NEWS
01/09/2019 15:05 EST | Updated 01/09/2019 16:36 EST

Ontario Prof Who Sexually Harassed Student Will Not Teach This Winter

Facing backlash, Brock University cancelled the history course a day before it was set to begin.

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Brock University Prof. David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye was set to return to teaching next week after an internal investigation in 2016 found he had sexually harassed a student and made unwanted advances. His class has now been cancelled.

Brock University has cancelled a history course that was to be taught by a professor who sexually harassed a student.

The St. Catharines, Ont. university made the announcement Wednesday, amidst backlash from students and faculty that Prof. David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye would return to the classroom despite an internal investigation finding he gave one of his students alcohol in his office and made unwanted sexual advances towards her in 2014.

"The university takes very seriously the right of every member of the Brock community to work and study in a respectful and safe environment. Brock will be accelerating the previously scheduled review of its Sexual Violence and Harassment Policy," Brock said in a statement.

"The university respects the many students and individuals who have expressed their views in a constructive and thoughtful manner."

Schimmelpenninck van der Oye had been absent from the classroom since March 2016, when the student spoke out about the university's handling of her complaint. After a leave of absence, Schimmelpenninck van der Oye returned to Brock last summer, but did not teach.

Earlier this week, Schimmelpenninck van der Oye said in a statement that he regrets his past behaviour and attributes it to alcoholism, and that he has gotten help.

"If I could undo it, and the harm I caused, I absolutely would," he said. "I have devoted my life to being an educator, and my only hope is that I will be able to give back to the university community the best way I know, as an educator."

This past December, an arbitrator ruled in a legally binding decision that it was Schimmelpenninck van der Oye's right to return to the classroom, and he was set to teach a second-year history class this winter, while agreeing to follow a set of conditions and complete coaching in "respectful workplace practices."

Julie Macfarlane, a law professor at Windsor University and an expert in dispute resolution, said Brock cancelling the class is a "welcome recognition that whatever the constraints being placed on them by the arbitrator's decision, they have moral obligation to protect their students."

This week, student activists demanded Schimmelpenninck van der Oye resign, gathering more than 1,000 signatures through an online petition, and planning a demonstration for Thursday.

"Students feel strongly that the disciplinary response to Schimmelpenninck is not adequate," said Jessica Falk, an undergraduate student, in a statement Tuesday. "How can Brock say they take sexual violence seriously when they let him come back and teach? He should not be in a position of authority at this school ever again."

The student activists also requested Brock University make currently voluntary harassment and abuse training for faculty mandatory, including how to respond to disclosures of sexual violence. The students want the school to extend this compulsory training to graduate students, and to develop a code of ethics that prohibits sexual relationships between students and faculty and other staff.

Brock Prof. Margot Francis is one of the faculty members putting together an open letter in support of the students' requests for mandatory training and a code of ethics.

"Many of us, but not all of us, support the substance of the students' demands," said the women's and gender studies professor. "The demands themselves are a long-term effort that demand a thorough review and require the engagement of faculty."