Last week, an arbitrator awarded the University of British Columbia’s former creative-writing chair, Steven Galloway, $167,000 in damages stemming from his shocking dismissal from the school in 2016. If ever there was a win that felt like a loss, this would be it.
Mr. Galloway was fired after it was revealed that he’d had a two-year affair with a woman in his program. But it was worse – the woman alleged that the once-celebrated author sexually assaulted her before they commenced their dalliance. These allegations, among others less serious leveled by some of his students, incited an investigation by the university that was magnificently bungled. This is largely why Mr. Galloway got the award amount he did.
But any victory has to be measured against what he has lost: his reputation, any chance of teaching in Canada again and, for the foreseeable future at least, a lucrative writing career. The mind behind The Cellist of Sarajevo has mused about becoming a bricklayer. When I sat down to interview him last week, he was the very definition of a broken man.
There were three central allegations made by the main complainant; that on two occasions Mr. Galloway sexually assaulted her and on another raped her, possibly after being drugged. There was a raft of other complaints from a handful of mostly female students that included everything from inappropriate comments and jokes of a sexual nature to creating a sexualized environment during a weekly social gathering he held with students in a bar. The university hired a former B.C. Supreme Court justice, Mary Ellen Boyd, to look into it all. While on the bench, Ms. Boyd was one of the most respected jurists in the province.
She effectively dismissed all of the allegations leveled against Mr. Galloway except one: he hadn’t revealed to his superiors that he was in a relationship with a student in his program.
And this is what upsets Mr. Galloway’s supporters the most: When you boil it all down, he was found to have failed to disclose an affair. And yet, his career is over and reputation virtually unrecoverable. On social media, he is still being called an “alleged rapist” and sexual pariah.
There are many things postsecondary institutions in this country can learn from Mr. Galloway’s saga and one has to be this: It’s not a university’s job to investigate allegations as serious as rape. Sexual assault is a serious crime in Canada. Police have the mandate to investigate them, not educational institutions. A retired judge called in to parse fact from fiction doesn’t have the same powers to interview witnesses. Maybe the same training and skills either. I understand law-enforcement agencies in this country have a patchy record when it comes to taking allegations of sexual assault seriously – as The Globe and Mail revealed in its award-winning series Unfounded − but the police, and Crown prosecutors, are all we have at the moment.
Universities can’t be expected to usurp this role. They can’t be launching sexual-assault probes on campus every week. Having a retired judge rule that someone’s allegations of sexual assault don’t add up shouldn’t be the final word about something as grave a crime as rape. But it can’t be the first word either.
Universities also need to re-examine policies which allow relationships between professors and students. A typical reaction to Mr. Galloway’s story, especially among students, is: He got what he deserved. That’s what happens when you play with fire and have an affair with a student. The only problem is, this is not against the rules at UBC. Professors can have affairs with their students and they do; they just have to disclose it to their superiors and take pains not to grade or supervise the student, according to guidelines.
But after this debacle, why is UBC not banning these kinds of relationship altogether, like Stanford and Harvard have? Why are the students and UBC faculty members who have been so vocal about how awful and misguided Mr. Galloway was for having an affair with a mature student not protesting a school policy that allows it?
Mr. Galloway’s story will be remembered as a debacle of extraordinary dimensions. No one is happy about the final outcome. There are students angered over the sense their complaints weren’t taken seriously. Some believe the impact this has had on the woman Mr. Galloway had the affair with has been tragically overlooked. The matter ripped a gaping hole in Canada’s literary community. It’s damaged the reputation of a widely respected university.
And while there are many people who will never feel an ounce of sympathy for him, it’s left the man at the centre of it all asking if life is even worth living anymore.