Cronyism, unwanted sexual conduct areas of concern at Brock University: Survey

·5 min read

Retention problems, cronyism and unwanted sexual conduct have all been identified as areas of concern in a climate assessment survey conducted by Brock University.

The survey found that 35 per cent of faculty and staff respondents indicated they had observed unjust hiring practices at the Niagara university.

“Some of the survey findings are disappointing, but not entirely surprising,” said Michelle Webber, president of Brock’s faculty association.

The survey, conducted March 30 to May 15, received feedback from 3,004 respondents, accounting for 14.2 per cent of the Brock community. The survey’s executive summary acknowledges this represents a “snapshot of the campus climate” given the limitations presented by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

An ensuing report, titled Assessment of the Learning, Living, and Working Environment, focused on several areas: assessment of findings, unwanted sexual experiences, faculty and staff perceptions of campus climate, student perceptions of campus climate and institutional actions.

Of the faculty and staff respondents who indicated they had observed discriminatory hiring practices, 36 per cent said it was based on nepotism or cronyism, 21 per cent on position status and 17 per cent on age.

“Ongoing problems related to senior administrative hiring processes were a point of contention in collective bargaining earlier this year,” said Webber. “The association supports hiring processes that are open, transparent, collegial and fair. We encourage the president and board of trustees to fully embrace those principles.”

“If you look at our policies for senior levels, we have a very prescriptive policy framework,” said Brock president Gervan Fearon. “We have strong policies on hiring practices. I trust our search committees.”

The climate assessment survey and final report were facilitated by Rankin & Associates, a Pennsylvania-based consulting firm that specializes in climate surveys, in conjunction with a working group that consisted of 25 Brock University faculty members, staff, students and administrators.

The climate assessment was conducted in response to recommendations from the university’s 2017 Human Rights Taskforce Report: Pushing Onward.

Fearon said the climate assessment survey was also initiated in response to the university’s strategic plan and priorities.

“Our strategic plan states that our institution should foster a culture of inclusivity, accessibility, reconciliation and decolonization,” said Fearon.

“Not only that, though, but it was also the right thing to do. If we’re going to improve, we need to hear from the faculty, staff and students.”

The executive summary of the final report highlighted key findings.

It indicated 11 per cent of respondents identified they had experienced unwanted sexual contact or conduct while at Brock University, two per cent experienced relationship violence, four per cent experienced stalking and seven per cent experienced unwanted sexual interaction.

The executive summary identified three central themes that emerged: catcalling, lack of institutional trust and social stigma.

An unidentified respondent shared experiences of being catcalled.

“It’s, unfortunately, not uncommon to be sexually assaulted on campus. Walking through hallways to get to and from class alone has repeatedly resulted in unwanted catcalling and butt-slapping from randoms.”

Respondents also suggested there is a lack of trust in university leadership to take claims of unwanted sexual interaction seriously.

One respondent said: “Because Brock University won’t even oust a pervert professor, why would they track down a student I don’t know the name of to punish them?”

Another respondent said: “I did not know that I could report unwanted sexual interaction and did not feel safe reporting it after seeing Brock’s response to the student who was harassed by a professor.”

Some respondents said they feared facing a social stigma associated with reporting unwanted sexual interaction to campus officials.

A respondent said: “I didn’t tell anybody because I was embarrassed that it even happened. Women are taught to not talk about their sexual experiences growing up, so when it comes to being sexually harassed, this forces us to want to keep quiet because of feelings of shame and embarrassment.”

Despite the highlighted areas of concern, the institution received positive feedback from a majority of respondents about their perception of the climate at Brock. Categories related to faculty employment, staff employment and student experiences at Brock all indicated overall satisfaction.

In response to the findings, Brock just wrapped up hosting four focus groups to provide community members with the opportunity to suggest actions to move Brock forward in addressing the findings in the assessment.

These focus groups were closed to the public.

“The purpose of these groups is to address specific changes that Brock students and employees wish to see happen improve on challenges found in the report and further improve on successes,” said Leela MadhavaRau, director for human rights and equity at Brock.

“The climate study working group will reconvene to discuss 10 to 12 recommendations to begin working on. These will be placed on a public webpage and progress updated on a monthly basis,” she said.

Brock presented the findings to the public on Oct. 29. A copy of the presentation is available on the university’s website.

“We’re looking at all of the results,” said Fearon. “We’re looking at the results that are challenging and we’ll be responding,”

Sean Vanderklis is a Niagara-based reporter for the Niagara Falls Review. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. Reach him via email: svanderklis@metroland.com

Sean Vanderklis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Niagara Falls Review