U of T declined to provide further details about the investigation into bullying allegations. NATHAN CHAN/THE VARSITY

U of T administration has opened an investigation into several allegations of bullying, harassment, and academic and professional misconduct at the university, which were brought to the attention of the Office of the Ombudsperson by current and former students.

At the Governing Council meeting on October 25, which was the first full meeting this year after the September date was interrupted by a protester, Ombudsperson Ellen Hodnett said that multiple people had contacted her over the previous year about “very serious systemic issues” occurring within a single academic unit.

According to her report, several of the allegations also concerned external institutions that partner with the university.

“After I brought the issues to the attention of senior administration, an internal investigation was launched by the Provost’s office,” Hodnett wrote. “I periodically requested and received progress updates. As of this writing, the issues remain unresolved.”

When reached by The Varsity, U of T declined to provide further details. “We can’t provide details at this time as the matter is under investigation,” a spokesperson said, “We are conducting a thorough investigation and we are waiting for the results of that work.”

An “academic unit” can mean virtually anything at U of T, ranging from the three campuses, to various faculties, departments, or colleges.

The ombudsperson also noted that despite having an established process to deal with complaints about university staff, U of T does not have a process for faculty-student relations, adding that students who make allegations against a specific professor “may be left under the supervision of the professors, while an investigation (which can take many months) is undertaken.”

She also wrote, “I recommend that the University implement measures to protect the students from real or perceived threats while the investigation is underway,” noting that these measures are important given the power imbalance between faculty and students, as well as the negative psychological impact of bullying.

Hodnett also noted that although she understands an investigation — and particularly finding an investigator — can take time, the allegations are serious enough in nature to warrant a more expedient process.

“I am concerned about the need for complaints of this nature to be responded to in an expeditious fashion, given the impact on all parties, and students in particular,” she said. “There may be ways to make the process more efficient.”

Report from the president

U of T President Meric Gertler also presented his report at the meeting, noting the results of the recent municipal elections in which many of the winners are U of T alumni, including environmental geoscientist Jennifer McKelvie, who defeated incumbent Councillor Neethan Shan in Ward 25 Scarborough—Rouge Park.

He also mentioned that U of T continued to be placed highly on international university rankings.

In addition, Gertler brought up the Ford government’s requirement that every postsecondary institution in Ontario develop a free speech policy.

The president said that the university’s existing policy, effective since 1992, already meets all of the requirements. He noted, however, that there are new “wrinkles,” including the requirement to report annually on their progress to the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario.

The administration also spoke about the new campus smoking policy. Scott Mabury, U of T’s Vice-President University Operations, said that the university is developing a new policy that would make all campuses smoke-free, with a target of January 1 for full implementation.

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