Home Workplace News Private university in New Brunswick dismisses prof for ‘inappropriate behaviour’

Private university in New Brunswick dismisses prof for ‘inappropriate behaviour’

by Local Journalism Initiative
By John Chilibeck | The Daily Gleaner

A professor at Crandall University in New Brunswick has been fired following a six-month investigation of “inappropriate behaviour” toward female students, the institution says.

John G. Stackhouse Jr. has written scores of scholarly articles and books on evangelism and theology. The 63-year-old is also an in-demand speaker and has written columns for dozens of mainstream and Christian publications. But last week, the private liberal arts institution in Moncton that serves more than 1,400 students let go the prolific academic.

“Paramount at Crandall University is the safety and security of its students,” said the former chair of the board of governors, Sheila Cummings, current chair Douglas Schofield and president Bruce Fawcett in a co-signed statement. “We cannot and will not tolerate behaviour from its administration, faculty, or staff that in any way violates the University’s mission and identity.”

Stackhouse did not respond to several messages from Brunswick News. 

Social media takedown 

The accusations against the scholar first surfaced publicly when former and current students began posting anonymously on social media, in particular the #DoBetterCrandall Instagram account.

In April, the university hired Joël Michaud, from the law firm Pink Larkin in Fredericton, a longterm member of the ethics committee of the Law Society of New Brunswick and an experienced independent investigator. The institution also invited students and staff to contact Michaud directly if they wanted to report any incident of harassment, assuring confidentially.

His findings were submitted to the board two weeks ago and it decided last week to terminate Stackhouse’s employment, effective immediately.

In a news release, the university said the investigation involved dozens of interviews with students, faculty, staff, alumni, and other community members, plus an extensive review of documents including correspondence, emails, and social media posts.

The findings focused on what has been referred to as inappropriate or sexually oriented statements or conversations, whether spoken or written, over a period of nine months in 2020 and 2021.

“A vitally important guideline for the investigation was to protect the identity and security of anyone who may have been the subject of, or involved with, inappropriate conversations or behaviour, or may otherwise have been reluctant to share information,” said Cummings, who was the chair when the investigation was launched. 

Four accusations 

In a summary of his findings, the lawyer said he investigated four main accusations: that Stackhouse acted inappropriately in class, particularly toward female students; that he was fired from a previous institution for sexual harassment; that he dated a student; and that he sexually harassed another female student through emails.

Michaud said he did not think the faculty member set out to harass, sexually harass or bully students by abusing his authority in the classroom. But he added that “irrespective of his intention, Stackhouse’s demeanor in class, and particularly his interactions with certain female students, created an unwelcoming environment and, in some cases, anxiety.”

“The faculty member ought to have known that his antics and his sense of humor were unwelcomed and unappreciated,” Michaud wrote. “Jokes (or stories) that might have come across as charming 25 years ago are no longer acceptable.”

The lawyer also wrote that it was more than likely Stackhouse had been sacked from his previous job at Regent College in Vancouver, where he had taught for 17 years, because of harassment allegations. He also believed the professor deliberately misled the interviewing committee of Crandall to secure his new job in 2015.

Michaud said he investigated the allegation Stackhouse had dated a student but found no compelling evidence that the romantic relationship took place when he was in a position of authority over her.

Seven months of emails 

However, the investigator was more than convinced Stackhouse had sexually harassed another female student through inappropriate communication via dozens of emails over a seven-month period. The student spoke to the investigator in June and shared the emails, in which she never encouraged the professor with the same kind of inappropriate banter.

Confronted with the evidence, Stackhouse admitted the emails were inappropriate, unhealthy and unbecoming of a professor, the investigator said.

The lawyer took a dim view of the professor’s pleas for understanding.

“He was in a position of responsibility as a professor and also as an employer of the student and, in the view of the investigator, engaged in behaviour that constitutes sexual harassment.”

In his conclusion, Michaud did not pull punches.

“I believe he is deserving of severe disciplinary action. Crandall needs to move quickly on this, and its actions need to be as transparent as the law on fairness and confidentially allow.”

His report recommended a review of the university’s harassment policy and procedure, and for the institution to undertake “concrete plans to install a culture of openness and of transparency respecting matters that might historically have been considered taboo.” A pledge to do better Cummings issued a statement regarding the recommendations.

“The investigation and the subsequent employment action conclude this incident, but clearly all of us at Crandall must work very hard to ensure that we maintain this very special university community at the highest standards. As the report to the board recommends, our next step will be to focus on strengthening our harassment policies with input from our students and other members of our university community.”

Cummings added that the university was beginning a renewed focus on education and training for faculty, staff, and students, to “help Crandall be the safest, most welcoming, and respectful community that it can be. We will do everything in our power to support, inspire, and protect the well-being of our students.”

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