Was novelist Steven Galloway’s dismissal from his university position justice for women, or a modern Salem witch hunt?
The former chair of the creative writing program at the University of British Columbia was fired in June following an investigation into multiple allegations of sexual harassment and other improprieties. This week, the Canadian literary world has been wracked with discord over the case following the publication of a scathing open letter to UBC signed by dozens of authors including Margaret Atwood, Yann Martel, Madeleine Thien and Michael Ondaatje.
The letter, reportedly circulated by author Joseph Boyden, calls attention to “growing evidence that the University acted irresponsibly in Professor Galloway’s case” and argues that as the case was widely publicized, “the situation requires public clarification.” The statement has drawn an explosive response, with many arguing it shows little concern for alleged victims and complainants.
Galloway had been publicly suspended in November 2015 for what the dean of arts termed “serious allegations.” News reports from the past year indicate allegations that include sexual assault, sexual harassment, inappropriate relationships with students, bullying, and even an incident in which he slapped a student, though the details remain fuzzy. The open letter argues that the university’s public memo and actions following his suspension created “a cloud of suspicion over Professor Galloway […] severely damaging Professor Galloway’s reputation and affecting his health.”
The statement also criticizes UBC for a lack of transparency regarding the specific charges and notes that criminal charges have not been brought. Furthermore, the statement maintains, UBC has failed to make public the results of an independent investigation conducted by former BC Supreme Court Judge Mary Ellen Boyd, although “[b]oth a statement from the UBC Faculty Association and the report of an independent journalist who had access to the Boyd report have since revealed that all but one of the allegations investigated, including the most serious one, were unsubstantiated.”
The most serious allegation, according to news reports, concerned an inappropriate sexual relationship with a student. However, the one charge that was deemed substantiated ― that is, supported by sufficient evidence ― was reportedly that of a multi-year affair with a student. Though the Globe and Mail saw copies of the report sent to multiple complainants, it was reportedly “so heavily censored” that “the parts of the report that deal with the sexual-assault allegation at the heart of the scandal” could not be reviewed.
Some in the Canadian writing community have pushed back on signatories, accusing authors like Atwood of doubting and silencing victims in the name of defending a powerful male colleague. “Here’s the thing,” tweeted writer Kaitlyn Tremblay, “many of the top writers signing that open letter to UBC sends a clear message: we protect our own, not students/victims.”
Atwood defended her signature on Twitter: