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Dalhousie Professors' Complaint Against Dentistry Students Rejected

01/11/2015 11:42 EST | Updated 03/13/2015 05:59 EDT
HALIFAX - Four Dalhousie University professors say they have "mixed feelings" after a complaint they launched against a group of 13 male dentistry students who were allegedly members of a Facebook page where sexually violent content was posted was rejected by the school.

In a letter sent to the professors on Saturday, the school’s vice-provost of student affairs said it will not proceed with the complaint filed under the code of student conduct because the issue is already being dealt with under an academic standards committee within the dental school.

Anne Forrestall says because the matter is being reviewed by that committee, it's not eligible for review under the code of student conduct. She says the committee will evaluate the students on professionalism and will make recommendations based on their findings.

The professors have said they launched the formal complaint, which called for the suspension of the students on an interim basis, last month on behalf of other students who felt more needed to be done.

In a letter responding to the rejection, the professors say they are disappointed the complaint did not result in a formal discipline process.

The professors said they are concerned that the academic standards committee is internal to the faculty of dentistry, which is also being looked into as part of an external investigation led by Constance Backhouse, a professor at the University of Ottawa.

"We are ending our engagement around the complaint with mixed feelings," said the letter signed by professors Francoise Baylis, Jocelyn Downie, Brian Noble and Jacqueline Warwick.

"We are concerned and bewildered by the fact that a committee within (the faculty of dentistry) is tasked with reviewing the apparent misogynistic, sexist, and homophobic conduct of students in the Facebook group."

But they also say that the university took a positive step by launching the independent investigation, which will explore the environment, training and policies at the dentistry school to determine if they contributed to a tolerance for misogyny and sexist conduct.

"It is our hope that through these and other steps, the harms caused by and associated with this incident will not be repeated," it said.

In a statement on Sunday, university president Richard Florizone said he respects the professors for their courage to take a public stance on the issue.

"This complaint has highlighted a need for careful review of our policies to ensure we have a respectful, inclusive community," said Florizone.

The 13 fourth-year students have already had their clinical privileges suspended and have been barred from regular classes with their peers, which resume on Monday. Florizone has said those 13 students will attend classes "remotely'' or in other classrooms on campus.

Fourteen women and 12 of the 13 members of the Facebook group will be taking part in a restorative justice process, which uses an informal and confidential resolution procedure that includes all of the parties involved.

Reports of the offensive posts and the university's initial response has prompted rallies and calls for expulsion of the 13 students.

The Facebook page at the centre of the controversy has been taken down. But according to the CBC, members of the Class of DDS Gentlemen page on Facebook voted on which woman they'd like to have "hate'' sex with and joked about using chloroform on women. The CBC said in another post, a woman is shown in a bikini with a caption that says, "Bang until stress is relieved or unconscious (girl).''

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