Class Is (Not Quite) Back in Session

Ontario professor found guilty of sexual harassment welcomed back by administration. By students? Not so much

Megan Orr, Opinions Editor

In recent, “ummm what?” news, a professor from Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, was set to start teaching classes again in the new year following a nearly three-year absence due to a sexual harassment investigation that started in 2014. According to CBC, the investigation found that the accused, Professor David Schimmelpenninck, was guilty of an “unwelcome sexual advance”, which Brock later tried to cover up in 2016. Many students protested Schimmelpenninck’s return, leading to his scheduled course being cancelled.

This points to a bigger issue of the general cesspit that is university campuses when it comes to sexual violence. With statistics from the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario showing that one in five women will experience sexual assault while in college, it’s no wonder that people are feeling uneasy and protesting Schimmelpenninck’s reinstatement. Brock University needs to recognize that this kind of behaviour, especially post #MeToo, should be met with an absolute zero tolerance policy.

Essentially what the school, and others like it, are telling its students is that the well-being of an employee, who has been found guilty of sexual harassment, comes before their rights to a safe learning environment. Like with so many cases of sexual misconduct, the perpetrators needs are being put first. Though Schimmelpenninck says he is regretful for his past behaviour, the real question becomes whether or not sexual predators should be allowed to keep their jobs.

Unfortunately, regret for a past mistake is not enough when it comes to ensuring the well-being of already vulnerable students. The very act of keeping Schimmelpenninck on staff, rather than firing him immediately for what is clearly misconduct, just demonstrates how deeply misogynistic values run institutionally. Schimmelpenninck’s employers have made it clear that his value as an educator outweighs his wrongdoing, so it’s no wonder that he feels like it’s past time to return to business as usual.

Point blank: this is wrong. Things like this cannot continue to be swept under the rug and this generation is showing that. Protestors gathered at Brock on Jan. 10 and made it clear that, “There is no place for Professor David Schimmelpenninck on campus”. The fact that they even have to congregate to tell their administration that is troubling. There should never have been a place kept for him after forcing himself on a student, period.

Protecting these kinds of offenders only reinforces the idea that their behaviours are tolerable, when they should not be, under any circumstances. It’s embarrassing for Brock University that they have kept him on this long. As demanded by the outraged students, the school needs to reevaluate their sexual harassment policies and code of ethics, especially since this story has already left the news cycle to make room for the coverage of yet another alleged sexual assault on Brock campus. Why this recent incident is being handled by the police, rather than an arbitrator like in Schimmelpenninck’s case, can only be speculated, but hopefully it is the university acknowledging their past mistakes.

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