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Canada Dalhousie faculty disappointed by university’s dismissal of complaint

The Dalhousie University dentistry building

Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRES

Dalhousie faculty members who complained about misogynistic comments made by male dentistry students say they are disappointed with the university's decision to dismiss their complaint.

Dalhousie University rejected a request over the weekend from four of its own professors to investigate, under the university's code of conduct, comments made on Facebook by 13 students in the school of dentistry. The case has ignited a firestorm of debate over sexual harassment on university campuses, and raised questions over whether the school's handling of the controversy has been adequate.

"We are sad that our actions have not resulted in a formal discipline process, as this would have served the goal of protecting and promoting the interests of those harmed by the conduct of the 'Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen,'" a statement from the professors reads.

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The statement by Francoise Baylis, Jocelyn Downie, Brian Noble and Jacqueline Warwick says they are "comforted" by some actions taken by the school – including the announcement last week of a third-party investigation into the environment within the faculty of dentistry, which will be chaired by Constance Backhouse, university research chair in law at the University of Ottawa. However, they said they would have liked to see an independent investigation of the individual students.

The professors describe it as "distressing" that the remaining formal process against the students is internal – aimed at examining "standards of professional conduct" – and conducted by members of the faculty of dentistry.

"We are concerned and bewildered by the fact that a Committee within this Faculty is tasked with reviewing the apparent misogynistic, sexist and homophobic conduct of students in the Facebook group," the statement reads.

Acting vice-provost of student affairs Anne Forrestall said in a statement that the professors' complaint is ineligible for consideration under the student code of conduct because of the professional standards investigation already under way. The university has also launched a restorative justice process, and suspended the 13 students from clinical activities pending the professional standards probe. Dalhousie president Richard Florizone also announced Friday that the students would attend class separately from other students in the faculty.

Dr. Florizone followed up with a statement on Sunday saying that, though the decision about the complaint was made on Wednesday, it was only announced over the weekend because he wanted to seek "legal confirmation" first.

"I sincerely appreciate the efforts of our four faculty members," his statement read. "I respect them for their courage to take a public stand on behalf of others."

The latest development comes as the university's senate prepares to meet Monday to consider calling a third-party investigation of the entire university.

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At issue are a series of Facebook posts written by a group of male dentistry students who called themselves the "Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen." Those posts included jokes about chloroforming female classmates and having "hate" sex with them.

Since the comments came to light in December, the controversy has attracted attention and criticism from a range of voices, including members of the Nova Scotia provincial government, as well as the hacker group Anonymous.

The four Dalhousie professors appeared to indicate that they do not plan to pursue the complaint further. In their statement, they write that the university's decision "ends our engagement with the complaint."

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