01/31/2014 12:02 EST | Updated 04/02/2014 05:59 EDT

Memorial University assignment on rape and suicide upsets student union

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - The student union at Newfoundland's Memorial University is calling for a professor to apologize for a controversial assignment that it says makes light of sexual assault and mental health.

Candace Simms, the student union's executive director of external affairs, said she learned of the assignment after students in a computer science class taught by John Shieh (SHEE) came forward to complain.

Simms said the Jan. 20 assignment asked students to create a computer program that could help determine whether a rape victim would commit suicide.

"Students were very upset," Simms said Friday in an interview. "It's a pretty disrespectful question to ask and it's unnecessary for the type of assignment that it is. There are thousands of other possibilities that this instructor could have used."

Shieh could not be reached for comment.

A spokeswoman for the university said the dean of science, Mark Abrahams, was unavailable for an interview.

However, Kelly Foss emailed a statement from Abrahams in which he said the school was investigating the matter.

"I can assure you we are taking this matter very seriously," he said. "The particular assignment question has, understandably, raised concern throughout the Memorial community and beyond. It does not reflect the vision, mission and values of our university."

Simms said the student union believes Shieh should undergo sensitivity training with the school's sexual harassment office, but it is not calling for him to be punished.