoon, Prof. Averill said.

Also on Monday, Annabel Lyon and Linda Svendsen, both faculty members, were approached about serving as acting co-chairs of the program. Neither would disclose details of the allegations. "We have to protect the integrity of the investigation and the integrity of due process – for everybody," Ms. Svendsen said.

When asked about the mood at the program during a joint telephone interview on Wednesday, there was a lengthy pause from the acting co-chairs.

"Well, I think that long silence should tell you," said Ms. Lyon, who is an associate professor with the program and author of the novel The Golden Mean. She said it was "a hard time."

Mr. Averill said there was "a combination of surprise and concern for all involved" as people in the program learned of the investigation.

Fellow B.C. author Kevin Patterson said Mr. Galloway is fiercely dedicated to the program. "He's imbued it with a vitality and a liveliness that is valuable and has taken many, many thousands of hours of sustained effort. And whatever else is going on, that has to be understood – how selflessly he's given of himself to that program."

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Mr. Galloway's publisher, Penguin Random House, released a statement on Thursday in support of the author.

"Penguin Random House Canada is proud to publish Steven Galloway, award-winning, best-selling and acclaimed author of The Cellist of Sarajevo, The Confabulist, Ascension and Finnie Walsh. He is a friend to many of us here and we look forward to publishing more books with him in the future."

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