Content warning: This article discusses sexual harassment, sexual assault, and misogynistic behaviour, and mentions rape culture.
An investigation by Al Jazeera revealed that Andy Orchard, former Trinity College provost and vice-chancellor and professor of English and medieval studies, has been accused of sexual harassment and engaging in inappropriate sexual relationships with students. Orchard worked at U of T from 2000 to 2013 and is now a professor at Oxford University. The investigation into him was part of a larger look at sexual misconduct allegations at Oxford University and relationships between women graduate students and men supervisors in UK universities.
In response, U of T President Meric Gertler wrote in a statement that the reports from Al Jazeera “are deeply distressing and troubling to all of us as a community.” Gertler wrote that U of T condemns sexual violence and harassment and asserted that the university will work to “bring about the necessary change in this area.”
He pointed to the ongoing review of Policy on Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment, emphasizing that the review process aims to include input from survivors.
Professors and students who worked with Orchard described his reputation as a sexual predator, hidden behind an impressive academic reputation as a medieval scholar.
Those who worked with him at University of Cambridge, University of Toronto, and University of Oxford alleged that he often attended meetings while drunk, harassed students in pubs, and engaged in sexual relationships with students that they were afraid to end due to a fear of retribution.
Among the people who said they were sexually harassed by Orchard was UTM Vice-President and Principal Alexandra Gillespie, who detailed her experiences to Al Jazeera. Gillespie described an incident in which Orchard, seemingly drunk, cornered her on a staircase, and made sexual advances toward her. She said that she did not feel safe speaking out before, but that now that she is in a position of power, she can speak out on her experiences with Orchard.
A report by the Toronto Star found that at least two complaints of sexual harassment and misconduct against Orchard were made to U of T, but he faced no disciplinary action from the university besides being cautioned. In fact, the Star found that the victims faced retaliation from Orchard, who was aware of the complaints in his file. Professor Emeritus David Klausner alleged that the university was aware of the extent of Orchard’s behavior, and that the sexual violence support centre advised him to warn students about Orchard rather than taking action.
Orchard did not respond to the Star’s requests for comment. According to Al Jazeera, his lawyers sent them a five-page letter disputing the reports, but did not allow it to appear in print.
Since then, the university instituted a Policy on Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment, which came into effect in 2017. The Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre was created in 2017 along with the policy.
Reactions from community
Trinity Against Sexual Assault and Harassment (TASAH) wrote in a statement about the reports that the group stands with survivors of Orchard’s abuse, calling for the university to take appropriate steps in response to the allegations.
It added that students have also come forward alleging that Orchard made “misogynistic and violent comments upholding rape culture” during lectures.
TASAH demanded the removal of Orchard’s painting from Strachan Hall at Trinity College. The portrait has since been removed. It further demanded a formal investigation by Trinity College, a zero tolerance policy on sexual assault by faculty and students, and a commitment to “ending rape culture on campus.”
In a message to community members, Trinity College Provost Mayo Moran wrote, “While the media reports do not focus on Trinity College, we cannot be complacent either about that or about the absence of formal complaints. As a result, in addition to the policy review, Trinity plans to retain an external expert to examine any Trinity-specific issues that may need to be addressed.”
Moran wrote that more details will be provided in the next few weeks.
If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence or harassment at U of T:
- Visit safety.utoronto.ca for a list of safety resources.
- Visit svpscentre.utoronto.ca for information, contact details, and hours of operation for the tri-campus Sexual Violence Prevention & Support Centre. Centre staff can be reached by phone at 416-978-2266 or by email at [email protected].
- Call Campus Safety Special Constable Service to make a report at 416-978-2222 (for U of T St. George and U of T Scarborough) or 905-569-4333 (for U of T Mississauga)
- Call the Women’s College Hospital Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Care Centre at 416-323-6040
- Call the Scarborough Grace Sexual Assault Care Centre at 416-495-2555
- Call the Assaulted Women’s Helpline at 866-863-0511